Gwenhwyfar: The White Spirit A Novel of King Arthur (2009)

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Gwenhwyfar: The White Spirit A Novel of King Arthur (2009)

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Gwenhwyfar: The White Spirit
“I think every fantasy writer decides at one point or another to tackle “the matter of Britain” otherwise known as the legend of King Arthur. The genesis of my own stab at this came when I was looking into Welsh legends and came upon the curious Triad of “The Three Guineveres.” Triad 56 of the Trioedd Ynys Prydein—translated as “The Triads of the Island of Britain”—lists the “Three Great Queens” of Arthur’s court.

Three Great Queens of Arthur’s Court:
Gwennhwyfar daughter of Cywryd Gwent,
And Gwenhwyfar daughter of Gwythyr son of Greidawl,
And Gwenhwyfar daughter of (G)ogfran the Giant.
[Trans. By Rachel Bromwich]

Well that certainly piqued my curiosity, as did the mention of yet another “Guinevere,” the “False Guinevere” or Gwenhwyfach–translated as “Little” or “Lesser” Guinevere. She is often said to be the bastard daughter of King LLuedd Ogrfan Gawr, or Ogrfan the Giant, born on the same day as her sister.

Yet another triad, Triad 53, describes the “Three Harmful Blows” of Britain, and states that the third was when Gwenhwyfach struck Gwenhwyfar and caused the battle of Camlann.

And last of all I found this extremely interesting item in my researches, three stanzas found by Jenny Rowland: “in the margin of the Dingestow 8 copy of Ymddiddan Arthur a’r Eryr (Aberysywyth, National Library of Wales, MS 5268, p. 461).”

[Gwenhwyfar speaks:]
Arthur fab Uthr of the long sword
I will say to you ?now/sadly the truth:
there is a master over every strong one.
[Arthur speaks:]
Gwenhwyfar you are ?Gwenh[w]yfach.
I have never been healed of love-sickness for you.
Medrawd is dead. I myself almost.
A surgeon has never seen a scar
where Caledfwlch [Excaliber] struck once:
I have struck Medrawd nine times.”

Now when you add in all the times that Guinevere seems to have been kidnapped, wandered away, run off with someone (not usually Lancelot!) and otherwise had any number of wild excursions, this seems a rather too active life for any one woman. Then you look at the places where she is childless, has one son, twin sons, and wonder which is true. And finally looking at how she supposedly died–where she is buried with Arthur, or somewhere else, is killed by Arthur after running off with Melwas, gets married (by force or willingly) to Mordred, becomes a nun, or dies of a broken heart after Kai kills her son (or sons), I began to form a picture in my mind of not one, but three actual Queens by that name.

Now I am not even going to pretend to be a Welsh/Celtic scholar, and I freely admit I made most of this up out of the little bits and pieces I found above. In my mind, I fastened on the third Guinevere, and I could easily see a scrappy fighter, much younger than Arthur, reluctantly wedded to a King quite old enough to be her father, as part of a bargain and power-play—but who, schooled early on in the discipline and duty of princes, intended to make the best of it she could. And since the road to hell is paved with good intentions…

Therein lies the tale.”

~Mercedes Lackey


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