Tag Archives: Medieval

In which Mordred is really not a bad guy….


In case there is anyone left who has missed the memo: I prefer villains and anti-heroes to straight-cut heroes. I’ve always found them so much more interesting, even if they sometimes are saddled with a “just because” motivation. And that is way it’s always bugged me that Mordred is evil just because he is. Sure, we needed a formidable enough enemy for Mr I-Kill-Giants-In-My-Free-Time but surely there had to be more in the story. I may love medieval literature but it cannot be denied that when it comes to complex motives and conflicting loyalties, well, unless it’s a love story, they kind of are ignored in favour of a more standardised Good vs. Evil plot.


tumblr_mbik3r0mUP1qbq8v8 And then I read the Alliterative Morte Arthure. And suddenly this guyis not the root of all evil. If anything,  when Arthur makes him Regent he respectfully declines. Truly the sign of a power-hungry usurper. It’s a  small thing, but Mordred has a surprisingly small number of lined dedicated to him and his sub-plot. What  is more, he expresses genuine regret towards the death of his brother, without the melodramatics that  Arthur deems necessary. Call me insensitive, but if you’re in the middle of a civil war and practically a  sitting duck, then you’ll refrain from ad-libbing a eulogy until you are safely on the throne again. Geez, no  wonder Guinevere couldn’t stand the guy!


Also, might I point out that in every account of the Morte Artu episode I have come across (that was composed before the 1900s), Mordred is crowned king by popular demand?  To paraphrase a line from the text itself, the people preferred him to Arthur because with him they had peace and prosperity but with his father they only had wars. And wars might be all well and good when you have 60kg of armour protecting you, but not when your only weapon is a sharp stick because you couldn’t afford anything else. Also, considering that “the people” are the ones making sure the nobles have food on their tables, I think Mordred had appealed to the right demographic.


Whether you choose to follow the Morte Arthure as cannon or pick another strand of the tradition, the point remains. All versions of the episode agree that Mordred was trusted by both Arthur and the court, hence the regency. I just think there must be something more to the story, something that was brushed aside in order to draw clearer moral lines.

In which the Welsh invent Rom-Com


Ever heard of the Mabinogion? It’s collection of stories (originally in Middle Welsh I think) that were introduced to me as one of the earliest collections of Arthurian tales still around. Meaning that there are recognisable names, romance, random supernatural forces, mindless violence, bizarre quests and generally hijinks. Also a Rom-Com. I’m not kidding! Culhwch and Olwen is a rom-com, I swear. Here’s what TV Tropes have to say about rom-coms:


“Every story needs a conflict, and since rom-coms are driven by the quest for love, the conflict derives from the obstacles to the quest. This could be the apparent incompatibility of the leads: mutual Love at First Sight is rare. The two characters will spend a good part of the movie fighting their obvious attraction. Eventually, they’ll realize they’re perfect for each other. Or, something will pop up; maybe a Three’s Company kind of misunderstanding, or a revelation in the third act about one of them lying. One of the two characters will storm off in a huff. Or the couple is already married for some reason, and the conflict comes partially from different expectations and misunderstandings.


The climax of a rom-com requires the satisfactory recognition of love: the other chases after the love interest and does something really romantic to win them back. The reconciliation scene ends with the two characters reunited in a romantic embrace. Often ends in a wedding.”


Now match that to what happens in Culhwch and Olwen: Culhwch, the hero, is cursed to only marry Olwen, who in turn is forbidden by her father to marry at all. Here’s the Romeo and Juliet angle, with Ysbaddaden being either the Big Bad or the Overprotective Father, depending on your reading of the story (coughTenThingsIHateAboutYoucough). Culhwch would then be the Big Damn Hero (whether he deserves the characterisation for any other reason other than his name being on the title is up to debate) and Olwen the Magical Girlfriend.


Of course it wouldn’t be a rom-com if there weren’t an assorted cast of characters to surround our star-crossed mains. Call it a motif or trope but Culhwch’s gang can be categorised under Six Go Round The World, a group that includes somebody ideal for every occasion that may arise (also known as token characters). They are provided by Culhwch’s Fairy Godmother of a cousin, our good old friend, Arthur. One might argue that Culhwch and Olwen’s aunt (just go with it) is also a Fairy Godmother, since she enables the two lovers to meet.


And, truly, it wouldn’t be a rom-com without wacky shenanigans now, would it? Just have a look at what Ysbaddaden demands Culhwch and co. do before he agrees to the wedding! Sure, serious people call it a quest, but considering an impressive amount of the things the knights collect go towards giving the Big-Not-So-Friendly-Giant a makeover…well….


To top it all off, this little, violent beyond expectation, rom-com ends with a wedding. Say what you will about what happens before but at least these two crazy kids will have some fantastic, How-I-Met-Your-Mother-esque stories to tell in the future!


Sooooo….How close is my wacky interpretation to the original? Have a look here and see for yourselves!