:: Friday, December 31, 2004 ::
Hic Iacet Arturus
Rex Quondam Rexque Futuris
Such is said, by some legends, to be written upon the tombstone of King Arthur Pendragon: Here lies Arthur, the once and future King.
The tale of Arthur is one of the most famous in all of Western literature. The body of stories that comprise the legends of the boy who became King by pulling Excalibur from the stone and of the Knights of the Round Table who helped him build a magnificent realm centered on mighty Camelot, and how some of those Knights later brought about its ruin, form a body of literature known the world over. And that body of literature has inspired many a writer of fantasy to produce works based upon it.
Many a writer, including me.
I first conceived of this story over fifteen years ago, when during the summer in between my sophomore and junior years of college, I developed a sudden and to this day unending fascination with the King Arthur legends – the "Matter of Britain" – from a single source: a worn copy of John Steinbeck's unfinished The Acts of King Arthur and his Noble Knights, found in a box of books my older sister had left behind. The tale captivated me, and over the next two years I buried myself in Arthurian literature.
I adored T.H. White's The Once and Future King, right down to its last sentence, which I still hold to be the finest last sentence to a book I've ever read. I loved Mary Stuart's Merlin Trilogy, and thrilled to its supplemental fourth volume, The Wicked Day, whose sympathetic portrayal of Mordred I found so compelling that I have difficulty seeing the character as a villain to this day. I enjoyed Stephen Lawhead's Pendragon Trilogy, even though I found its ending too abrupt. Gillian Bradshaw's Hawk of May trilogy moved me to tears, one of the few tellings of this very sad story to actually do so. And King Arthur brought me to discover who is now my favorite poet, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, whose Idylls of the King deeply impacted me with its verse that put me in mind of the most lyrical passages in Tolkien:
Then from the dawn it seemed there came, but faint
As from beyond the limit of the world,
Like the last echo born of a great cry,
Sounds, as if some fair city were one voice
Around a king returning from his wars.
I also read into the facts of the Arthur legends: books by Geoffrey Ashe and Norma Lorre Goodrich and Roger Loomis. And I moved into material only tangentially related to Arthuriana, either by presaging it or by drawing partial inspiration from it, as well as the direct source material. I read the Welsh myth cycle The Mabinogion (and Evangeline Walton's modernization of it). I've dipped extensively into Thomas Malory's Le Morte D'Arthur (although I have yet to read the Romances of Chretien de Troyes). And my Arthurian fascination led me, ultimately, to my favorite living author, Guy Gavriel Kay, whose epic Fionavar Tapestry trilogy partially involves King Arthur.
All those books I have read, and more than a few of which I own but have yet to read…and a quick perusal of the shelves at any decent bookstore turns up legions more Arthurian-themed books that I will probably never read. So why write my own take on the legend, then? Why return to a field that has been so thoroughly plowed, and by greater gardeners than myself?
Well, I suspect I'm far from alone in noting the uniquely compelling nature of the Arthurian legend. These stories, dating back a thousand years or more, have inspired more artists than can probably be numbered. Not just prose writers, either, but poets and painters and sculptors and composers and singers. One could, I surmised, do a lot worse than aspire to stand in the company of those who have based their own work upon the Matter of Britain.
In my specific case, I chose not to focus on retelling the legend as it is known, but on a tiny part of the legend that isn't often explored. And it's a tiny part of the legend that isn't even always part of the legend, in any event. The vast bulk of Arthurian stories look at the Once and Future King and focus on the "once King" part; I wanted to look at the "Future King" part of the tale. Arthur, some legends say, is waiting even now on the enchanted Isle of Avalon, until such time as Britain's need is great enough for him to return. That's the story I wanted to tell: how King Arthur would come back from Avalon.
Even so, it took years from the time I concocted my story idea (late 1991 or early 1992) to the time I actually started writing the thing (late 1996). Why? Well, I tend to be a "muller". I mull things over. A lot. So much so, in fact, that I almost wish I could make mulling things over into my profession. (One reason I like my current job, working maintenance at a grocery store, so much is that I get huge amounts of time for mulling things over.) I mulled over how the story would go; what the setting would be like; whether or not I knew enough about the Arthurian legends to really craft a tale around them; et cetera.
And when I finally started writing The Promised King (that title, by the way, came to me very early on), I envisioned a much more massive tale that included an entire secondary plotline that I have since removed entirely (but which may see light in a future novel by myself, if I ever get done mulling it over). I also wrote those early passages very poorly, with the first ten chapters consisting of one boring infodump after another. (An infodump, for those unfamiliar with the term, is a passage of clunky prose in a fantasy or SF novel in which the story stops progressing entirely while the author doles out large amounts of information about their fictional world.) It took me three and a half years to get the first draft of The Promised King finished, and then came the editing.
Which basically involved gutting the book and rewriting it, and then editing it again.
Thus, what we have here is the third draft. It wasn't always in two parts; originally there were to be three, but the removal of that giant sideplot brought the whole thing down to a duology. Currently, I am rewriting Book Two: The Finest Deed, and hope to have it done by the end of this year – since that is when, if I remain on schedule, I'll have to start posting the chapters of it to this blog.
So what should be expected here? My plan is to post two chapters per month, one on the first Sunday of the month, and one on the third Sunday. At two chapters per month, Book One: The Welcomer should take roughly a year – maybe slightly more – to appear in its entirety. Then, if all goes according to plan, Book Two: The Finest Deed will begin.
Why am I doing this, as opposed to going through traditional submission methods for publishing? Well, The Promised King, Book One has already been seen and rejected by one publisher. I was going to submit it again, but I've decided to do this for a number of reasons:
First, it's a first novel, and while I like it, I'm not at all certain it's saleable. And if it is, well, there is precedent for books that have been published online to be purchased by traditional publishers. You never know (although I am not at all unrealistic about the very low odds of that occurring).
Second, and more importantly, I've been dwelling with this story for a very long time. Setting aside the years I spent nursing the idea in my head, the actual writing of The Promised King predates my now seven-and-a-half-year old marriage. I've reached a point where what I want now is for this story to be read, for good or ill. I don't want to wait the several years that elapse between the time I drop a submission packet into the mail and the time the book appears on the shelves at Borders. I want the thing to be read now, and thus, it will be. Not by many, and maybe not even by more than a handful, but it will be out there.
Does this mean I'm giving up on "traditional" publishing? Not at all. I'm only planning to do the "serial blog novel" thing for this one project, because it's a project that has been inhabiting too much space in my cranium for too long. I just want this thing to finally be read.
Some random notes:
:: There is a link in the "Contents" portion of the sidebar to a map of Prydein, the realm in which The Promised King takes place. Knowledgeable readers will note that I have taken, shall we say, extensive liberties with the geography of Great Britain. I offer no apology for this, since there is an explanation in the story for why there are mountains where none exist today, why Tintagel is suddenly an island, and so on.
:: Said map is, admittedly, a pretty ugly affair that I cobbled together in a single evening using photo-editing software. It gets the job done, though, which I guess is what matters.
:: Feedback on the novel is welcome, of course, but I'm not really looking for editing suggestions, as I have little intention of reworking any more of this tale than I have to in the unlikely event that it sees life beyond its existence here. If you want to tell me that you love the book, or that you hate it, great! But know, in advance, that any suggestions that fall in the "editing" category will be filed away for future reference in future stories.
As a final note here: if you like what you see here, please consider using the "tip jars" to offer support. Yes, Blogger is free, but there's significant investment of time here. Plus, think of it as a good way for all you advocates of artists ditching the middle-man and putting their work directly out there for consumers to demonstrate your convictions! (Yes, I am that shameless.)
I hope you enjoy The Promised King.
::..permanent link to this chapter..::