Imagining King Arthur’ childhood

Greetings folks, guess what? There’s a new review of John Matthew’s The Sword of Ice and Fire over on my website! Let no time be lost and get over there and read it!

Still here? Okay, let’s have some more background. I read this book because I am working on Book 4 of my The Swithen series, which will be my vision of King Arthur’s childhood. Matthew’s book is also an imagining of Arthur’s childhood, so I both wanted to see what he did, and also ensure that my book wasn’t too similar. I was actually more than halfway through my initial draft when I started, so you can imagine I had some worry when I finally got to it!

Luckily, the two books have almost nothing in common. Matthews’ in a young adult novel, where mine is going to be an adult novel about a kid. His takes place on the isle of Avalon, where mine is going to take place in a small medieval town. Matthew’s novel takes place mostly in a castle, whereas in mine Arthur is out in the forest exploring and discovering nature. In his novel, Arthur’s adoptive parents and foster brother are there, but not a huge focus, where my novel is going to have large elements of family comedy and drama with lots of talks around the dinner table and other elements that I hope can make it resonate with contemporary readers. Matthews book also focuses, as most Arthurian stories do, on the heroism, valiance and honor of the story, whereas I realize that a big interest of mine is including the failures of the characters, that they learn from, and also the fears and outright terror that often exist right under that outward bravery.

You might be surprised (as I was) to learn that Matthews’ book is currently one of TWO existing works that imagine a childhood for King Arthur. The other is T.H. White’s The Sword in the Stone, part of his Once and Future King. You would think there would be more, but there aren’t (when my book comes out, the total will rise to three!). The actual Arthurian legend doesn’t cover this period at all, it just goes straight from Uther’s death to Arthur’s pulling the sword, so this entire period is up for grabs for the writer. Interestingly, we also DON’T have any indication in any legend that Merlin was with Arthur in childhood, so any version that you read or see that has Merlin as a mentor to Arthur as a child is influenced by The Sword in the Stone, showing how very influential that novel was.

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I’m very excited about my novel and some of the twists it has. It will be very, VERY different in tone from the rest of the books so far, being a very light, sweet “boy and his dog” style novel of childhood—at least until it goes very dark—and I hope readers really like my young Arthur, and the time we spend getting to know him in his formative years will really inform us once he grows into adulthood and settles into his role as king. One of the things I think is going to be amazing if done right—once we get to Book 7 or so, let alone 14 or 20—is the feeling that we remember this character from when he was a boy. Of course, by the time the series is over, we should have that feeling for nearly every character in the saga. It is very exciting, as I write Book 4, to create the childhood of a character we’re going to follow into adulthood and all the way to his death, and to think about what formative experiences he might have that will create the person we know later.

And if you want to read another author’s version of how that childhood might go, you’ve got John Matthew’s The Sword of Ice and Fire, which is reviewed right here. The next move is up to you!

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