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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Legend of Excalibur

cropped version of image from sciencereflections.com

Excalibur is the legendary sword of King Arthur. In many Arthurian legends, such as in The Estoire de Merlin, it was given to Arthur by the Lady of the Lake after he began his reign. However, it is sometimes considered the same sword Arthur draws from the stone which makes him the rightful king of all Britain. The Otter and Arthur stories treat them as the same sword, as do two of the most popular King Arthur movies, Excalibur (1981) and Disney's The Sword in the Stone (1963).

In Chrétien de Troyes' Perceval, the Story of the Grail, when the sword is used by others such as Sir Gawain. Some versions say the blade is unbreakable and other stories attribute magical powers to the scabbard of the sword, saying that whoever wears it cannot die from injury.

Arthurian legend often recounts a tale of Morgan Le Fay stealing the sword and throwing the scabbard in the lake, never to be recovered. He is subsequently mortally wounded at the battle of Camlaan and, in stories such as Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, instructs one of his knights to throw Excalibur in the lake. Some scholars say that this was a Celtic funeral tradition.

In Historia Regum Britanniae, Geoffrey of Monmouth chronicles a supposed history of the kings of Briton through the 7th century. It is widely credited as the work which introduced the non-Welsh-speaking world to King Arthur. He calls Arthur's sword "Caliburnus," which evolved into Excalibur in French versions. The sword was referred to as "Caledfwlch" in early Arthurian legends, such as the Welsh Culhwch and Olwen and the poem "Preiddeu Annwfn." The tale of Excalibur also bears similarities to the Norse legend of Sigurd and the story of an Irish hero, Cú Chulainn, who used a sword called Caladbolg.


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The reviews are in!

I've now had three reviews of Otter and Arthur posted on Amazon. You can read the original posts there or check them out here.

Full disclosure: Amazon does have problems with "fake reviews," but these are completely legitimate. However, in the name of full disclosure these are reviews from friends and family. Also, despite the picture atop this page, I confess that no kittens have read my book...as far as I know.

5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful adventure for your child August 26, 2012

"This is a wonderful take on the sword and the stone from the perspective of Otter, young Arthur's mouse friend. Not only will your children love this story of adventure, but as a parent you will love reading it. Fast-paced an action-packed (while being age-appropriate), this will be a cherished bed time story for years to come." - Christine L. Williams

5.0 out of 5 stars Great Perspective on a Classic Tale! September 17, 2012

"Whitaker takes this classic tale by the tail, adapting it for elementary school children through the eyes of Otter, an adventurous mouse. Otter's perspective is a fun and clever approach to meeting the soon-to-be King Arthur. This "chapter book" allows kids to travel with the young mouse into Camelot, above Dragon's Head, and on to the field for jousting. In addition to learning a few new vocabulary words, I (yes, the adult and parent!) enjoyed the good values of the great Otter and his side-kick, the adolescent Arthur." - ShotByGunn

5.0 out of 5 stars Let's Read It Again! September 18, 2012

"I just finished reading Otter and Arthur and I am really pleased with it. I figured if your son's friend insisted on reading it in one sitting, I should try that, too. This story will wear well with parents reading it multiple times. As a teacher, I used to read chapter books with my fourth grade classes; they would have loved this one. Otter has PERSONALITY with a capital P; from the outset, I was chuckling out loud. And as the book progressed, I saw expressions of Otter's other emotions along with engrossing adventures. Arthur is a believable character, nicely developed. I expected to like the book, but I wasn't sure just how you could pull off the combination of a mouse and the child who becomes King Arthur -- you really did it well!" - Beverly Whitaker

Don't forget - you can buy the book right here on the blog via the Buy the Book tab. While it is available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble, your best bet is to buy it directly from me. It is cheaper and I can autograph it if you wish. The "Add to Cart" button below will process credit cards through PayPal, but you do not need a PayPal account.

If you are interested in a signed copy, just send me a message and let me know. Thanks to everyone for the support!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Some of the Works Which Inspired Otter

image of Camelot from claricemoran.wikispaces.com

My brother-in-law, Chris, emailed to tell me how much he'd enjoyed reading Otter and Arthur and the Sword in the Stone. Among other things, he said, "It is a wonderfully told story in a way that kids can really hear it - clear action, descriptions, themes, the 'small person's' perspective, et al."

Chris also posed some questions which other readers might have so I thought I'd address them via the blog. He skipped King Arthur lore as a kid so he wondered if the characters were mine or historical. In a nutshell, the people are taken from Arthurian legend while the mice are my creations. Interestingly enough, because so much has been written about King Arthur and company, I felt freer to write my own interpretations. I stuck to some basic ideas - Arthur is raised by Sir Ector along with Kay, who is Ector's biological son. Arthur doesn't know his real father is King Uther although Merlin is well aware of Arthur's true parentage. Arthur does become king by pulling a sword from a stone. The circumstances of him needing to find a sword for Kay in the jousting match sticks to the traditional stories as well.

The tales of Arthur are generally much bawdier - the equivalent of R-rated movies. I was largely motivated to write this story because I couldn't find kid-appropriate versions of the Arthur tales. Also, many of the stories focus on the quests of various knights and very little on Arthur himself.

Chris also asked how much research I did. I've read many King Arthur books over the years, but here are some of the most notable. My introduction to King Arthur came at the hands of John Steinbeck and The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights in 8th grade. That book was largely a retelling of what is probably considered the definitive version of Arthur - Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur. I went on to read Mary Stewart's The Crystal Cave and sequels which told Merlin's story. I read T.H. White's The Once and Future King, which served as the basis for the Disney movie The Sword in the Stone and the famed musical Camelot.

When I set about writing Otter and Arthur, I rewatched classic movies like Excalibur and the others mentioned. I reread Steinbeck, Malory, and White. In fact, Arthurian fanatics will note Otter meets a band of mice named after Malory and White as well as Geoffrey "Monmouse." His name is taken from Geoffrey of Monmouth, who wrote the classic Historia Regum Britanniae (c. 1136) which chronicles the Kings of Briton. Sharp eyes will pick up other character names taken from authors and characters of Arthurian legend.

I also watched a slew of documentaries and hit the Internet for research into King Arthur characters and tales. There's no shortage of material! I loved it, though. It is hard to say what has fascinated me through the years about King Arthur, but I hope I have brought that passion to my own retelling of the Arthurian legend.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

My First Weekend at RenFest

an intimate reading at my tent

I now have one weekend under my belt of RenFest experience. In the same week Otter and Arthur and the Sword in the Stone started rolling off the presses, I set up shop as a vendor at the Kansas City Renaissance Festival.

I was out there all three days of Labor Day weekend. That meant setting up in the rain on Saturday morning - and getting my car stuck in the mud. Crowds were a bit slower the first day as a result, but they picked up on Sunday and Monday, despite the heat.

My sales were pretty wimpy. I had a pretty bare tent compared to other vendors and don't have the in-your-face sales marketing tactics of so many RenFest merchants. Still, there's a certain amount of acceptance there on my part. It really comes down to my personal choices as to how much effort I put into trying to draw more attention.

a reading on the "big" stage

On the plus side, I got to do some readings. While they were to small crowds, they provided my highlights of the weekend. The best moment was when a nine-year-old boy asked me, "How do you become an author?" I somewhat flippantly replied, "Write, write, write," but tried to be encouraging as well. Luckily, he came by the vendor booth later and we talked more. When I signed his book, I added a note telling him I hope to buy his book someday.

It was also fun to interact with patrons and "RenFesters." There was the jester who kept stealing my things. The turkey leg salesman bought a book as a peace offering for his granddaughter. I spoke to someone who claimed to have met the reincarnated Merlin. I saw one of the jousters "after hours" in his street clothes cleaning up after his dog. I was just a few feet away from the elephant as he was led off the grounds. I got a glimpse into the Nomadic lifestyle of those who make a job out of this, traveling from one RenFest to another, living out of vans and on campgrounds.

my sons

In the end, I put a lot of work in for very little financial reward. However, reaching even one child with my writing makes it worth it. The memories and experiences I'll take away from RenFest will far outnumber the negatives. I am grateful to have the encouragement and support of friends and family and relish moments like connecting with a potential future author.