The Seeds of Disaster

A hundred years or so ago (or so it seems) when I was teaching, students used to accuse teachers of making up the writers’ intentions. Shakespeare, in particular, probably never intended half of what has been ascribed to him by critics.

However, I’ve discovered that writers do insert treasured literary ideas or symbols into their work. They can’t help it.

Perhaps initially, the author might not intend to use symbols so deliberately, but the device is eventually recognised, realised and developed. This very same thing happened to me, so I know it’s real.

Throughout the three books of the Merlin Trilogy, a refrain of brothers who are banished has been developed and emphasised. At first, I accepted the situation of Ambrosius and Uther Pendragon who were forced to flee in their youth to escape the murderous intent of Vortigern, the Regicide. In Book 3, Web of Deceit, I expressed my belief that some of Uther’s pathological nature stemmed from this early loss of security and love.

Hengist and Horsa, the Friesian princes, were also banished to survive as mercenaries in their extreme youth. The younger brother, Horsa, is an open and free-spirited young man in my trilogy, and is far from the character-type of the Roman, Uther, who is the younger brother of Ambrosius. Yet Hengist, who is the more intelligent and careful of the brothers, acts with every bit as much barbarity as Uther in the The Night of the Long Knives,’ an incident still alive in the history and legends of the British Isles. This night of carnage is sparked by the murder of Horsa.

By this stage, given my fascination with number symbolism and nature versus nurture arguments about character development, I was deliberately exploring the use of banished brothers. Therefore, I returned to the legends to see how many more I could find.

The third book in the Merlin trilogy is probably the saddest of them all, given the disaster of the death of Ambrosius. The sons of Rowena and Vortigern, Pascent and Katigern (as he is sometimes named), were also banished after the fall of the fortress at Dinas Emrys and the death of their father, supposedly by a lightning strike. In the brutal world of the Dark Ages, lads who were half Saxon, half Celt, and who were the sons of a hated and feared ruler would have been shunned by their mother’s people. Pascent is supposed to be the murderer of Ambrosius (using poison), and this death is the probable cause of the defeat of the Celts over a century later. At that point in time, my Ambrosius had the opportunity to effect a planned and careful integration of Saxon and Celt culture in Britain. Unfortunately, Ambrosius’s murder increased the adversarial nature of relations between the foreign invaders and the embattled Celts.

The refrain of brothers runs through all of my work. Balyn and Balan, Artor and Caius, Gawayne and his brothers, even Morgause and Morgan are recognisable threads. Kinship is very important to me and I realise that I have used my novels to explore the nature of kinship, its various causes and effects and the problems that kinship can cause for wider society.

I suppose, as a writer, I use words to explore the intellectual and practical possibilities of various themes. For example, I reject magic outright, but the extra senses of the Sight form a supernatural thread throughout my work. Likewise, I express my beliefs in kinship, the loyalty and duties of blood relationships and what they mean to civilised persons. Part of me has always been wild and barbaric, and I have a sneaking feeling that I, too, like the brothers in my trilogies, would want blood for blood.

On the other hand, I have lived long enough to understand that revenge is a dangerous emotion and it can destroy everyone in the heat of passion. Hamlet leaps to mind immediately. Certainly, at worst, I believe that “revenge is a dish best eaten cold” and that the wild need to strike out at the person who has harmed our kin is a waste of time.

All in all, I’m saying that authors often use their writing to address issues that are important in their personal lives. Writing can be a trial run for many actions and reactions and the loss of a loved one is only one such circumstance.

So much for Derida and his belief that the author dies in text! But that’s another story.

M.K. Hume