Evolving Mythology: Arthurian Fanfic and Medieval Tradition

I don’t have here the jotting books I had with me through high school, or I’d quote to you directly from  Kevin Crossley- Holland’s “The King Who Was And Will Be”, an illustrated miscellany of athurian legend and medieval culture designed for kids of around thirteen. Something he said in the introduction stuck with me to this day (sadly, i can no longer quote it directly from memory): Camelot was never a place. Camelot has always been in people’s minds and hearts, never on a map. We don’t need to ask where or when Camelot was: we need to ask what it meant and what it means now.

You don’t need to have read much modern Arthurian fantasy to know that Camelot tells us more about the author’s time than Arthur’s: T.H. White ruined a good story with a lot of pondering about power and nationhood, during and following World War Two; Marion Zimmer Bradley put together cringe-worthy New Age Celtomania with criticisms of Christianity and a laudable desire to see stronger female characters; don’t ask me what the 2004 movie says about modern society, aside from the fact that we like to see Keira Knightley running into battle dressed in leather and blue paint.

On discovering the purist joys of medieval lit, I thought to wash my hands of such terrible inauthentic modern creations. Unfortunately, one can only spend so long with high medieval texts before realising that they are all in connection with each other: poets and authors create and recreate characters, extend one anothers’ stories, and recast old tales in new ways. As Hannah pointed out the other day, the late Middle English poem The Grene Knight reads like bad, bad SGGK fanfiction: but even our best texts don’t stand in a vacuum. I am increasingly convinced that the Gawain of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is substantially the same as Chretien’s Gawain, and that our Gawain’s adventures in a watery forest chapel are in some way connected to and commenting on Yvain’s adventures in a simiilar setting. Thomas Malory is fabulous, but his work is largely a compilation of earlier poets’ tales, with considerable effort put into ironing out the inconsistencies.

This is what mythology does: it is recast and retold, adapted to the tastes of new authors and new audiences. Most of you know that there’s a flourishing market for fantasy novels in general out there, and a sizeable corner of that market for Arthurian fantasy. Today, I shall bring you a few recommendations as to the best of Arthurian fanfic: non-professional stories (although some are by professional writers under psuedonyms) written for the author’s personal entertainment and/or for particular online audiences. There’s some truly horrific writing out there on the internet, and Arthurian fandom is no exception. But there is also some very, very very good writing out there. This is people taking up Arthurian legend- starting from medieval sources or from Marion Zimmer Bradley- and making it their own.

The best place I’ve found yet for Arthurian fic online is the aptly named LJ community arthurian_fic. Go, browse. Do be warned that, like all Arthurian lit, these works reflect the concerns and interests of their authors and audiences. Fandoms interests include, but are not limited to: romance, strong female characters, slash and lots of it (slash being m/m or, sometimes, f/f pairings), angst, serious literary commentary, dark and hopeless situations, and porn. All fics are posted under cuts or with links to other websites, so pay attention to the pairing and rating before you click to read.

In my opinion, the best medieval fic in the business is written by irisbleufic. She knows her medieval source texts well, and writes Roland/Oliver and Gawain/Bertilak. I heartily recommend Men Well Met, a retelling of parts of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, written for the Yuletide 2005 Challenge. It’s work-safe, and lightly alliterated. The description she gives on the Yuletide database is: I’d like to suggest that there is more than one sequence of seduction scenes in the narrative, and I’m not referring to the parallel hunts, either. Happy Yule! (Rated PG-13)

Another excellent piece is Written in the Stars, by odette_river: Morgan considers her brother Arthur. Rated PG-13 for incest.

The Good That Won’t Come Out by ladybedivere is a delightful piece, from the point of view of Sir Bedivere, about age, wisdom and what makes a knight worthy. Rated PG.

And my absolute favourite, Their Mouths Were Fire, a 200 word drabble by Mhari. It’s rated R, because it’s set in the middle of a sex scene: its pairing is Mordred/Galahad, and it’s from Galahad’s POV. A beautiful and delicate exploration of the space between the good knight and the bad, between Arthur’s son and Lancelot’s. Galahad has always been my favourite Grail character, and it’s nice to see him written as something other than a total wet blanket.

So there you have it. Arthurian legend is alive and flourishing on the interwubs. 🙂

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One Response to “Evolving Mythology: Arthurian Fanfic and Medieval Tradition”

  1. Mhari Says:

    *BLUSH*

    What’s hilarious is I only wrote that to fill a spot in my challenge series — all my slight interest in Galahad comes from hanging out with my friend Nanni. And yet it seems to have struck a chord with a remarkable number of people.

    So, thank you.

    And this is a great post in general. (I still need to make an icon: My Fandom Badfics Itself.)


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