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Did I or did I not say that there would be issues with Merlin when I saw the casting and heard about the particular changes they had made to the legend?

Well, there is indeed wank, though, oddly, those who find the show racist find it more sexist, because apparently women's magic is shown as bad - ignoring the fact that anti-magic Uther isn't sympathetic (though I wouldn't say he is totally wrong) - and Morgana, for instance, has good magic.

I'll just wait around and we'll get to the servants of colour thing too.

Now, if all the criticism was simply because the show is bad, though not as bad as Robin Hood or Demons, it would be more accurate. At least they have tried to be colour blind, and to give the woman as strong roles as possible in a world which has an inate bias towards the male. And the thing is called Merlin after all, and where you have Merlin you need Arthur. That centres the show on the male roles from the start. If you are looking for feminist texts, Arthurian legend is hardly the place to start. (And the first person who mentions The Mists of Avalon will be subjected to my standard rant on the subject of big, slow, stupid, badly researched books...)
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where you have Merlin you need Arthur

I have a feeling that Merlin appears without Arthur in one of James Bridie's plays. ?Ultima Thule? It's the one where 'The Orkney Boys' are centre-stage. Bridie is a pseudonym of Osborne Henry Mavor. I have seen a couple of his plays (in the Fringe), but he seems rarely performed, and I fall with delight on any volume of his I can find (of course, all the books are in Another Place).

And then there's the early Welsh poetry (if you allow Myrddin is Merlin).

I must admit, I particularly like Arthurian works without Arthur.

Yes, of course, but there isn't really a female character (except possibly Nimue) that a writer can crib from the legends as a sparring partner, is there?

I am actually rather fond of the way Merlin is shown in the early 60s TV series The Adventures of Sir Lancelot where he is an intelligent and mischievous, though good hearted, old man who achieves all his 'magic' by (period) science and stage tricks. Lancelot finds this out immediately and the pair become uneasy allies.

I had a male friend who used to go into rant mode over 'Mists' over its portrayal of priestesses. Of course, it was a fantasy and not meant to be taken in other ways despite how it has been adopted by many women as 'the way it was' in a Britain that never existed. Myth and legend is just that.

John & Caitlin Matthews' 'Ladies of the Lake' does have some interesting textual material on the role of women in Arthurian legend and I've got on order a new Gareth Knight book that deals with Faerie women in the legends.

I don't think it is a place to seek feminist material though there is esoteric aspects of the legends that change the emphasis of the magic of women and that was what MZB was attempting with MoA.

Of course, 'Merlin' is horribly flawed but I'd agree it is better than 'Demons' and 'Robin Hood'.


One of my male friends threw the book away at page 300. I have real problems with the portrayal of a Dark Ages Britain - which it is specifically supposed to be - with no slaves, for instance (though it was the rabbits that finally had me getting rid of the thing.) la_marquise_de who really is an expert does a much better rant than I do on the portrayal of 'druid' priestesses and Celtic female warriors! I really object to modern sensibilities in historical fiction...

I'd agree for historical fiction but 'Mists' is a fantasy novel through and through owing more to the writings of Dion Fortune on Arthurian legends and its roots in Atlantis than any attempt to write Arthur as history.

Previous to 'Mists' there was a series called 'The Seedbearers' by Peter Valentine Timlett that dealt with Atlantis and Dark Age Britain that again would make people looking for historical accuracy throw it against the wall but fantasy really should be considered in a different light.

Again I think the problem with 'Mists' is those who do take it as fiction based on accurate history rather than fantasy. I've never had any issues with it precisely because I read it when it was first published as I already was a fan of her SF Darkover series.

I know she was keen to write something honouring the Divine Feminine as this was part of her own search. I do feel the book has made an impact in that respect though again some of it unforessen given the number of 'Priestess of Avalon' groups that sprung up taking it as gospel.


If that was her intent she was caught between two stools, because she makes the time and setting plain and never hints that this is not Earth (I, for one, took it in the same way as the much superior The Once and Future King which treats Arthurian legend as the 'real' history of the Middle Ages and the historical kings as legendary - there is no confusion at all), and that is not a 'fantasy' world. Writing about the 'war leader after the Romans' Arthur (which is what she is doing) immediately sets the book in a realistic setting, at which she fails.

I also happen to think she fails at characterisation and storytelling. My main objection is that the book is boring.


No, of course it is Earth but it still is classed in the fantasy genre (historic probably) despite the lack of dragons and the like. There is the whole Otheroworld Faerie theme in there as well as the Atlantis thread.

I have no real issues with 'Mists' as I think you can tell though don't elevate it either. It is what it is much the same way as 'Excalibur' was a re-telling of the Arthurian legend so was it. I never found it boring but then as attendance at various reading groups has shown people have such different tastes.

My issues as such with 'Merlin' is the fundamental changes they have made in order to attract a teen audience like re-modelling it on 'Smallville'. As a generic fantasy it is Ok but takes too many liberties with the legend for me. I have a friend who adores it through and through and won't hear a snark about it. :) Even she knows that it isn't very faithful to the canon of Arthurian lore though.

Personally, I can't see the difference between Merlin making changes to Arthurian canon attract its demographic and Bradley making changes to attract her demographic.

Very good point. I guess I'd put Bradley into the role of a seeker (as she became a priestess herself and was a pagan) who wrote about something close to her heart over the BBC's executives though as they 'loved Smallville' so maybe it is just a matter of perspective.

Boorman also changed the canon but again did it from a passion for the material.

He who changes canon, may also expect to be nominated to be fired out of it.

I find Excalibur hilarious - I remember one critic who recommended that you took your Walkman to the cinema, loaded it with Wagner, and played it REAL LOUD to avoid listening to the dialogue. It seems a lot of the decisions made for that movie (the all-purpose-Orkney-sister and the all-purpose-knight) were made for budget reasons, but the rape-in-armour scene is hilarious - and rape shouldn't really make one laugh. I am so grateful that Boorman never got his paws on LotR - Arthurian stuff can survive anything, but I doubt that LotR could have.

I heard a very interesting talk once about how much of Arthurian storytelling is about Utopia-building and gives you interesting insights into contemporary attitudes to Utopia. Mist of Avalon viewed as a 1980s Californian Utopia is a lot more interesting than as a straight text, I find. It does alarm me the number of people who treat it as "the truth" and I wonder what it is, about MoA in particular, that generates that feeling. I've not read it but I get the impression that the Da Vinci Code does a similar thing although, given its about conspiracy, its sort of easier to see how it might draw people in.

Very true. It also illustrates the dreadful tendency in the later Bradley to emasculate all the male characters. (I have never forgiven her for re-writing The Sword of Aldones and turning Lew into a self-pitying creep.)

Edited at 2009-01-09 09:35 am (UTC)

It's utterly Out-Of-Period (but when did that ever stop scriptwriters) but ::
Britomart
or
The Queen's Damosel (Vera Chapman - who I was honoured to meet, many years ago) ?

As you say, both are out of period, and not part of the legend. There is a vast change of thinking between Malory and Spenser, though only just over a hundred years in time. It shows up even more in the work of Ariosto, which also contains a female Knight and lots of women who outwit the men but Ariosto is satiric and very, very funny. Malory was as 'historically accurate' as anyone could have expected to be in this period, where his only sources were other people who were making it up as they went along. (Yes, I'm looking at you, Geoffrey of Monmouth!)

I am very fond of Orlando Furioso but, unlike Bradley's book, it is hilarious and beautifully paced. Nor are the female knights in either Spenser or Ariosto in the least feminist. The Faerie Queen is written to flatter Queen Elizabeth - and, though it is many years since I read the thing, doesn't Britomart get married? This is certainly true of Bradamante - admittedly not Arthurian, though the two cycles are tied together.

Bradley does not have their excuses. She is writing with feminist intent, and twisting history to do it. If her world hadn't been so solidly tied to the "Celtic twilight" it would not have mattered, but tied to Dark Ages Britain it most certainly is.

One of the things I mainly object to is that the book is very badly paced, and, to be honest, deadly dull. The didactic purpose overwhelms the storytelling, which is a pity because Bradley's early books are well told and compulsive, and in her middle period she managed to balance the storytelling with the *message* in a reasonable fashion. (I am thinking about books like The Forbidden Tower.)

I did read the Chapman, but it made no impression on me and I can't remember a thing about it.

You can subvert the legend, and reinvent it, but please try to make it interesting - and it still carries baggage. The instant you use Merlin you are stuck with the baggage. Deal with it.

Edited at 2009-01-09 09:18 am (UTC)

Hello [[waves]] -- man here who deliberately did not watch the Beeb version, having had enough of "Robin Hood of the 13th/20th Century -- Radical Political Warrior -- and his Friend, Marion-the Nearly-Xena"

I do still have *some* taste, you know !!

Yet Merlin is actually miles better than Robin Hood. Not that it's good, exactly, but it is fun in a Prince of Theives sort of way. I don't have to leave the room when it's on.

I'm principally interested in the fandom reaction - not the "Ooooh, it's so slashy and shiny" reaction but the usual "Ooooh, it's so racist/sexist/ageist," thing, and even better, the spat which has developed because one fan wailed, "Don't leave my racist/sexist fandom for a new racist/sexist fandom because I don't like the new one and I want you to continue to write stories for that fandom, so will you please look at Merlin and consider whether fan-gurrling it is socially acceptable." Actually, to be fair, her argument was made much more articulately, but that was what it boiled down to, in the end.

I read that post, and it kind of made me scratch my head and go WTF? Because the Merlin the OP seemed to be describing bore very little resemblence to the one I watched.

Merlin isn't perfect - no TV show is - but nor is it a hotbed of racism, sexism and misogyny.

Of course not - but we are talking fandom here. If there is a hint of any ism they will find it, by gum. Often, when racism or sexism happens within fannish production it is a simple mistake - people do not consider how something will look/sound (particularly someone from a different cultural background) and, indeed, there is nothing wrong with someone who has been offended pointing this out - gently. Unfortunately, there is usually a great deal of hurtful wank and people exit in huffs. One person is banned from commenting on my LJ - not that they'd want to - because of the language they used to me on this subject.

Of course not - but we are talking fandom here. If there is a hint of any ism they will find it, by gum.

That was my first thought, to be honest. And of course, sometimes, it may even be there, but generally not by some planned evil intent. People do seem to get rather bent out of shape over things like this, and often it seems to me that the writers and producers can't win whatever they do.

It's like Primeval being criticised for having no black characters in it - yet, if they were suddenly to include a black character, it would be just as easy to criticise them for tokenism

It is astonishing how many people now accept Mists as somehow the orthodox version, and squeal when there aren't feminist Celtic girlies. We need some kind of pressure group... (Campaign for Getting One's Mediaeval Assumptions Right).

Feminist Celtic girlies (particularly given the latest research into the genetic make-up of the people of the British Isles) really get my goat. What worries me is in the inability to accept that social mores in the past - even the very recent past - were different. I'd rather they were historically correct than Politically Correct - which says something about me, from, of course, my privileged white position and my unprivileged female working-class position...

I was going to comment that we should be talking about Dark Age rather than Medieval assumptions, but Lil tells me 9from across the room and over a glass of rather good rhubarb wine, that 'dark Ages' are now regarded as politically incorrect. I did venture that perhaps it should now be called 'the light-challenged age' but understand that Medieval now stretches right back to the Romans.

Which probably explains MoAs rabbits...

... so, of course, I had to track down the post that started all the kerfuffle and discovered that among its motifs were "It's bad TV!" - which it is, but sadly it happens to be the sort of bad TV that I find entirely crack-tastic and irresistible - and "Is this what you're leaving My Fandom for?"

And then I found out that 'My Fandom' was that shining exemplar of TV as it oughta be ... Stargate: Atlantis.

End of argument.

To be fair to the OP, I think she was in part making the point that SGA was pretty bad in itself on matters of race and gender, and that she'd (I think) managed to come to terms with some of it, by way of writing better versions of the characters/situations, etc, but that she didn't want to go through the same thing all over again with Merlin. Or something like that. I don't think she was claiming SGA was a shining example of anything.

I don't know the show, but several people on my flist seem fond of it :-) Being crap in any objective sense of the word doesn't stop people loving a show, after all. And not everyone has the same definition of what's rubbish.

I think it was her reason for the post - that she didn't want all her friends migrating to another fandom - disguised as criticism of a particular show that bothered most people. legionseagle has interesting things to say on this subject (and a link to one of the best descriptions of Merlin evah.)

I like SG1 - or I did when Jack was in it - but could not get into Atlantis at all. The fan fic was the subject of an highly articulate attack for its racism by one of the more thoughtful American commentators, as being even more racist than the show itself.

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