Interview with Tyler R. Tichelaar
King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition
Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D.
Modern History Press (2011)
Reviewed by Olivera Baumgartner-Jackson for Reader Views (2/11)
Today, Irene Watson of Reader Views is pleased to interview Tyler R. Tichelaar, who is here to talk about his new book “King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition” now available in hardcover, trade paper, and eBook from Modern History Press.
Tyler R. Tichelaar has long been an avid enthusiast and scholar of the Arthurian legend. He first fell in love with the legend when he was fourteen and read “The Boy’s King Arthur” by Sidney Lanier with N.C. Wyeth’s marvelous illustrations. His reading of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s “The Mists of Avalon” made him begin to see the fictional possibilities in the story beyond simply retelling it and inspired him to write his own fiction about King Arthur.
After earning a Ph.D. in British literature, Tyler began writing and publishing a series of historical novels including “The Marquette Trilogy” and “Narrow Lives,” which won the Reader Views Literary Choice award for best historical fiction for 2008. These novels are family saga type pioneer stories about the growth of America and specifically the town of Marquette, Michigan. Tyler’s interest in genealogy has inspired his novels and his study into the Arthurian legend.
Tyler’s newest book “King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition” is a scholarly work that explores treatments of King Arthur’s children from the Middle Ages to twenty-first century novels, including claims by several families to be King Arthur’s descendants, a claim that if true , Tyler can claim for himself. He is currently working on a novel about King Arthur.
Tyler is also the regular guest host of Authors Access www.AuthorsAccess.com, a co-author of the book “Authors Access: 30 Success Secrets for Authors and Publishers” and the current president of the Upper Peninsula Publishers and Authors Association. He is a seventh generation resident of Marquette, Michigan, and works as a freelance book editor, proofreader, and book reviewer.
Irene: Thank you for joining us today, Tyler. So tell us about King Arthur’s children. I didn’t know he had any children other than Mordred. Just how many children did King Arthur have?
Tyler: Thank you for having me, Irene. Yes, in most versions of the Arthurian legend, Mordred is Arthur’s only son, a child born of incest who brings about the downfall of Camelot. However, although that story goes back to the Middle Ages—early thirteenth century actually, several earlier stories existed of King Arthur’s children, and more recently, many twentieth and twenty-first century novelists have created children for Arthur. Since Arthur’s historicity is open to question, authors have been able to rewrite the legend as they see fit. That said, if Arthur lived and did have children, the Welsh traditions probably represent the most likely truth about Arthur’s children.
Irene: Why the Welsh legends? I thought Arthur was King of England?
Tyler: It is very difficult to sort out all of the historical details surrounding King Arthur, whether or not he was historical, and to put King Arthur within the historical context where he belongs. One date we can pinpoint for Arthur is the year 539 A.D. That is the date for the Battle of Camlann where he and Mordred are said to have fought and slain each other. A few other years appear as possibilities but they are all within ten years of that date.
So if we see Arthur as living in the sixth century, he was living in what was then really Britain, not England. It was a post-Roman Britain. The Roman Empire had left Britain unprotected from the Saxon invaders about a century earlier. Arthur was probably a warlord or king of the Britons who united many of the native peoples to fight against the Saxons. Some evidence does exist for a period of twenty years or so of peace about this time which might reflect the time of Arthur. These legends are Welsh because eventually the Saxons, Angles, and Jutes invaded the island, pushing the original Celtic Britons into the island’s corners—Cornwall, Scotland, Wales, while these invaders settled what we think of today as England, named actually for the Angles. The Welsh took their stories with them when they were pushed inland.
Arthur is often referred to as King of England in various books; however, the people who told his stories were not always interested in being historically accurate, and the Welsh stories of Arthur eventually became so popular that the descendants of Arthur’s enemies really adopted him as one of their own. There is also confusion about which version came first since the Welsh traditions were oral but not written down until the fourteenth century, while written English chronicles and French romances may have been known to the oral storytellers, causing them to reword some of the original stories, distorting them. That said, the Welsh traditions as they have come down to us are probably the closest to any real tradition about King Arthur, and they are largely piecemeal, not the full story that we know today which has been embellished upon for centuries.
Irene: How many children do the Welsh legends attribute to King Arthur?
Tyler: The references are somewhat obscure, but at least three sons of Arthur are referenced in these early Welsh legends, mentioned within what became known as “The Mabinogion,” the written version of those oral Welsh stories and some other works like “The Black Book of Carmarthen.” The three sons are named Gwydre, Amr, and Llacheu. Gwydre died an early death, being gored by a boar. Amr is said to have fought against his father, and his story might have resulted later in his name being forgotten while the story became associated with Mordred. Llacheu was killed in battle, although some versions suggest Sir Kay, Arthur’s foster-brother, may have killed him for reasons that are unclear.
Irene: So all these sons died before Arthur then. What about Mordred? When is he named as a child of Arthur?
Tyler: Mordred’s name is mentioned as Medraut in the Welsh legends. “Mordred” is more of a Saxon spelling, a curious fact that may suggest he sided with or married into a Saxon family. He is never described as Arthur’s son in Welsh tradition, but traditions state he died at Camlann with Arthur, something later writers may have misinterpreted as Mordred and Arthur fighting against one another—for all we know, in reality, they may have been on the same side fighting against the Saxons.
Mordred is first mentioned as Arthur’s nephew in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s “History of the Kings of Britain,” and from that point on, he is a key player in the legend. Later writers wanted to build him up as the story’s villain and provide him with motivation for his anger against Arthur. In the 1205 “Mort Artu,” Mordred first appears as Arthur’s son, born of incest, after Arthur sleeps with his half-sister, Morgause, unknown to him as his sister at the time. Once Arthur realizes what he’s done, he seeks to have Mordred killed, but of course, Mordred survives. It’s a great twist on the story but probably completely fictional.
Irene: So Mordred may not have been a villain after all?
Tyler: No, in fact, there are Scottish traditions that view him as a beloved king and that Arthur instead was the true villain. Mordred is also treated in the Welsh traditions as an eloquent speaker and a great counselor. While I won’t give it all away here, I think it possible that if Mordred were historical, history ended up being told by the conqueror’s point of view, and so Mordred got a bad rap over the centuries.
Irene: But in your book, you talk about other possible descendants of King Arthur. How would that be possible if none of these possible sons of Arthur outlived him?
Tyler: Geoffrey of Monmouth states that Mordred had two sons who after the Battle of Camlann were killed by Constantine, who is some kind of shirttail relation to Arthur—it’s never quite clear how—so Constantine then inherits the throne. Other traditions suggestion Mordred or even King Arthur had a daughter and so his descendants live on through a female line. That’s a very likely possibility since female names would have been less likely to be recorded by historians, but a family tradition might have kept such records of its descent from King Arthur. Modern novelists like Debra Kemp and Vera Chapman have had great fun with this possibility that Arthur had a daughter.
Other traditions exist for more sons of Arthur that do not appear in any of the more canonical Arthurian works. For example, the Scottish Clan Campbell claims to be descended from a son named Smervie. The English royal family has also tried to claim descent from King Arthur, although there is no clear connection—rather, the Normans conquered England, and in attempts to assert their authority over the Anglo-Saxons and Celtic peoples, claimed they were descendants of Arthur and so had a right to rule over England. Geoffrey of Monmouth’s “History of the Kings of Britain” may have been written for that purpose. Various other similar attempts were made by English monarchs such as King Edward III most likely building the Round Table that hangs in Winchester Hall, claiming it was Arthur’s, and Henry VIII later having King Arthur’s image painted on the Round Table with Henry’s face as Arthur’s to claim some sort of family resemblance/connection.
Irene: I see on your website that you’ve billed yourself as Tyler R. Tichelaar, Descendant of King Arthur? Is that really true ?
Tyler: I admit it’s a bit tongue-in-cheek, Irene, but if King Arthur did live, I have as good or better a claim as most to being his descendant. I have long been an avid genealogist and have traced my family tree back to many lines that pre-date Arthurian times. I am descended from the Clan Campbell, and I can also claim descent from the British royal family. One theory, proposed by Arthurian scholar Geoffrey Ashe, is that the Saxon king Cerdic was Arthur’s son, and I can claim descent from Cerdic, as can all the British royal family.
That said, DNA evidence and mathematical calculations have made it clear that anyone of European descent alive today can claim descent from any European who had children and lived prior to the year 1200. That being the case, almost everyone reading this interview is descended from William the Conqueror, Alfred the Great, Charlemagne, and so on—so if King Arthur did live, we are all his descendants. Even people of African and Asian descent are probably descended from Arthur—although I am Caucasian, I have traced lines of my own ancestry that include Persian shahs, Indian maharajahs, and Chinese emperors. I’m sure most people can do the same. We are all one big human family. What is great about DNA research and genealogy is that it breaks down barriers created by race, and equally, the story of King Arthur is a universal one of hopes and dreams, love and tragedy, that appeals to people worldwide. So, in short, if not Arthur’s descendant by blood, I am and all of us can be his descendants in spirit.
Irene: You spend a lot of time in your book discussing modern novels about King Arthur. Do you think that the story’s universal themes are why so many novels about Arthur are being written today?
Tyler: Yes, I think that’s a large part of it. The number of novels being published about Arthur is stunning, and even I couldn’t read them all, so I tried to narrow down to the ones I knew discussed the possibility of Arthur having children. While the story appeals to readers for its tragic elements, I think those Arthurian novels with children of Arthur in them represent what might be termed a subgenre. Some of the earlier modern novelists, like Rosemary Sutcliff, tried to create a historical Arthur with possibilities of his having children, but because of the legend’s traditional tragic ending which is so powerful, they weren’t always sure what to do with those children, so they were usually infant girls who died young or bastard sons who couldn’t inherit the throne and did not figure large in the novel.
Other authors, such as Vera Chapman, Debra Kemp, Elizabeth Wein, Bernard Cornwell, and Stephen Lawhead, have created children and descendants for Arthur who do figure into the story in significant ways. I discuss all these authors’ novels in “King Arthur’s Children.”
What I find interesting about these novels is the possibility that Arthur’s line did continue, and we today may have Arthur’s descendants living among us. I think this new trend in modern Arthurian novels allows for readers to connect with King Arthur in a new way—to realize some of that magic may have been passed down to them, and that we are Arthur’s heirs, ready to believe in the ideals of Camelot—after all, Camelot may have been the closest thing we ever saw to a utopia, an early form of democracy where all the knights could sit at the Round Table, designed so no one would have authority or importance over the other but all would be equal. Those ideals of Camelot are still in the hearts of many today. Even if, as described in the musical “Camelot,” it was only for “one brief shining moment,” it continues to shine and inspire. And the modern novelists are also putting a new twist on the idea that Arthur is the “Once and Future King” who will return by virtue of his spirit carrying on so that his descendants may bring about his return. We certainly do need King Arthur’s ideals and spirit in our world today—in whatever form his return may take—and that is reflected in our culture in numerous ways from the Excalibur Casino in Las Vegas to automobiles named “Avalon” to the current “Merlin” BBC television series.
Irene: I understand you are writing your own novel about King Arthur. Will you tell us a little about it?
Tyler: Yes, it’s basically done and will be named “King Arthur’s Legacy,” but I may wait a year or two to publish it because I am considering turning it into a series and want to get a little drafting done of the rest of the books so I feel they are all connected properly. I learned from writing “The Marquette Trilogy” that when you write a series, sometimes you might be working on the third book and want to go back and change something in the first, to give yourself some wiggle room, but also to create foreshadowing and strengthen themes and characters that may carry through several of the books.
Basically, “King Arthur’s Legacy” will be the story of an Arthurian descendant who learns the truth about what happened at Camelot—and there are some surprising truths he will learn. The information he will carry back to the present day and eventually it will have some far-reaching results in the present day. Since my main character is Arthur’s descendant, I may give some glimpses into the lives of some of his other ancestors who are also Arthur’s descendants, so it becomes a bit of a family story over fifteen centuries. It’s a bold project but one I’m very excited about. In fact, my initial goal was to write a novel, but the research required resulted in my studying the legend and writing “King Arthur’s Children” simultaneously.
Irene: Thank you for the opportunity to interview you today, Tyler. Before we go, will you tell us about your website and what additional information can be found there about “King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition”?
Tyler: Thank you, Irene. It’s been my pleasure to be here and discuss King Arthur. My new website is www.ChildrenofArthur.com. There you will be able to purchase copies of “King Arthur’s Children.” I also have a page devoted to Arthurian art, a page with photographs of Arthurian landmarks I have visited in England, a page with some Arthurian genealogy charts on it, a page with links to other sites about King Arthur, and my blog about all things Arthurian. Readers interested in my historical novels can also visit me at www.MarquetteFiction.com.
Thank you, Tyler, for the informative interview. I wish you much luck with “King Arthur’s Children.”