Tag Archives: Jennifer Thorne

Slash is nothing new- Arthurian romance and tragedy

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Slash is nothing new- Arthurian romance and tragedy

The Arthurian legends came about because of an interesting fusion of Southern French cultural values and Celtic/Welsh legends mixed in with a vernacular history of Wales after the fall of Rome, all stewed together in the interesting melting-pot of late 11th century Brittany. French and English writers in the 12th century added onto that inheritance from the folk culture of Brittany/Wales, creating the first true novels in Western literature.

A character called Galehaut shows up in the early versions, especially in the anonymously-written Lancelot-Grail, but he is increasingly sanitized, and then completely erased from later versions of the story.

Galehaut is the Lord of the Stranger’s Isles. He is the son of a great king and a giantess. This only gives him a small advantage in height and strength, and does not show otherwise, although he has conquered more than thirty other kingdoms since taking the crown.

When the story starts he has begun the invasion of Camelot, and he sees Lancelot fighting incognito on the battlefield. Immediately, Galehaut stops the war to find out who this knight is. It is, in fact, love at first sight. He realizes that Lancelot cannot love him, but he abandons everything to be beside him, even acting as chaperone when the great knight and the queen go on romantic assignations. Foolishly, Arthur believes that having a third party along will stop any improper relations.

Lancelot is beloved and desired by all. Arthur, when asked by Galehaut what he would do for his companion, says that he would share anything with Lancelot, except, of course, the queen. Making himself into the ultimate patsy. One of the other knights, by the name of Gauvain (who was a womanizer in the medieval literature) then says, ‘If God were to give me all the health I desire, I would want to be the fairest damsel in the world, in robust good health, as long as he loved me above all others, just as I would love him’.

If anyone reading the story had somehow missed the erotic gay subtext up until then… they probably got it after that one.

In the end, though, Galehaut does what all tragic heroes do… he hears that the one he loves above all has died (even though Lancelot is still fine), and wastes away until he is dead himself. Lancelot doesn’t spend a lot of time mourning this fact, and instead devotes himself completely to Guinevere, which of course hastens the downfall of the kingdom. You really have to wonder if Camelot would have done better if Lancelot had decided to go for Galehaut instead… Then Arthur would have had two legendary knights at his disposal when trouble came, instead of none.

After Arthur is gravely wounded, Guinevere goes to a convent and becomes a nun, telling Lancelot that she will never see him again. Lancelot goes to a monastery. When Lancelot dies he asks to be buried beside his truest friend and companion… Galehaut. Not Guinevere.

Galehaut eventually gets the moral and physical victory, although at great cost to himself. However, if you look at it, nobody really had a great time- not Arthur, Guinevere, Merlin, Lancelot, or any of the cast and crew of Camelot.

The funny thing is, medieval writers spent a LOT of time saying ‘Oh, these knights love each other MORE THAN ANYONE ELSE IN THE WORLD! But, they’re not gay. NO!’

I wonder if then, as now, there was a tendency to ship your favourite characters. It seems to be built right into the literature.

The picture featured here shows Lancelot and Guinevere kissing across Galehaut’s lap.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Brittany

http://www.bl.uk/catalogues/illuminatedmanuscripts/TourArtGen.asp

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galehaut

And, for your listening pleasure- Mordred’s Lullaby, by the ever-talented Heather Dale

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Why I love historical fiction

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This isn’t going to be an annotated scholarly work on the Troubadours, and 12th century Occitanian culture, but I thought that I might share some interesting tidbits from my current research.

I’ll start off with something you might not know- Richard the Lionheart was, in all probability, gay. And so was his next-youngest brother, Geoffroy. And they both probably slept with the king of France. Which, any ardent student of medieval history probably knows, but it was news to me when I started researching my current wip. All I was looking for was the chance that troubadours had expressed homosocial desire… Which is much harder to find than I had thought.

A 17th century royal portrait of Richard I

 

 

 

However, all was not lost. I ordered a book called Listening to the Sirens (see below), and there were a few pages dedicated to a troubadour by the name of Arnaut Daniel… who was, possibly, maybe, if you took some of his lyrics a certain way, gay. The evidence is compelling when you look at it, but, you have to be sensitive to the subtext.

Arnaut Daniel was the premier poet and troubadour of his age (and many that followed), and he invented an insanely complex poetic form called the ‘sestina’. He also liked to use obscure language that had multiple meanings

 

 

Arnaut tramet son chantar d’ongl’e d’oncle          Arnaut sends forth this song of uncle and nail

a Grant Desiei, qui de sa verj’a l’arma,                    to Great Desire, which of his rod holds the soul,

son cledisat qu’apres dins cambra intra.                 a framework-song which, learned, the room enters.

Dezirat was the nickname of both Arnaut Daniel and Bertran de Born. It’s true, that the object of desire (ostensibly a noble lady) was quite often given a masculine code name (senha), but that doesn’t actually make it any clearer. There are quite a few words that he uses which could go either way – ver(g/j)a meant virgin, rod, branch, sceptre, and penis, intra meant to penetrate or to enter, and cambra had the double meaning of chamber and vagina. Uncle meant both a literal Uncle, and an older man who was a protector.  I have included a link to a good English translation below. If you read through it you’ll see what I mean. This was a naughty, naughty song.

Dante Alighieri includes Arnaut Daniel in his Divine Comedy in the section on Purgatory. The troubadour was apparently spending time there with all the other lustful hermaphrodites (ie. Men who enjoyed the passive side of of sodomy due to their feminine natures). Dante seems to have thought that quite a few men of letters ended up there, including a number that he knew personally and admired.

In the 12th century they didn’t really have a classification for people who were anything other than heterosexual. Any desires which deviated from the ‘norm’ were considered sin, although there were various gradations of it. If someone had sex with someone of the same gender in a consensual fashion it was considered to be a form of greed on par with charging too much interest on a loan… as long as it wasn’t done too often. If one went around raping people it was much worse to do it to someone of the same gender, and would probably send the perpetrator to hell.

As with all things in European society, the punishments and fears got greater as time wore on. By the 15th century it wasn’t a good idea to be anything different at all, including a leper, Jew, woman (of any kind, but especially an intelligent one), have a severe learning disability, or have any physical deformity (like moles, which were called ‘the kiss of the Devil’- I would have been burned at the stake for sure, since I look a bit like a negative Milky Way and I just can’t help giving people the dubious benefit of my opinions).

History is fabulously fascinating, and half of the joy of writing historical fiction is discovering a context to place the characters in. Also, knowing more about history can make your fantasy worlds more robust- you can cherry-pick elements to add depth.

I don’t know how long it will take me to write the story of Isodard and Berengar, but hopefully once I get everything set up it will flow like hot butter (and not molasses in January, which is my usual writing pace).

~Jennifer

This is supposedly a portrait of Arnaut Daniel (Bibliothèque Nationale, MS cod. fr. 12473)

Works From Which I Got Some Good Tidbits And You Might Like To Read As Well:

Peraino, Judith A. Listening to the Sirens: musical technologies of Queer identity from Homer to Hedwig. University of California Press, Los Angeles, 2006.

Boyle, David. Blondel’s Song: the capture, imprisonment and ransom of Richard the Lionheart. Viking, Toronto, 2005.

http://www.trobar.org/troubadours/arnaut_daniel/arnaut_daniel_09.php

Accessed on September 14, 2012

 

 

 

 

Jennifer Thorne has just recently published a contemporary novella called A Road Not Taken with Samhain Publishing.

The Kiss of Death

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It’s dark outside, but the sweat still prickles along my hairline and runs in slimy drops down my back, somehow avoiding the expensive running clothing which is supposed to keep me dry and cool in any weather. The temperature hasn’t dropped any for all that the sun went down.

It’s not the safest thing to be out in the park this time of night, but I’ve done it for years and nothing’s happened to me yet. I guess it’s harder to hit a moving target.

I thought it was gone, but the feeling comes back- I’m being followed. It’s been like this for the last few nights.

I step up the pace a bit and check over my shoulder, but the path is empty. I’m approaching the forested bit, but that’s not where the feeling is coming from. Just as I reach the trees I blank out. My vision goes white and fuzzy, and there’s this strange buzz in my ears.

When I come to I’m back near the entrance to the park. I’m still sweaty like I’ve been running. There’s still someone behind me. I look, but I can’t see anyone. My house is on the other side. I need to get there.

I try another route.

The air is thick and muggy- it sticks to my lungs, and I have to push harder to move it in and out. Maybe I’m panicking just a little.

At the little kid playground I blank out again. This time there are things moving in the whiteness. Shapes. But, they move too fast for me to see them beyond the fact that they’re human-shaped. Sort of.

I’m back at the beginning of the park.

Now I’m fucking scared.

I run.

It doesn’t matter what direction. It happens every time.

 

Out of the blur a hand catches my arm.

I can’t breathe, for all that I’m blowing air like a bellows. I have no strength to fight, but I try.

The hand is attached to an arm, and a face. I pull him out of the haze of white into the darkness of the park. He steps away from my punch easily, watching me with his dark eyes. He has a large frame, but a thin face, like he doesn’t get much exercise. He’s pale in the way that people are who avoid the sun. A tattoo peeks out under the edge of his dark t-shirt. Except for his blindingly pale skin he nearly melts into the darkness.

This must be my stalker.

I try to punch him again, but I’m so tired.

He holds up his hands and backs up a step.

“Can we just talk for a second?” He says. He sounds annoyed.

I’m the one who should be annoyed. Actually, I’m angry.

“Why?” I can manage the one word in between gasps for air.

“Wouldn’t you like to stop running for a bit and catch your breath?”

That sounds reasonable. I guess. And running doesn’t seem to be working. I let my silence speak for itself while  my lungs catch up with my legs.

“Only if you tell me what’s going on here.”

He smiles in an embarrassed way, and he glances down at his shoes. He shrugs.

“I’m not very good at this part.”

I let him stew in it for a bit, because I’m still angry. It’s better than being scared.

“Right,” he mutters, and then looks up at me. “There’s no good way to say it, because obviously you’ve missed out on the fact.”

He pauses.

“I’m sorry to have to be the one to inform you, but you’re dead.”

I shove him hard enough to knock him over. He disappears into the haze, which sweeps out to drown me .

And I’m back at the entrance to the park.

The feeling like I’m being followed comes back, but this time I wait.

The guys shows up, like I thought he might. He steps out of blinding whiteness, and I hear what sounds like traffic noises distorted down a long tunnel. It disappears with the light. That’s when I notice that there’s no noise anywhere here. It’s dead silent.

Dead.

Before he can open his mouth to say anything I bleat it out. Like a child.

“I just want to go home.”

Really, I want my life back, but if I can just get home I’m pretty sure I can figure the rest of it out.

“Are you sure?”

Why does he sound so relieved?

“Yeah.  Is it going to be hard or something?”

“You’re stuck in the darkness. I’m here to help you get free.”

That… seems to be true enough.

“Who are you, anyway?”

“Ethan Chandler.”

“And you’re here to help me… why?”

I can’t stop the anger from leaking into my voice a little here.

He doesn’t quite, but something that looks a little like a smile catches at the corners of his mouth. It makes him look a little less scary. A little more human.

“Not exactly out of the goodness of my heart. I’d rather be at home myself. But, you don’t turn down a direct order from Death.”

There goes my budding feelings for him.

“You’re saying that the Grim Reaper told you to hunt me down and tell me that I’m dead.”

The park is getting darker around me. It feels like walls closing in.

“Not you specifically, but people like you; anyone who is trapped, and maybe a little difficult to find.”

I glance around.

“And, what if I don’t go with you?”

“How long can you keep running?”

That’s not really a question.

“Okay.”

My voice is really small.  And the air is thick again. Panic. I start to talk a little fast.

“I don’t know how it happened, though. You would think you’d notice something like that.”

Now he does smile. A bit.

“Maybe it’s better this way.”

He takes a step toward me, and I hold my ground.

“How does this work? You’re sending me home, right?”

It’s a little confusing, and it’s getting hard to see.

He puts his hand over my eyes.

“She’s usually the one to do this,” he says. “But in instances like this I’ll have to do.”

 

His lips are warm and soft against mine.

 

 

*****

 

Author’s note:

I’m terrible at coming up with names for stories. If you can think up a better one, please tell me.