Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Shakespeare and King Arthur

To promote the recent release of Swan Knight's Sword, the third and final adventure of Gil Moth, Castalia House published a recent interview with John C. Wright covering his inspirations and plans for the Moth & Cobweb series.  Readers who are interested in the wide swath of sources John C. Wright draws on will be interested to hear it straight from the self-described Houyhnhnm himself.  Also, to the delight of Wright's fans and Puppies everywhere, the first adventure of Yumiko Moth, Daughter of Danger, has been completed.

While it eliminates the educated guesswork that I normally indulge in, the Castalia House interview also lays bare the expanse of literature informing Wright's stories including legends to Appendix N.  As the resonances to past works of literature often suggest spoilers, I do recommend reading Swan Knight's Son first before searching them out, which is good advice for reading any of Wright's books.  Please also remember that Swan Knight's Son, The Feast of the Elfs, and Swan Knight's Sword were written as one book before Castalia House split it into three, so delving into some resonances might also spoil future books.  Fortunately, the Moth & Cobweb series towers on its own, and does not require knowledge of the legends to prop up the events.  But for those who wish to see how the works of the past can build the stories of today, I wish to draw your attention to two significant influences on Swan Knight's Son: Shakespeare and King Arthur.


Shakespeare contributes much to the organization fairy world of Moth and Cobweb, as Wright uses the fairy courts of A Midsummer Night's DreamIn the play, two couples and a theater troupe are dragged into the quarrel between fairy King Oberon and his queen, Titania.  At the command of Oberon for Puck, and of Titania for Peaseblossom, Cobweb, Moth, and Mustardseed, the fairies fill the forest with  pranks that twist and rebound on human and fairy alike until, at the end when the mess is sorted out, lovers are reunited and the spells swept away.  Oberon appears in Swan Knight's Son as Alberec, an earlier form of his name in French.  Titania is also present in the history, mentioned by Ygraine and Nerea, and it is from her four attendants, Peaseblossom, Cobweb, Moth, and Mustardseed, that the families of the Twilight are descended.  However, the second king of the elfs, like the tithe of souls and the cruelty of the elfs, originates elsewhere.


Arthurian legend was one of the first international blockbusters of literature.  What started as Welsh legend spread into English, French, German, Italian and even Scandinavian literature, with each nation adding its own tales to the growing collection of legends, from Carolingian hero Holger Danske bearing Tristan's sword Cortana to German tales of a Knight of the Swan.  Depending on which set of tales an author uses for inspiration, Arthur and his knights can take on different personalities, from the Red Ravager of the Welsh Triads to the chivalrous knights of de Troyes and Sir Thomas Malory.

For Swan Knight's Son and its sequels, Wright used Sir Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur and the Welsh Mabinogion.  While elements of the Mabinogion are not readily visible in Swan Knight's Son, the influence of Sir Malory are apparent throughout the book.  Collected from English, French, and German stories, Le Morte d'Arthur serves as a guide for how knights should and should not act.  Gil's adoption of King Arthur as a father figure and his adopted moral code are distilled from this most famous collection of Arthurian legend.  As Gil struggles to apply the values of Arthur's Camelot to his life, Wright grapples yet again with the central dilemma to most of his work.  How does the chivalrous man of honor act in this current age, or, in the case of Phaeton and Menelaus Montrose, the ages to come?

As Gil's beliefs bear the stamp of Sir Malory's Arthur, so does Gil's story.  Gil's mother is Ygraine, who shares the same name - and implications of infidelity - with Arthur's mother.  Gil's middle name is Parzival, a Germanic form of Percival, the original knight who quested for the Holy Grail.  Like most knights, he must leave home for the fosterage of another knight.  It is fitting for the boy who chose as his father King Arthur, the Bear of Britain, to be fostered by an actual bear.  Later, Gil is challenged by and told to reconcile with Sir Dornar and his brothers, named for sons of Pellinore - and the brothers of Percival. Percival is also linked to the Swan Knight through legend, as Percival is the father of the Knight of the Swan.  Finally, in addition to the Swan Knight's sword and armor, Gil in future books will collect more of the accouterments of the Knight of the Swan.

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