Thursday, June 9, 2011

Lancelot and Blodeuwedd: Supernatural Lovers

Tales of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table formed one of the most fertile literary traditions in medieval Europe — and they are still inspiring authors to this day.

As part of a blog exchange, I've just written about Amadis of Gaul for Theresa Crater's blog, and now she tells us how Arthurian legends have inspired her writing:


I retell the mythology and stories of ancient sites around the world in my Power Places series, starting in Egypt with Under the Stone Paw. For the second novel, I wanted to write about Avalon and the mythology that has always drawn me. But I was warned that publishers are wary of King Arthur stories, that they think they've been overdone. Yet the Arthurian romance and Grail quest stories form the heart of the "Matter of Britain," as it's called by many spiritual traditions with their roots in Celtic soil. For Beneath the Hallowed Hill, I decided to combine several different stories involving supernatural lovers, pulling on Arthurian romance and Celtic mythology.

Lancelot is the knight of the Round Table renowned for his skill in combat, his piety and his love for Guinevere, the wife of King Arthur. Many people have difficulty reconciling Lancelot's Christian strictness with his adultery, but tales of triangular affairs fill old romances and Celtic mythology. The story of Tristan and Iseult is one example. Another is a May Day myth of two brothers who fight over the love of a woman on Beltane. This myth has many variants. Some tell of a king whose wife has been abducted by a rival who fights to win her back on May 1st. Sometimes the king sends a champion, a great knight similar to Lancelot. Beneath the Hallowed Hill culminates on Beltane.

Lancelot's origins also suggest another ancient Celtic theme. Some of the older stories say that Lancelot came from the land of faery. Another explanation is that Lancelot is an amalgam of stories about an infant stolen by faeries who reappears as a young hero at a tournament or who rescues a woman held in the other world. See how these stories intertwine? In the faery tradition, human/fae liaisons are common. As Christianity overtook Britain, these encounters came to be seen as dangerous, then evil. So Lancelot, being from the magical land of the faeries and becoming lovers with a human woman, could not help but bring destruction to Camelot.

What of the unfaithfulness of Guinevere? Perhaps Guinevere's origins are not as human as we usually imagine. Stories of the Celtic goddess Blodeuwedd might give us a hint here. In Welsh this name means "flower face" or perhaps one made of flowers. The name also is similar to an ancient name for the Owl. She is a spring goddess, made of flowers, and as R.J. Stewart has pointed out, she is the young goddess, not for monogamy or marriage. In Welsh mythology, Blodeuwedd does marry Llew, but with disastrous results. Since the Celts were matrilineal, power passed through the queens. The king "married the land" when he married the queen, thus gaining his sovereignty. In Llew's story, he leaves Blodeuwedd alone and a young man named Gronw appears at court. They fall in love at first sight and plot Llew's death, which is quite difficult to accomplish, involving a great deal of magic and intrigue. But Llew escapes at the last moment by turning into an eagle and flying away. He kills Gronw and turns Blodeuwedd into an owl.

In Beneath the Hallowed Hill, I've pulled on elements in all these myths associated with Avalon to tell my story, but not in ways that are immediately recognizable. Avalon is layered with mythology, as is Egypt. Perhaps I'll return to tell more stories from these magical lands.


Theresa Crater has published two contemporary fantasies, Beneath the Hallowed Hill and Under the Stone Paw and several short stories, most recently "Bringing the Waters" in The Aether Age: Helios. She has also published poetry and a baker's dozen of literary criticism. Currently, she teaches writing and British lit in Denver. Visit her website at


  1. Thanks for letting me drop by, Sue.

  2. Thanks for posting, Teresa. It's excellent discussion that links Celtic myth and stories with the traditions of courtly love and tales of knightly conquests (pun intended) of which Amadis is a further development.

    I've been enjoying reading of Amadis's adventures, and I also enjoyed Under the Stone Paw and Beneath the Hallowed Hill.

  3. Hi Theresa,

    Thanks for sharing this. Is Beneath the Hallowed Hill an anthology of stories or one novel?

    One opinion on Gwenhwyfar's adultery is that if she was a Celtic queen then she didn't really commit adultery because Celtic women were allowed to have many lovers. Do you think that adultery came into the stories because of Christianity changing the rules?

    I wrote a short novel on the King Arthur love triangle and went with the faery link with Lancelot and Gwenhwyfar. I was influenced by The Mists of Avalon and the possible relationship between Lancelot and Morgaine.

    Will be bookmarking this blog for sure.

  4. In Amadis, which allegedly takes place before Arthur is king, adultery is punished by death. Even conceiving outside of wedlock, if the woman is not known as a prostitute, she must die. However, the novel specifically says that King Arthur revoked that law.

    It's hard to put that into real history. The tales that Amadis were based on were handed down by many sources, and local custom and Greek and Roman stories all got incorporated. Some of the fun in the book is seeing how all those elements came into the mix.