A good origin story, when well done, can fill in the gaps and answer questions about a character’s back story. When we know where this person has been, it allows the audience to understand them and perhaps, not be so judgemental about where they are going.
The Sword in the Stone (1963) is Disney‘s answer to the origin story of King Arthur. Based on the book by T.H. White, the movie follows a young boy named Arthur, also known as Wart (voiced by Rickie Sorensen, Richard Reitherman, and Robert Reitherman). Young, orphaned, and poor, he is looked down upon by those around him. When he meets Merlin (voiced by Karl Swenson), Arthur goes on an emotional, psychological, and physical journey that will eventually lead him to the throne of England.
Animation-wise, this is Disney at its best. The technical abilities to bring this movie to life is awe-inspiring. But the narrative is rather simple. Granted, I have not been the target audience for a very long time. But as an adult, I would prefer a little more complexity and less in-your-face-ness. I would also appreciate it if the female characters (who are limited in number compared to the male characters) had been given the opportunity to move beyond the 2D boxes they were kept in.
The myth of King Arthur has existed for thousands of years. From a writing perspective, the good thing about myths is that it open to a variety of interpretations.
Cursed premiered last weekend on Netflix. Based on the comic book by Frank Miller and Tom Wheeler, the series follows Nimue aka Lady of the Lake (Katherine Langford). On the verge of adulthood, she, like many girls in their late teens or early 20’s, thinks she knows it all. With dark magic in her blood, she is persona non grata to those around her.
Then the Red Paladins destroy her village and kill her mother. The Paladins have an end goal of ethnically cleansing the land of Fey (magical non-humans) and their supporters. Charged by her dying mother to take an ancient sword to Merlin (Gustaf Skarsgård), Nimue starts on a journey that will change her fate. Among those who join her on the journey are the brother/sister duo of Arthur (Devon Terrell) and Morgana aka Morgan le Fay (Shalom Brune-Franklin).
*Note: I have not read the comic book, so the review is strictly based on the series.
I enjoyed this non-traditional retelling of the King Arthur tale. I enjoyed it because while it is still familiar, it is not the same story that has been repeated for thousands of years. The main reason it works is that it is told from the female perspective with an eye on expanding a woman’s role in this world. In the traditional Arthurian myth, there are two distinct types of women: the love interest/damsel in distress (Guinevere) or the evil witch bent on taking power (Morgan le Fay). Boxed into these stereotypes, these women are not allowed to more than a one note character.
The other reason it works is that the world is turned upside down. Merlin is not the wise, old Obi-Wan Kenobi type whose sole task is to mentor the future ruler. He is old, but his life and his choices are complicated.
It also helps that the casting is both gender and color blind, reflecting both the world that exists within the narrative and the real world of the audience.
A myth is a story in which facts are either lost, forgotten or pushed aside. The issue that sometimes comes up with myths is that as the facts disappear, so do the real people whose lives the myth is based on.
In the new book, The Lost Queen, by Signe Pike, Languoreth is a young lady growing up in 6th century Scotland. Her world is slowly changing. Christianity is starting to take hold in a land in which the ancient pagan religion has had a hand in every aspect of life for centuries.
While her twin brother, Lailoken will become a warrior and druid known to future generations as Merlin, Languoreth’s fate is that of generations of women before her and after her. Though she is in love with the warrior Maelgwn, she cannot marry as she chooses. As a princess, her marriage is an alliance of two kingdoms, not of two people.
Her betrothed is Rhydderch, the younger son of a High King who is taken with Christianity. Languoreth is in between a rock and a hard place. Politically, she must adhere the ways of the family that she has married into. Personally, she must find a way to remain true to herself and stand up for what she believes is right.
This book is amazing. It takes a gifted writer to successfully mingle history, myth and facts into a narrative that is pleasing to a reader. Ms. Pike has not only written what is a very enjoyable book, she has brought back to life a heroine that has been lost to annals of history. Languoreth is not the “someday my prince will come” type of princess. She is bold, she is adventurous, she is intelligent and is more than willing to do what needs to be done to defend her people.
The hero or heroine’s journey is a common narrative. For some, that journey is the rocky road from youth to maturity.
The television series Merlin (2008-2012) told the story of the young man who would become one of the greatest wizards in mythology. Starring Colin Morgan as the titular character and Bradley James as the future King Arthur, Merlin is initially a servant in King Uther’s (Anthony Stewart Head) Camelot. As time goes on and Merlin grows up, he will become a friend, a companion and a trusted adviser to the man who will be known as King Arthur.
I wasn’t a huge fan of this series, but the fact that it lasted four years says something about the quality of the program.