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Reclaiming Guinevere for the 21st Century

By Nicole Evelina

Like many girls who would grow up have a passion for history and literature, my childhood heroes weren’t Disney princesses or Barbie, though I was a fan of both; they were the women of myth and legend, specifically Guinevere and Maid Marian. I grew up on the musical Camelot and my mom read me tales of King Arthur and his knights before I was able to make sense of books on my own. I’ve seen just about every Arthurian movie ever made, and read many modern literary interpretations. When I was preparing for confirmation, I asked the nuns if I could take the name Guinevere, but they wouldn’t let me because there is no St. Guinevere. (I chose Marian instead.)

From the Idylls of the King. Vivien. Elaine. Enid. Guinevere

From the Idylls of the King. Vivien. Elaine. Enid. Guinevere

So in many ways it was inevitable that I would someday write a book about Guinevere. (Actually, a trilogy called Guinevere’s Tale. My first novel in the series, Daughter of Destiny, is now available.) But what brought me to this point was years of wondering about the enigmatic character of Guinevere. Who was she before she married Arthur? Did she love someone before him? What was her true role in Camelot? Did she rule equally with Arthur? Was she in love with him? Did she want to be queen? Why Lancelot rather than other knights? How could Arthur condemn his wife to death? What happened after Lancelot rescued her? What if Guinevere didn’t live out her days in a convent? We know so much about Arthur and his knights, and even Morgan, but so little about the woman who would have been Arthur’s helpmate, and in the Celtic culture a historic Arthur would have lived in, possibly his equal.

Over the last five years, the Medievalists have published wonderful articles about Guinevere, including “In Search of Guinevere,” “Queen Guinevere, a queen through time,” (a great source on how the character changes over time) and “Guinevere, Superwoman of Contemporary Arthurian Fiction” (which I posted a reaction to on my own blog), that have catalogued her appearances in Arthurian legend, so I won’t rehash the literary evolution of the character here. However, it’s worth noting that literature tells painfully few things about Guinevere:

  • she was Arthur’s wife
  • she may have been barren
  • she was kidnapped by Melwas/Malegant/Mordred
  • she had an affair with Lancelot (either emotionally or physically depending on the story)
  • she may or may not have allied with/married Mordred after the fall of Camelot
  • she ended her days in a convent

But no one’s identity should be reduced to a handful of incidents. Guinevere had a childhood, a family and dreams for her future. She was a queen and may or may not have been a mother. As for her infamous affair, every situation has a context that is important to understanding it, even when it’s the climax that is remembered. Guinevere had reasons for acting as she did and she didn’t do it in a vacuum. The circumstances surrounding her affair are just as important as the act itself. The medieval tale of her ending her days in a convent is convenient and moral, but we all know life is messy and usually doesn’t end tied up in a nice bow. Chances are good there was far more to Guinevere’s story than we’ve ever heard.

Guinevere’s Tale (Daughter of Destiny, Camelot’s Queen, and Mistress of Legend) is my attempt to answer these questions. In it, Guinevere tells her own story – from the age of 11 to well into her 50s – seeking to right the wrongs history has thrust upon her, to clear away the mists of time and give the reader a clear picture of who she really was, virtues, sins and all. As she says in the prologue: “I deserve to be able to bear witness before being condemned by men who never saw my face. Grieve with me, grieve for me, but do not believe the lies which time would sell. All I ask is that mankind listen to my words, and then judge me on their merit.”

Daughter of DestinyHopefully, through these books I can provide a fully-fleshed out character for women young and old alike to look to in the generations after me. It’s my hope that as women continue to claim their power in modern society, they will learn from Guinevere’s mistakes, emulate her strengths, and claim her as the heroine and role model she should be. After all, if Arthur gets to be “the once and future king” who is constantly being resurrected and reinvented by authors and filmmakers, why shouldn’t his wife have the same privilege?

Nicole Evelina is St. Louis-born historical fiction and romantic comedy writer. Her first four books are coming out in 2016. She is one of only six authors who completed a week-long writing intensive taught by #1 New York Times bestselling author Deborah Harkness. Nicole has traveled to England twice to research the Guinevere trilogy, where she consulted with internationally acclaimed author and historian Geoffrey Ashe, as well as Arthurian/Glastonbury expert Jaime George, the man who helped Marion Zimmer Bradley research The Mists of Avalon.

You can visit her website, or find Nicole on Twitter as well as on Pinterest, Facebook and Instagram. You can email her at nicole [dot] evelina [at] att [dot] net.

Click here to learn more about Daughter of Destiny

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