author guest post: Anna Elliott & King Arthur

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annaelliottI first studied the Trystan and Isolde legend and the King Arthur tales of which they are a part in college, when I was majoring in Medieval literature and history. I’ve always loved the Arthurian world, with its unique blend of history and magic, enchantment and reality. And the Trystan and Isolde story captivated me, as well, with its tale of the passionate love between a young warrior, Trystan, and Isolde, his own uncle’s bride. I personally felt the ending of the story was a bit of a disservice to the characters in that it turned the legend into a kind of morality tale–but even so, I loved the characters themselves: Trystan’s bravery and intelligence; Isolde’s skill as a healer, her independence and strength.

Then in the spring of 2007, I woke up from a very vivid dream of telling my mother that I was going to write a book about the daughter of Modred, great villain of the King Arthur tales. When I woke up, the idea just wouldn’t let me go. I loved the Arthurian stories, but this was something I’d never considered before–a kind of sequel to the King Arthur saga, a glimpse of what might have happened after the famous battle of Cammlan, in which Arthur loses his life and is carried away to a deathless sleep in Avalon.

The real Arthur, though, if he existed, would have been a very different man from the chivalrous king of Camelot as we know him today. Scholars agree that any historical figure at the root of the legends would have been a 5th-century Celtic warlord who led a victorious campaign against the Saxon tribes invading Britain at the time.

The 5th-century was a brutal, chaotic period of Britain’s history, a time when the Roman rule of Britain had crumbled, leaving the island prey to countless marauding tribes. An age in which people would have needed heroes to believe in–which perhaps explains why the Arthur legends took hold and grew with such powerful force. That idea fascinated me and I started to wonder who exactly that hero at the root of the legends might have been.

It was only when I was paging through lists of possible Celtic names for my imagined daughter of Modred that the name “Isolde” leapt off the page at me, and I realized my story wasn’t just a continuation of the Arthur story, but a retelling of the Trystan and Isolde legend, as well. Like the Arthur stories, the version of the Trystan and Isolde tale that has come down to us today is a product of a 13th-century courtly, chivalric world. But it, too, has its roots in far older traditions. The Welsh triads, one of the earliest sources of Arthurian material, mention all three of the protagonists of the legend: Trystan, Isolde, and King Mark. And a Dark Age memorial stone in Cornwall bears an inscription that many scholars believe pays tribute to Trystan, son of Mark.

I started to imagine what historical events might have formed the foundation for the legend, and a story–or rather, a trilogy of stories–started to take shape in my mind that blended those imagined Dark Age beginnings with the later tales. Trystan a warrior, skilled at both swordplay and disguise, but with a shadowed past; Isolde a renowned healer. And their world that of 6th-century Britain, and their journey a struggle to defend Britain against invaders when it would seem all hope is gone, as well as of romantic love. Twilight of Avalon, Dark Moon of Avalon, and Sunrise of Avalon.

In legend, the dying King Arthur is ferried away to be healed of his wounds on the magical, mist-shrouded Isle of Avalon. I chose the title Twilight of Avalon for the first book of the trilogy because it captured my sense of Trystan and Isolde’s Britain: a place in which Arthur has been killed at Camlann, and the magic of his world is fading from the land.

On the one hand, that could seem quite sad. But though we usually think of twilight as the end of today, there are many cultures around the world in which evening is seen instead as the beginning of tomorrow, the start of a whole new day.

twilightofavalonTWILIGHT OF AVALON

“Seven years ago, on the battlefield of Camlann, the great King Arthur was slain by Modred, his traitor son. And in the aftermath of battle, Isolde, daughter of Modred, was married to Arthur’s heir, Britain’s new high king, in a desperate bid to unite Britain’s warring factions. But now Isolde’s husband lies dead on another battlefield, and the Saxon tide that Arthur turned back is once more threatening Britain’s shores. Only Isolde knows the truth: that her husband was killed, not by the Saxon enemy, but by a powerful nobleman who will stop at nothing to become the next high king. Mistrusted among the king’s council for her father’s treachery, and branded a witch by many for her skill at the healer’s craft, Isolde’s only hope for survival is Trystan, a mercenary warrior with a shadowed past. Together Isolde and Trystan must fight to protect the throne from the king’s murderer, and expose a treasonous plot that could destroy Britain itself.”

darkmoonofavalonDARK MOON OF AVALON

“The young former High Queen, Isolde, and her friend and protector, Trystan, are reunited in a new and dangerous quest to keep the usurper, Lord Marche, and his Saxon allies from the throne of Britain. Using Isolde’s cunning wit and talent for healing and Trystan’s strength and bravery, they must act as diplomats, persuading the rulers of the smaller kingdoms, from Ireland to Cornwall, that their allegiance to the High King is needed to keep Britain from a despot’s hands.

Their admissions of love hang in the air, but neither wants to put the other at risk by openly declaring a deeper alliance. When their situation is at its most desperate, Trystan and Isolde must finally confront their true feelings toward each other, in time for a battle that will test the strength of their will and their love.

Steeped in the magic and lore of Arthurian legend, Elliott paints a moving portrait of a timeless romance, fraught with danger, yet with the power to inspire heroism and transcend even the darkest age.”

sunriseofavalonSUNRISE OF AVALON

“She is a healer, a storyteller, and a warrior. When Britain is faced with threats both old and new, the strength of her love may be the kingdom’s downfall … or salvation.
Their love has overcome endless obstacles. Never ones to shy away from danger, former High Queen Isolde and Trystan, a mercenary with a lonely and troubled past, have already endured a perilous journey to keep the underhanded Lord Marche from the throne of Britain. But now a new traitor lurks amongst the kings on Britain’s High Council&emdash;and just when they’ve realized the depth of their love for each other, a new danger calls Trystan from Isolde’s side to test the strength of their secret marriage vow. Only Isolde knows that she is carrying Trystan’s unborn child.

As Britain’s armies prepare for a final battle in which they will either turn back the tide of the invaders or see their kingdom utterly destroyed, Isolde must undertake yet another daring mission&emdash;one that will bring her even nearer to a secret that Trystan has kept for seven long years. As the clouds of war gather, Trystan and Isolde must once again fight to protect Britain’s throne. Together, they hold the key that can defeat the Saxon king, Octa of Kent, and Lord Marche. But the cost of Britain’s sovereignty may be their own forbidden love.
Based on the earliest written version of the Arthurian tales, Anna Elliott’s Sunrise of Avalon breathes new life into an age-old legend and brings the story of Trystan and Isolde to an unforgettable end.”