Book Review: The Lion and the Lark

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Written by Doreen Owens Malek, The Lion and the Lark is a historical novel that takes place in 44 B.C. and focuses on the conquest of the isle of Britain by the military forces of Rome.

Right after the assassination of Julius Ceasar, the various Celtic tribes of the North instigate a successive wave of rebellion to break free from the Roman yoke. In the wake of such resistance, Octavian along with Mark Antony dispatch General Scipio and tribune Claudius Leonatus to Britain to quell the natives and further the Roman agenda.

In a political maneuver, it is decided that Claudius will enter into matrimony with Bronwen, the stunning princess of the Iceni tribe. And thus begins a journey of emotional upheaval and personal growth whose consequences nobody could have ever foreseen.

Malek is a writer with a keen eye for historical detail and, apart from a couple of inaccuracies, the novel is infused with the spirit of the ancient era. With colourful descriptions varying from ancient customs, clothes, food and cultural mentalities to the landscape of both Rome and Britain, the reader is transported back in a time and place where people were no less genuine, flawed, complex or humane than we are today.

With both sides intent on serving their own interests by attempting to outwit and outfight each other, the enemy suddenly ceases being a faceless monster and becomes a breathing person of flesh and blood. By marrying Claudius, Bronwen works as a spy for her tribe while the Romans consider her nothing more than a hostage in case the Iceni renege on their bargain.

Claudius, however, drawn to his wife’s beauty and vulnerability, proves to be much more than the brutal conqueror Bronwen had initially thought of, for beneath his national identity he’s a man of honour, capable of profound emotion and passion. Something which throws a spanner in Bronwen’s plans as she gradually realizes that things are not as clear-cut as they were supposed to be.

Deeply traumatized by her mother’s rape and death at the hands of the Romans, she initially refuses to peer beneath her husband’s exterior but Claudius’s gentle and respectful treatment of her is the catalyst that turns their marriage from a political agreement to a genuine bond of love and sensuality.

In a parallel fashion, the reader follows the progress of another couple as well, that of Brettix, the mighty warrior of the Iceni and brother to Bronwen, and Lucia, the young daughter of General Scipio. Captured as a slave on the battlefield during an uprising against the Romans, Brettix arranges with the slave trader to be sold as a horse trainer to Lucia so as to observe the comings and goings of the General and collect all the information he can get regarding the Romans.

But just like with his sister, things don’t go according to plan for Brettix either and he ends up getting much more than he had hoped for. Initially thinking of Lucia as a means to serve his cause, the more he spends time with her, the more attached he becomes for, although, spoiled, Lucia proves herself a woman of strong will and caring disposition. And what starts out as a self-serving deal soon develops into something deeper and much more meaningful, even though completely unexpected.

An important theme of the novel is that of moral ambiguity with various characters remarking how similar in some aspects the two cultures are, therefore highlighting the hypocrisy of the colonial perspective. Boundaries become blurred, and people respond with a sort of pathos and personal code that renders it impossible to strictly characterize them as either good or bad.

That is best evident with Claudius and Bronwen as when things escalate and the treaty between the two parties is considered null and void, both become victims of a tremendous inner conflict, torn between duty and love until they get to enjoy their happy ending after their much anguished tribulation.

The Lion and the Lark is a beautiful and moving novel that sweeps the reader into a world where the individual rises from the collective as a powerful and intricate force, preconceptions crumble, right and wrong becomes an elusive matter and the human factor takes central stage.

 

 

 

 

 

The Arthurian Realm: The Romance of Tristan and Isolde

Under the influence!

884px-leighton-tristan_and_isolde-1902Tristan and Isolde by Edmund Leighton [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsThis article was first published on #FolkloreThursday.com as British Legends: The Tragic Romance of Tristan and Isolde on September 27, 2018 by zteve t evans.

The Romance of Tristan and Isolde

The tale of Tristan and Isolde became a popular Arthurian tale during the 12th century, though it is believed to go back much further, having connections to Celtic legends. It is a tragic romance that tells of the adulterous relationship between Tristan, and Isolde, the wife of Tristan’s uncle, King Mark of Cornwall, making a classic love triangle that sooner or later must be broken by death. In many ways it mirrors the love triangle of Lancelot, Guinevere and King Arthur, though it is believed to be older. The spelling of the names and the names of some characters vary and there are many different versions, but all…

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Book Review: Prose Tristan (or The Romance of Tristan)

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The adaptation of the Tristan and Iseult story into a long prose romance, The Romance of Tristan is the first to weave the subject entirely into the arc of the Arthurian legend. One of the most popular, european myths widely spread across the world, it tells the story of the star-crossed lovers, Tristan and Iseult. The author who wrote it down meshes both Celtic paganism and Christian traditions with the customs of the Middle Ages.

The story establishes a rich background by linking the fates of the main characters with Joseph of Arimathea, the lines his descendants established as well as with the quest for the Holy Grail. Tristan’s guardian, Governal, after the tragic death of his parents through which his name translates into sadness, takes him to France, where he is raised in the court of King Pharamond. When he is older, he travels to the court of his uncle Mark, King of Cornwall, and defends his country against the Irish warrior Morholt who demands a heavy sacrifice each year. Wounded in the fight, he travels back to Ireland where Iseult the healer and Morholt’s niece nurses him back to health. When the Irish discover he has slain their warrior, Tristan flees.

Tristan later returns, in disguise, to seek Iseult as a bride for his uncle. When they accidentally consume the love potion prepared for Iseult and Mark, they engage in an ill-fated affair that ends with Tristan being banished to the court of Hoel of Brittany. He eventually consents to marry Hoel’s daughter, also named Iseult of the white hands.

From this point, various episodes of adventures are tied into the narrative. Tristan goes on more adventures where he fights against Knights, joins Arthur’s court and the Round Table, engages in bloody battles with the Saracen knight, Palamides, who vies for Iseult’s love, forms a close friendship with Lancelot against whom he unknowingly fights several times and goes on a quest for the Holy Grail at Arthur’s request while he constantly clashes with king Mark and alternately returns to and flees from Cornwall.

A world where words and promises are regarded sacred, where friendships are strong and everlasting and where courtly love takes the spotlight, The Romance of Tristan provides the reader with a fascinating narrative full of intrigue, adventure, honour and melancholy where emotions and ideals reign supreme.

It’s a story built on the dialectics between love-passion and death. Having read Denis de Rougemont’s Love in the Western World, I was able to view the story under a different light and understand the connotations of the mystical language applied. Rougemont makes a pretty valid point in his scholarly work when he analyzes the myth and concludes that what drives the lovers is not the love they nurture for each other, but a narcissistic love they nurture for themselves.

Passion as suffering. Tristan and Iseult are in love with the idea of love and ultimately with death, towards which their behaviour and all their actions are leading them. Countless reunions and separations and obstacles they themselves place between them fire their passion. Until they consummate their desire in the embrace of death that vindicates and purifies everything.

Unlikable Lovers

Rick Ellrod's Web site

It’s hard to root for a romance if you don’t care about the characters.  We generally sympathize with the main character (“MC”).  But that’s not always so for the MC’s romantic interest (the “RI,” let’s say).  What happens when we don’t like the person the MC’s supposed to be interested in?

There’s a variety of types of problematic lovers, and sometimes a particular type is called for by the nature of the plot.  Let’s look at a few.

The Friendly Enemy

Much Ado About Nothing book coverThere’s an entire category of plotline in which the eventually happy couple start out at odds with each other.  TV Tropes captions this “Belligerent Sexual Tension,” and has a splendid list of examples.  They range from Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing with the feuding Beatrice and Benedick (here’s the Tropes page) through F&SF examples like Leia and Han in The Empire Strikes Back, Kim Kinnison…

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Book Review: The Mabinogion

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Fascinated with all things related to the Celtic tradition, I sought for any written sources associated with mythology and literature that would shed light on the wisdom and worldview of this culture. It wasn’t long before I stumbled upon the Mabinogion in an online research.

The Mabinogion are the earliest prose stories of the literature of Britain, namely Wales. The book is a collection comprised of twelve stories compiled in Middle Welsh during the 12th and 13th centuries from earlier oral traditions.

The stories are highly entertaining, providing a wide panorama of fantasy, romance, drama, philosophy, tragedy and humour. Beasts and giants, magic and illusions, kings and noble ladies, knights and fair maidens, quests and lasting friendships, battles and deceptions, mercy and valour are only a small sample of what one will encounter in the pages of this book.

Set in the dual worlds between the valleys and forests of Wales and the mysterious, shadowy realms of the Otherworld, many of the tales move within a dreamlike atmosphere that weaves a web of seduction all over the reader.

In The Lady of the Fountain, Owain, a knight from king Arthur’s court, goes on a quest and slays the black night that guards the magical fountain. He falls in love and marries the lady of the fountain, but loses her when he neglects her for more knightly exploits. With the help of a lion that he saves from a serpent, he manages to find a balance between his marital and social duties and reconciles with his wife.

In Peredur the Son of Evrawc, the titular character loses his father when young and his mother raises him in isolation in the woods. After meeting a group of knights, he travels to king Arthur’s court to become like them. There, ridiculed by Kai, he sets out on further adventures, promising to avenge Kai’s insults to himself and those who defended him. While travelling he meets two of his uncles, and proceeds to further adventures, an encounter with the nine witches of Gloucester and his lady love.

In Geraint the Son of Erbin, we’re exposed to the romance between the titular character and the beautiful Enid. After the marriage, rumours circulate that Geraint has grown soft, something which causes a grave misunderstanding between the spouses. They embark on a long and dangerous trip full of adventures where Enid’s love is proven as well as Geraint’s fighting skills. The couple reconciles and Geraint inherits his father’s kingdom.

In Kilhwch and Olwen, we’re told of the curse the titular character’s stepmother places upon him to fall in love with the daughter of the giant Yspaddaden, Olwen. As cousin of king Arthur, Kilhwch travels to the king’s court to ask for his help. Arthur agrees and offers him six of his best warriors. Though Olwen responds positively, her father demands the completion of forty difficult tasks. The king and his badass crew complete the tasks; the giant is killed and Kilhwch and Olwen are free to marry.

In The Dream of Rhonabwy, the frame story narrates that Madog sends Rhonabwy and two other companions to find the prince’s rebellious brother, Iorwerth. During the pursuit they seek shelter with Heilyn the Red, but his longhouse is filthy and his beds full of fleas. There, Rhonabwy experiences a dream of Arthur and his time that involves a parody of both the Arthurian and Rhonabwy’s era where an encounter with the Saxons and a game of chess feature.

In Pwyll Prince of Dyved we read about the dual alliance with the Otherworld that the titular character forms: the lasting friendship with Arawn, lord of Annwn, and his courting and marriage to the beautiful Rhiannon as well as the birth, disappearance and final recovery of their son, Pryderi.

In Branwen the Daughter of Llyr we’re exposed to the drama of the children of Llyr: Bendigeidfran (literally Bran the Blessed) and his siblings, Efnisien, Manawyddan and Branwen.  The story deals with Branwen’s marriage to Matholwch, king of Ireland. Matholwch’s violent and unjust treatment of the British princess leads to a mutually destructive war between the two islands, the deaths of most of the principal characters, and the ascension of Caswallon fab Beli to the British throne.

Manawyddan the Son of Llyr is a direct sequel to the second branch, Branwen the daughter of Llyr, and deals with the aftermath of Bran’s invasion of Ireland, the horrific enchantment that turns Dyved into a wasteland and the final lift of the foul magic. The chief characters are Manawyddan, Pryderi, and their respective wives Rhiannon and Kicva.

Math the Son of Mathonwy tells the story of  Math, a magician-king who needed to rest his legs upon the lap of a virgin maiden unless he went to war. The tale narrates the trickery of his two nephews, Gwydion and Gilfaethwy, so that the last could rape his uncle’s footholder, their subsequent punishment by the king,  the deceptive plan the first one of the brothers devised in order to trick the king into accepting his sister, Arianhod, as his new footholder, the raising by Gwydion of Arianhod’s son, Lleu Llaw Gyffes, the three curses Arianhod placed on her son, the woman Gwydion created from flowers to give to his nephew and her subsequent transformation into an owl by Gwydion’s hand.

The Dream of Maxen Wledig narrates the story of the titular character who’s Rome’s emperor. One night, he dreams of a lovely maiden in a wonderful, far-off land. Awakening, he sends his men all over the earth in search of her. They find her in a rich castle in Wales, and lead the emperor to her. Reality corresponds absolutely with his dream. The maiden, Helen, loves him and accepts his proposal. In Maxen’s absence, a new emperor seizes his power. With the help of Helen’s brothers, Maxen marches across Gaul and Italy and recaptures Rome. In gratitude to his British allies, Maxen rewards them with a portion of Gaul that later becomes known as Brittany.

In the story of Lludd and Llevelys we’re told of two beloved brothers and the advice the first receives from the second regarding his leadership. Lludd inherits the kingship of Britain from his father, Beli. Soon after, he helps his brother Llevelys marry the princess of France and become king of that country. Lludd’s reign starts off  well but soon three plagues disrupt the peace. The first plague are the Coraniaid, the second a horrid scream and the third disappearing provisions. Lludd sets out to France and, with his brother’s help, destroys the plagues.

In Taliesin we’re told of the birth of the titular prophet and bard. Ceridwen’s son, Morfran was hideously ugly, so Ceridwen, an enchantress, sought to give him wisdom. She made a potion in her magical cauldron to grant the gift of wisdom and poetic inspiration called Awen. By accident, the young boy, Gwion Bach, who stirred the concoction in the cauldron tasted three drops from it.  Realising that Ceridwen would be angry, Gwion fled, transforming himself into different animals. Ceridwen chased him, ultimately turning herself into a hen and swallowing Gwion who had turned himself into a grain. Thus, she bore him for nine months and gave birth to him. Moved by his beauty, she resolved not to kill him, but threw him in the ocean instead, sewing him inside a leather-skin bag. The child was rescued on a Welsh shore by a prince named Elffin ap Gwyddo who raised him. The reborn child became the legendary bard Taliesin, seeing into the future and foretelling of things to come.