Excalibur is not a thing, something you can hold in your hand.
Excalibur is the good in you.
The power to do good, to stand up for what's right, to slay dragons, to capture bank robbers.
You always carry Excalibur in your heart.


Robert Tinnell, Kids of the Round Table (1995)

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Green Knight Teaser

A24 recently released a teaser for its upcoming film The Green Knight.




(My thanks to Rodney Parrish and other members of the Arthurian Popular Culture Discussion List for the head's up.)

Monday, November 4, 2019

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Dragons of Camelot

I finally got around to watching The Dragons of Camelot (2014).

Directed by Mark K. Lester, the production was filmed on location in Wales and serves as a continuation of the Arthurian story that pits Arthurian heroes against Morgan le Fay (and her dragon allies) for rule of the country after Arthur's death. Lancelot and Guinevere play pivotal roles as does their son, Galahad. He is aided in his quest by former Grail seekers Bors, Percival and his sister, Dindrane. Merlin is also featured and is instrumental to Morgan's defeat. There are some notable divergences from the tradition, but the film does make a useful contribution to the After-Arthur subgenre.

The dvd release includes a short documentary on the making of the film.


Friday, June 14, 2019

Harty Celebration in Arthuriana

The latest number of Arthuriana (29.2 for Summer 2019) is a special issue celebrating the work of Kevin J. Harty. It also features a number of reviews of recent films.

Relevant content is as follows. Subscribers may access the issue at the journal's website and Project MUSE.


Preface
Alan Lupack and Barbara Tepa Lupack 3

‘Who are the Britons?’ Questions of Ethnic and National Identity in Arthurian Films
Christopher A. Snyder 6

Queer as Folk
Donald L. Hoffman  24

Tristan in Film
Joan Tasker Grimbert 47

A Connecticut Yankee at the Movies
Barbara Tepa Lupack 64

Romancing the Cold War: America’s Atomic Narrative Gets Medieval [on Adventures of Sir Galahad]
Susan Aronstein 86

From Kids as Galahad to Kid Galahad
Alan Lupack 102



REVIEWS
 

Joe Cornish, dir., The Kid Who Would Be King
Alan Lupack 119
 
David Mackenzie, dir., Outlaw King
Andrew B.R. Elliott 121
 
James Wan, dir., Aquaman  
Susan Aronstein and Taran Drummond 124



Sunday, May 5, 2019

Croft on Orphan Black!


Janet Brennan Croft has an intriguing new essay out in the recent issues of Mythlore. It can be ordered direct at http://www.mythsoc.org/mythlore/mythlore-134.htm.


Here is the citation:

Croft, Janet Brennan. “ ‘Auntie, What Ails Thee?’: The Parzival Question in Orphan Black.” Mythlore, vol. 37, no. 3, Spring/Summer 2019, pp. 117-39.


Saturday, April 20, 2019

Hellboy and the Return of the King: A Review


Hellboy and the Return of the King: A Review




Neil Marshall’s reboot of the Hellboy film franchise is a stark contrast to the films of Guillermo del Toro (2004’s Hellboy and its 2008 sequel, Hellboy II: The Golden Army). The petulant, childish Hellboy portrayed by sci-fi/fantasy staple-actor Ron Perlman in del Toro’s films is juxtaposed with Stranger Things veteran David Harbour’s more mature—if still sarcastic—take on the character in Marshall’s film. While the reboot has received largely mixed reviews (and perhaps that is being a bit too kind in most cases), the reviews that denigrate the film often ground themselves in a loyalty to del Toro’s vision for Hellboy—a vision that, perhaps, was not grounded in a sense of fidelity to Mike Mignola’s creation nor his comics. While it is in the nature of adaptations to not necessarily adhere to any sense of fidelity to their sources, as Julie Sanders so clearly explains, readers of Dark Horse’s Hellboy series seem to be torn on Marshall’s film: while del Toro’s Hellboy may be the most prominent and established—aside from Mignola’s own, of course—Marshall’s Hellboy is more familiar to the readers of Mignola’s comics, as 2019’s Red remains true to the older, more experienced Hellboy of Dark Horse’s solo title. It could be argued—and has been, by a few reviewers—that del Toro’s Hellboy films are a better take on the B.P.R.D. series than a worthy Hellboy adaptation. Whatever the case may be, there is one thing that clearly separates the reboot from del Toro’s films: the presence of the Once and Future King himself, Arthur Pendragon.
            From the first seconds of the film, the narration of Professor Broom (portrayed by the talented, if perhaps strangely cast, Ian McShane) introduces audiences to Dark Age Britain and the war between King Arthur and the fey folk of the island, led by the Blood Queen, Vivienne-Nimue. Without giving too much of the film away, Excalibur, Arthur, Merlin, and the very medieval notions of prophesy and fate play a vital role in the film’s narrative, particularly when it comes to Hellboy and his own connections with the events of the past. Marshall’s source material becomes clear with this set-up: the rebooted Hellboy is drawing upon the last few story arcs in the standalone Hellboy title, The Wild Hunt, The Storm, and The Fury. (In fact, the original title for the reboot was Hellboy: Wild Hunt, which was changed in the last few months before its release for an unspecified reason.) Mignola’s final arcs before the Hellboy in Hell series pit Red in against the Blood Queen and the evils of “Ragna Rok,” the apocalyptic event of which Hellboy is a herald.
            The film expands the role of Arthur and, notably, Merlin, as the two have more of a presence than in Mignola’s work. However, it is Hellboy’s connection to them that still remains the most vital component to the narrative arc in both the film and its sourcetexts. Hellboy’s involvement in British affairs begins when the Osiris Club asks for his help in killing three giants that have been plaguing the English countryside. With a warning about the apocalypse from a vampiric former B.P.R.D. agent still in his mind, Hellboy teams up with the Osiris club’s “Wild Hunt” to slay the monsters. It is explained that giants were the original inhabitants of the island nation—an interesting nod to the pseudo-histories of Geoffrey of Monmouth, Wace, and Layamon—who often return to wreak havoc. Many Wild Hunts have been formed in the past with honored guests, including Hellboy’s “father” Professor Broom, but Hellboy remains skeptical of why he is needed—and rightly so. As in the comics, the Wild Hunt turns on Hellboy, claiming that he, a devil, “will never sit on the throne of England.” Hellboy, and perhaps new audiences who have not read Mignola’s comics, is yet unaware that this has to do with his lineage and his destiny as the last remaining scion of Arthur Pendragon.
            In an interesting change from the source material, Harbour’s Hellboy finds out about his relationship to Arthur not from Morgan le Fay, as in the comics, but from Merlin himself (who, interestingly, is portrayed with a Scottish accent by Irish actor Brian Gleeson, perhaps in a nod to Merlin’s origins with Scotland’s Lailoken, the medieval seer and wild man). Perhaps this change was due to the knowability of Merlin for a more general audience, as he is arguably more recognizable as being tied to Arthur in popular culture, but this argument does not hold much weight considering the number of adaptations and representations of Arthur both in medieval works and in popular culture that do feature Morgan le Fay. This change, while seemingly arbitrary, marks a serious departure from the film’s sourcetext, and is worth noting, for whatever reason the change was made—though I, for one, hope that it was merely a nod to the relationship between Nimue and Merlin of Arthurian legend (notably Malory and those works adapted from Le Morte Darthur) and not a sign of a larger erasure of Morgan herself.
            The Morgan change in the film becomes more important, however, when Hellboy’s lineage is explained by Merlin in the film. Rather than have Morgan le Fay, the self-proclaimed mother of Arthur’s only son, Mordred, explain who Hellboy is as do the comics, the film opts for a less family-centered approach. The filmic Merlin explains to Hellboy that Arthur had a daughter, who had a daughter, and so on, down to Hellboy’s mother, a witch, in 1571 who gave birth to Hellboy in Hell, as his demon father had claimed the mixed human-devil child. It is interesting to note that the film plays heavily on the notion of what side Hellboy will choose, the devil inside or the human upbringing he was given. However, the comics complicate this aspect of Hellboy’s choice by explaining that Arthur’s son, Mordred—and not the fictional daughter of the film—is Hellboy’s link to Arthur. In The Wild Hunt story arc, Morgan explains that Mordred, her son and the bastard of King Arthur himself, had himself three sons, born to a witch, and who, after Mordred’s death at Camlan, were tracked down and put to death—yet another nod to the pseudo-histories of Geoffrey, Wace, and Layamon, who describe the “extinction” of Mordred’s line. But, as Morgan explains, Mordred also had a daughter, a daughter that was hidden from those who sought to end the line of Pendragon: from this daughter is the line of daughters—all witches themselves—comes Sarah Hughes, the witch mother of Hellboy. Hellboy is, then, the first and only male descendant of Mordred, the last male in the line of King Arthur, and the rightful king of Britain. The Hellboy of the comics is thus a scion of evil on both sides: his demon father, Azzael, is a lord of Hell, and his human lineage stems from Mordred, the man who usurped Arthur’s crown and eventually killed him, bringing evil to Britain.
            By changing this key aspect of Hellboy’s lineage and giving Arthur the daughter rather than Mordred, the film provides Hellboy with a more of a choice between the “good” side of himself, the human side, or the “dark” heritage of his demon father. While this change does, of course, lend itself to the film’s direction—Hellboy’s choice is the catalyst for the eventual defeat of Nimue and for the stemming of Ragna Rok itself via his rejection of his demonic destiny—it is a change that somewhat lessens the Arthurian possibilities of future Hellboy installments. As Marshall’s Hellboy relies strongly on the ideas of destiny and fate—as suits its medieval sources, particularly when it comes to the importance of Merlin and his prophesies in Geoffrey of Monmouth—one might argue that a Hellboy who must choose between not one but two evil lineages would be the more interesting direction (as Mignola himself seems to think), but, instead, Red is allowed the choice between being human—or as near an approximation to human as a tall, red half-demon with a stone right hand can get—and being Nimue’s king, a lord of Hell and the bringer of the end of days.
Red, of course, rejects the demonic lordship in both the comics and in the film, but the film adds a new layer to the already complicated character of Harbour’s Hellboy. The newest iteration of Hellboy rejects Excalibur, the only weapon that can defeat the Blood Queen—at least at first. When Merlin asks Hellboy if tales of King Arthur still exist in the world—to which Hellboy jokingly replies that King Arthur is a pop culture phenomenon—and if the devilish hero has heard of the sword in the stone, the knowing audience soon realizes that Hellboy will be asked to draw the sword again, as only a true descendant of Arthur can do so. This is a bit of a twist to Malory’s sword in the stone episode, and is a revision to both the comics and to the Once and Future King prophecy associated with Arthur. A possible explanation for this change can be found by applying Jason Tondro’s classifications of Arthurian comics in his essay “Camelot in Comics,” found in the collection King Arthur in Popular Culture, edited by Elizabeth S. Sklar and Donald L. Hoffman. In his essay, Tondro explains the category of “Arthur Transformed,” as containing “Return of the King” style narratives that either show Arthur himself as returned to a different context or, as in the case of Hellboy, position another character as the rightful heir of Arthur who will act as a returned king (177). The initial rejection of Excalibur of Harbour’s Hellboy is also a rejection of his Arthurian destiny, the rejection of the return of the rightful kingship. However, when Hellboy finally claims Excalibur—in the tomb of Arthur, no less, who disappears in fire after the sword is drawn, signifying Hellboy’s demonic fate—after the traumatic death of Professor Broom at the hands of Nimue, the film portrays the acceptance of the Arthurian kingship as an equal acceptance of an alliance with Nimue and Hellboy’s destiny as a lord of Hell and a herald of the apocalypse. Hellboy, wielding a flaming Excalibur, crowned with a hellfire and fully horned (see the above image), unleashes Hell on Earth—quite literally. It is only by embracing his human nature that Hellboy is able to banish the hellspawn he unleashes, behead Nimue with Excalibur (just as his ancestor did before him) and reject his perceived destiny as ruler of Hell. While the Hellboy of the comics also rejects his kingship, another king returns, wielding the Excalibur that Hellboy rejects, to lead the returned knights of Britain against the forces of Ragna Rok, while Hellboy himself stems the tides of Hell at the cost of his life—or so it seems.
The film, however, ends on less of an Arthurian note. After Alice jokingly asks Hellboy if he is king of England now, the film’s timeline jumps forward, and Excalibur is not seen again, either in Hellboy’s hands or embedded in stone. We are left wondering where it is, if Hellboy will wield it, if he will be content to be a hero and not a king, and if his destiny will play a further role in his life with the remnants of the B.P.R.D. The Arthurian death of Hellboy from the final pages of The Fury comic arc are left untouched by the film, and, given the role of the Baba Yaga in the film and in the end credits scene, it seems as if, rather than moving forward in Mignola’s Hellboy timeline, any potential sequel will instead move backwards to deal with the Darkness Calls story arc. Perhaps Hellboy’s Arthurian links will play a future role in a fight with the teased Koshchei the Deathless? As of yet, we do not know. While audiences and critics must wait to see if future Hellboy films will continue the Arthurian storyline, the disappearance of Excalibur from the last moments of the film is likely an indicator of the future—a future that may also include Abe Sapien, which hardly seems like a worthy replacement for Excalibur and the Arthurian elements showcased in the majority of the film.
Whatever Red’s future may hold, the Arthurian elements of Mignola’s Hellboy were finally realized on screen. While changes were made, the spirit of the Arthurian source material—both Mignola’s comics and medieval Arthurian literature—remains in Marshall’s film. Audiences and critics alike must also remember that this is a new Hellboy, one that draws from different inspiration and moves in a different direction than del Toro’s version of the titular character. In an era of Arthurian inundation, I, for one, welcome Hellboy’s take on the Matter of Britain.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Aquaman and the Matter of Atlantis: A Brief Review



Aquaman and the Matter of Atlantis



James Wan’s Aquaman is firmly entrenched (no pun intended) in its source material, even while it makes changes and shifts to the established DC Comics’ “canonical” versions of Aquaman’s history and his rise to the throne of Atlantis. Wan’s film is based on the DC Comics runs of Geoff Johns, who even assisted in the writing of the film. Johns’s story arcs for DC’s New 52 version of Aquaman, notably The Trench, Throne of Atlantis, and Death of a King are all condensed and adapted for the filmic version of Arthur Curry—this includes the Arthurian aspects of Johns’s runs and the links between Arthur, King of Atlantis and the (arguably) more famous Arthur, King of the Britons.
            The Arthurian connections begin almost immediately in Wan’s film and continue throughout the 2 hour and 23 minute run time of DC’s latest entry in its cinematic universe. Aquaman makes no attempt to hide its borrowing of Arthurian themes—nor does its comics source material—and in fact seems to desire an explicit as well as implicit connection between the two Arthurs. Tom Curry, Arthur’s father, suggests that he and Atlanna, the escaped Atlantean queen, name their son Arthur, as Tom recalls the power of the mythic king. Arthur Curry, like that famous king of legend, is to serve as a uniter of warring peoples, though instead of various tribes of Britons, Aquaman must unite the seemingly disparate Atlantean factions as well as the people of the land. No mean task for a man who feels like he truly belongs to neither world, the human nor the Atlantean.
            However, all seem to be aware of his role, none more so than his mother, Atlanna. She tells the young Arthur a story about the trident of Atlan, the legendary king of Atlantis, and that only the rightful king, the true king, can find it and wield it in service to his people. If this sounds similar, it should: this is an obvious connection to the sword in the stone motif of Arthurian legend, and one that Johns and his predecessors in the Aquaman comic title, Peter David and Rick Veitch use heavily. The notion of a “bastard” being the rightful king of Atlantis is also called into question, another clear parallel with Arthurian legend. With these themes of rightful kingship, questionable parentage, and monarchial love relationships, Johns and Wan draw inspiration from Malory. Johns is no stranger to the Arthurian themes and characteristics of Le Morte Darthur; in fact, his Aquaman: Death of a King story arc is a near-perfect parallel to the rise and fall of the legendary King Arthur—albeit with adapted revisions and reimaginings that fit with Jason Tondro’s explorations of the categories of Arthurian comics. While the film carries on with these parallels, it remains, of course, a new vision of Aquaman which is adapted from the New 52 comics and not meant to be a complete rehashing of Johns’s former work with the character.
            As in Le Morte Darthur, Aquaman’s king is conceived by a royal figure who may or may not be married at the time of Arthur’s conception and birth: the film never explicitly reveals if Tom and Atlanna were married, which adds the ambiguity of Arthur’s birth which is also present in the early life of Malory’s Arthur. Of course, the gender reversal of the royal figure from whom Arthur claims his birthright—the line of his mother, Atlanna, versus the primogeniture line of Uther Pendragon for King Arthur—is a difference, but not a major one for Wan’s film, as in Atlantis it seems that kings can be made from either side, the mother or the father. Atlanna, fleeing an arranged marriage, still parallels Malory’s Igraine, who flees the unwanted advances of Uther; yet, like Igraine, Atlanna does eventually marry the new king of Atlantis, and conceives another child, Orm, who will take the place of Morgan le Fay in both the comics and the film.
Like Malory’s Arthur, Arthur Curry is hidden away from his birthright. Kept from the political machinations of the sea kingdoms, Arthur is raised by his father, who teaches him the system of honor and duty that will guide Arthur’s life both as the Justice League member Aquaman and as the eventual King of Atlantis. The Māori culture to which he and his father belong—a change, of course, modeled on the fact that lead actor, Jason Momoa, is of Māori decent. This change does not feel out of place, however, as it adds to the differences between human culture and those of the various peoples of Atlantis, which only serves to heighten the importance of Arthur Curry’s unification of land and sea when he becomes king. Arthur Curry is also taught by Vulko, his mother’s trusted advisor, who functions as a Merlin figure in the life of young Arthur (perhaps in a nod to T. H. White’s Merlyn, who trains “Wart” to be a good king). Why Vulko trains Arthur in the ways of Atlantis is never really made explicit, but it can be assumed that he, like Merlin before him, knows that Arthur will unify nations and ardently believes that the young king-in-waiting must embrace his destiny. Vulko’s role seems to be much smaller in the film than in the comics, which perhaps comes from the necessary shortening of the film and the condensing of the various story arcs from the comics into a single, cohesive narrative, but Vulko feels a bit wasted in Aquaman. Perhaps, like Batman vs. Superman before it, Aquaman will eventually see an extended version that answers some nagging questions—particularly about how and why Vulko finds Arthur when no one else seems to be able to, or the fact that no one questions the time Vulko remains on the surface to train the young prince, or when and why those lessons stop—but, for now, we may only guess at the reasons and attempt to fill in the gaps with not only Johns’s runs of Aquaman comics, but also with our understanding of Malory and other Arthurian stories.
Orm, Aquaman’s brother and King of Atlantis (at least before Arthur himself proves his worth), hates his older brother, whom he sees as the reason Atlanna was banished by her Atlantean husband to The Trench to die. Orm functions as a Morgan le Fay character because of that hate: he blames his brother for all of his ills just as Morgan blames Arthur for the death of her father, her political marriage, and nearly all else in her life. Also like Morgan, Orm has a chance at redemption in the end. In Malory, Morgan is one of the queens who carries Arthur away to Avalon to be healed, proving that she is no longer out to see her brother dead; in Aquaman (the film as well as the comics), Orm cedes the throne to Arthur when he defeats him in combat with the trident of Atlan—and at the urging of their mother, also returned from The Trench. Orm’s hatred of the land stems from Arthur’s birth and his mother’s exile, and, in a way, could also be considered a kind of Mordred figure; whichever we chose to see him as, however, he remains alive and will likely play a vital role in any Aquaman sequel.
Without spoiling too much of the film, Arthur’s worthiness is proved when he claims Atlan’s trident in much the same way as Arthur Pendragon’s claim to the British throne is proven when he draws the sword from the stone and when he claims Excalibur from the Lady of the Lake (see the image above for an even more blatant connection between Excalibur and Atlan's trident). Atlan’s role in the film is significantly shortened and changed from Johns’s Death of a King story arc, though his importance as the last king of a truly unified Atlantis—an Atlantis that had yet to sink—creates yet another Arthurian parallel: Atlan left his kingdom after it fell and his trident was hidden away until Arthur reclaims it. The reference here is, of course, to King Arthur’s journey to Avalon and crafts Arthur Curry as a returned Arthur, a new Arthurian king that will once again unite the disparate peoples into a united front to combat evil. While I still hope for Atlan’s return and the revelations that come with it—Death of a King remains my favorite of Johns’s stories, and pits two Arthurian figures against each other—I can at least be glad that all of Johns’s arcs are used and referenced in the film (Arthurian content, of course, included).
Wan’s Aquaman—with more than a little help from Geoff Johns, it seems—continues the tradition of Aquaman-as-Arthur established by DC comics and the more recent iterations of Arthur Curry. While adaptations are necessarily different than their source material, Aquaman holds its own, not just as a superhero film, but also as an Arthurian film. While Arthur (Curry) rules, Atlantis-as-Britain has a strong leader. But, while Orm and Black Manta live, Atlantis will never truly know peace—especially as it is pulled into the conflicts of the land with its king maintaining membership in the Justice League. I, for one, hope that the Matter of Atlantis will continue on the screen, and, of course, in the comics.