The tale of Sir Morien, written into Celtic Arthurian canon in the 1200s and contemporaneous with the tales of Sir Galahad, begins thus:
Herein doth the adventure tell of a knight who was named Morien. And of a Moorish princess was he begotten at that time when Agloval sought far and wide for Lancelot, who was lost, as ye have read here afore.
I ween that he who made the tale of Lancelot and set it in rhyme forgat, and was heedless of, the fair adventure of Morien. I marvel much that they who were skilled in verse and the making of rhymes did not bring the story to its rightful ending.
He decides to visit England alone in the hopes of finding his father, via the quirky but unproductive method of beating up every knight he comes across until they told him where his father was/were actually his father all along. As a teenager, he held his own against the disguised Sir Lancelot in hand-to-hand combat for so long that Sir Gawain begged them to stop fighting, as he couldn’t bear to see such good knights kill each other for stupid reasons.
Meanwhile, characters in these stories aren’t really visually described unless they have superlative characteristics, such as mysterious all-black armor or remarkably long golden hair. Many knights were described as dark in hair and features. Instead of placing a large flashing sign in the middle of a saga going “THIS PERSON IS TOTALLY A PERSON OF COLOR YOU GUYS, WE REALLY HOPE YOU WILL TAKE THIS INTO ACCOUNT IN FUTURE ADAPTATIONS” the narrative might well have said “Sir Bors, who was dark” and moved on, assuming that readers or listeners would interpret it the way the narrator meant. Sir Morien is described as wearing North African armor, though most images of him are in European gear, possibly because the artists found Moorish armor too hard to draw.
Interestingly, this narrative makes a large point of describing his skin color, possibly because it was thought to be unusual and dramatic, especially as he seems to match his own shield and armor.
He was all black, even as I tell ye: his head, his body, and his hands were all black, saving only his teeth. His shield and his armour were even those of a Moor, and black as a raven…
Had they not heard him call upon God no man had dared face him, deeming that he was the devil or one of his fellows out of hell, for that his steed was so great, and he was taller even than Sir Lancelot, and black withal, as I said afore…
When the Moor heard these words he laughed with heart and mouth (his teeth were white as chalk, otherwise was he altogether black)…
Morien’s saga ends when he finds his father (Sir Agrovale of the Round Table) and convinces him to return to Africa and marry Morien’s mother, thus making an honest woman of her and a legitimate son of Morien. Sir Agrovale goes “OH, hey, yeah, I completely forgot I was going to do that! Sorry, son!” and they get married and Sir Morien can therefore legally inherit his mother’s kingdom and gets to be a king.
Camelot is the most famous fictional castle and court associated with the legendary King Arthur. Later romance depicts it as the fantastic capital of Arthur’s realm, from which he fought many of the battles and quests that made up his life. Camelot as a place is associated with ideals like justice, bravery and truth, the virtues Arthur and his knights embody in the romances. It is absent from the early material, and its location, if it even existed, is in England. Most modern academic scholars regard it as being entirely fictional, its geography being perfect for romance writers; Arthurian scholar Norris J. Lacy commented that “Camelot can be anywhere.” Nevertheless arguments about the location of the “real Camelot” have occurred since the 15th century and continue to rage today in popular works and for tourism purposes.
Tristan and Iseult’s conflict of love and loyalty is one of the classic tales of Western literature; in the Arthurian tradition, their tragic tragectory rivals and complements that of Lancelot and Guinevere. The basic story is one of mis-directed love: Tristan, the heroic nephew of King Mark of Cornwall, is sent to Ireland to escort the Irish king’s daughter, the beautiful Iseult, to Cornwall to become his uncle’s bride. In most versions, it is during the return voyage that Tristan and Iseult accidentally consume a love potion (meant to ensure Iseult’s happiness with Mark) together, and fall in love. Because Iseult’s engagement to Mark cannot be broken, she marries the king despite her love for Tristan, and the two lovers spend the rest of their lives attempting to satisfy their desire for each other without revealing that desire to Mark and the Cornish court. The tale of potion-induced passion has proved irresistable to artists in all media, from literature to visual arts to music, to the point that Wagner’s opera Tristan und Isolde is now more famous than the text on which it is based, the thirteenth century Tristan and Isolde of Gottfried von Strassburg. Virtually all versions of the legend revolve around conflicting themes of romantic love and political loyalty, though no two tellings treat these themes identically.
Arthur is no fit King. Uther’s bastard, Merlin’s pawn, he is lowborn and a fool. He is wanton and petty and cruel. A glutton and a drunkard, he lacks all civilized graces. In short, he is a sullen, ignorant brute. All these things and more men say of Arthur. Let them. When all the words are spoken and the arguements fall exhausted into silence, this single fact remains: we would follow Arthur to the very gates of Hell and beyond if he asked it. And that is the solitary truth. Show me another who can claim such loyalty. - Stephen R. Lawhead, The Pendragon Cycle (Arthur)
I chose to illustrate the Lady of the Lake out of a long-time love of medieval folklore and women in mythology. Sometimes treacherous, always mysterious, and instrumental to the plot of the Arthurian legend, the Lady of the Lake is a timeless figure in historical myth.
If you missed the kickstarter, you can still check out some of the submissions on the project’s blog @ ladiesofliterature!