Hi there, I’m Scott Telek, author of The Flower of Chivalry, which is my version of King Arthur’s childhood until he pulls the sword in the stone, as well as the entire Swithen series, which is a deluxe 25-novel retelling of the actual Arthurian legend, that is the one from the year 1136-1485. This is book 4 of the series, and I’m at work on Book 5 right now.
Note: This interview discusses a revelation that occurs in halfway through The Flower of Chivalry. If you haven’t read up until that point yet, just be aware that this interview will spoil the biggest reveal of the book—and it’s a pretty good one, so you might want to preserve it for yourself.
If you’re coming to this video without having followed along with the book, all you need to know is that Arthur, that is, the future King Arthur, found this large frog in a creek when he was about eight or so and he saved it from his brother Kay, who wanted to kill it. He made the creature a new home, and they kind of hung out and had childhood adventures, and then eventually we realize who Frog is, and that’s the big reveal we’re talking about. Okay, last chance not to know.
SPOILERS FROM HERE ON OUT!
We find out that Frog is Merlin, or at that point, still Myrddyn, which I am playing as an earlier form of Merlin. And there’s a bunch of reasons for this, which I will go through. First, most of us have the idea that Merlin is with Arthur as he grows up, but this is actually not supported by the legend, where he doesn’t meet Arthur until after he is crowned as king. That idea actually came from T.H. White’s The Sword in the Stone, which is part of the collection The Once and Future King.But it’s an idea I really like and so I put some thought into how Merlin could be around Arthur but not do it in a way that was derivative of what T.H White did.
How did the idea originate?
I’m really happy with how it came out, and it seems really integral to the novel, but I actually didn’t have this in mind when I started. I even had the character of Frog before I had the idea that he would be Merlin. The reason for that is because I wanted the book to be very much like a classic novel of childhood, and I wanted it to have a king of “by and his dog” quality, like Old Yelleror something. And having this character who is repulsive to others would also show Arthur’s kindness and his developing quality of defending those who can’t defend themselves.
So I kind of wanted Merlin around, but I didn’t want to repeat T.H. White, and at a certain point I just thought “What if Frog was Merlin?” and the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. When we left Merlin at the end of Book 3 he was ordered to do a penance by his mother—that’s when she sent him away—and so it occurred to me that living as Frog and being this abused creature could be his penance. But even better, it allows him and Arthur to both be children together, and to really get to know and trust each other without having to have the typical young boy / older man dynamic, which we still get a little bit of in part three.
And of course, I really started to get into this huge reveal that would come halfway through the book and hopefully make you kind of rethink the entire book, and very gratifying for me is that people who have been reading the series all along were mostly genuinely bamboozled who Frog was, and were kind of like “OK, I’m not sure what direction this is going in,” then were truly surprised when they found out, so that was awesome!
Variety in life lessons
Now, in The Once and Future King, Merlin has Arthur go through a few very important life lessons, and the way he does that is by changing Arthur into various animals and having him solve problems, which is ingenious and charming, so I obviously couldn’t do that. I also didn’t want to have so many dreary life lessons, which is why the lessons are things about nature and time and kindness, and I also located most of the important things Arthur learns not necessarily as coming from Merlin, but just from his life experiences.
Wrapping up Meylinde’s story
Now, let’s talk about Merlin’s mother, Meylinde. In the legend, she is dropped entirely from the story after he leaves her at the beginning of my Book 2, and we never hear from her again. Now, she’s the main character of the first book and she suffers so much it just seemed really callous to just drop her—but at the same time the whole promise of my series is that I remain faithful to the legend. So I kept reviewing the literature and luckily I found a way for her to stay in the books past that time, and she becomes one of the few people that Merlin trusts and one of the few people that can give him advice, so in the next few books she becomes kind of his moral advisor.
The problem is, there is no longer any place for her in the story, and thus there’s no place for her as a character. And this is starting to become a problem, as I can’t just have Merlin go back to her once a book to get advice, and I started to know that I would have to kill her off eventually. But she’s also a very important character, she sets the entire story in motion, she’s kind of the Virgin Mary of this particular story, and I wanted to find a way to send her off that would be in line with her importance.
Now coming up way down the line in the story is the Pentacostal Oath, and this is what Arthur makes the Knights of the Round Table swear to every year, and it basically says that men should protect women and not force them, which essentially means don’t rape them. And they should protect the elderly and the helpless, in addition to other things. And it occurred to me that a great way for Meylinde to go out and have an effect on the story worthy of her would be to have HER inspire the Pentacostal Oath and use her experience to have a huge influence on Arthur’s developing sense of right and wrong. So that’s behind the conversation she has with him in this book where she says “IF you were king, would you use your power to help women…” because she knows what he doesn’t; that he will become king soon.
So there you go, that’s a little discussion of how things ended up the way they did in this book and the thinking behind the big reveal that comes halfway through. I hope you enjoyed it, and if you did, please tell someone else who might like it too.