The references used herein are to the Fantagraphics volumes. The volumes referenced are those books.
For instance, "1. Panel 1." means page 1, panel 1; and "83. Panel 2." indicates page 83, panel 2.
1. Panel 1. The King of Thule, introduced in the very first panel of Prince Valiant, would not receive his name (Aguar) until #344 (see below). It would not be revealed until #80 how he came to lose his kingdom. (Indeed, Foster never provided the details anywhere in the strip as to exactly how Sligon deposed Aguar and seized his throne.)
The name of Thule first appears in the writings of the Greek explorer Pytheas of Massalia (now Marseilles) in the 4th century B.C., who described it as a land six daysĀEjourney north of Britain, beyond which lay a frozen sea. Scholars and historians are divided as to whether the Thule of which Pytheas spoke was Norway or Iceland (Barry Cunliffe, in his The Extraordinary Voyage of Pytheas the Greek, has argued for Iceland); what is certain is that "Thule" since Pytheasís time has come to represent a distant, romance-tinged land at the edge of the world, generally associated with the far north. Foster most likely chose that name for Valís homeland precisely because of those poetic connotations, so appropriate for the tone that he desired for Prince Valiant.
Foster would eventually identify Thule as Norway. However, as we shall see, its depiction in the early days of the strip does not fit this location.
Panel 3. The fact that Aguar, his family, and his remaining followers should have reached the English Channel by dawn after boarding a ship the previous night - and boarding it while still in flight from the pursuing followers of Sligon - is the first sign (see the annotation for #1, Panel 1 above) that Foster had not specifically imagined Thule as being Norway at this stage of Prince Valiant. Assuming that they had set sail from Thule itself (as the context suggests), it is unlikely that they could have reached the Channel in a single night, if Thule was indeed Norway. (Of course, Foster might simply have not given any thought to travel times when he was writing this scene.)
Panel 5. Foster here depicts the Britons as "half-savage" and dressed in animal skins; they could easily be the sort of ancient Britons that one would find in the illustrations of an old-fashioned history book, making ready to repel a landing by Julius Caesar and his legions. Certainly they resemble them more than they do the inhabitants of a conventional Arthurian Britain in a legendary Age of Chivalry. (Of course, they are living on the outskirts of Arthurís kingdom, rather than at Camelot itself.)
Panel 6. Aguar and his ship pass the river Thames. Since they had two panels earlier sailed past the famous white cliffs of Dover, and would evidently be wrecked in what is now East Anglia (since they travel northwards from their landing-place to the Fens), they are clearly journeying northwards up the southeastern coast of Britain.
2. Panel 7. The Fens are (or were) a marshy region in England, lying to the immediate southwest of the Wash, on the western border of East Anglia. During the Roman occupation of Britain, the Romans made an attempt at draining them, but after their departure, the Fens soon reverted to marshland. More recently, beginning in the 17th and 18th centuries, they have been drained again, and converted into farmland.
The most famous event in the history of the Fens took place during the reign of William the Conqueror (1066-1087), when a rebellious Saxon nobleman named Hereward the Wake used them as his home base during his brief struggle against the Normans (operating from the monastery of Ely, then an island in the middle of the Fens). Herewardís story soon became colored with the customary overlay of romance, turning him into a larger-than-life figure; he even became the hero of a historical novel by Charles Kingsley. It is tempting to wonder if Foster may have chosen the Fens as the place of refuge for King Aguar and his family (including the young Prince Valiant) because of the story of Hereward (although they came to the Fens to escape Sligonís reach rather than to fight against him). From there, it is also tempting to wonder if Horritís presence in the Fens just might have been inspired by a particular incident in the Hereward legend (see the annotation for #6, Panel 9, below).
An even stronger parallel to Aguarís time in the Fens (though one that may be coincidence) is the case of Alfred the Great (871-899). In early 878 (shortly after Twelfth Night, i.e., January 5), the Danes made a surprise attack upon Alfredís kingdom of Wessex and overran most of it; King Alfred and a handful of followers fled into the marshes of Athelney in Somerset, where they managed to build up enough of a force to challenge the Danes to battle after Easter that same year and defeat them at Edington, followed by a truce in which the Danes agreed to withdraw from Wessex. (This was the period when, according to legend, Alfred inadvertently burnt the cakes of a woman in whose home he had taken refuge.) Aguarís period of exile in the Fens lasted longer than Alfredís period of exile in Athelney, but other than that, the similarity between Aguarís story and Alfredís is even stronger than that between Aguarís story and Herewardís. In all fairness, though, we have no evidence that Foster was at all influenced by the reign of Alfred the Great when he told of Aguar and Valís time in the Fens, so the likeness between the two may be accidental.
But perhaps the strongest source material for Valís boyhood adventures in the Fens came from Fosterís own life, for he was an eager outdoorsman. His biographer, Brian M. Kane, has suggested that a particular inspiration for the Fens was the bull marshes near the Red River, where Foster had undertaken a fowling expedition when he was eighteen (see the annotation for #182, Panel 4, below, for further information).
3. Panel 3. The "half-seen monster" is the first hint of the prehistoric beasts which Foster portrayed as inhabiting the Fens in the strip (see #4-5 and #8). Foster had originally imagined Prince Valiant as a fantasy strip (though as he himself admitted, as time went on Val and his family and friends became so realistically characterized that the fantasy elements no longer fitted in well and he chose to remove them), and his depiction of the Fens as a "lost world" is clearly part of that.
Panel 9. Prince Valiant is first named within the actual strip. Foster was not initially fond of the name, which he considered to be an unsubtle character description masquerading as a name; indeed, his initial choices for Valís name were first "Derek, son of Thane", and then "Arn". Both of these Joseph V. Connolly, the president of King Features Syndicate, turned down, proposing "Prince Valiant" instead. (Foster must have retained a fondness for the name "Arn", however, for he used it for two characters in the strip - Prince Arn of Ord and Valís oldest son - as well as for one of the two young protagonists of Prince Valiantís companion strip in the 1940ís, The Medieval Castle.)
Panel 11. Our first glimpse of Horrit and Thorg. Years later, Foster would reinterpret this scene and portray the "strange couple" as being the parents of the "half-savage native boy" introduced in the first panel of # 4 instead (see # 1346, Panel 3).
4. Panel 7. The dinosaur that pursues Val and his friend through the Fens is, of course, perhaps the worst anachronism in the entire strip. Dinosaurs became extinct at the end of the Cretaceous Period, 65 million years ago; none of them survived into human times, let alone recorded history. A dinosaur in 5th century Britain, therefore, is clearly impossible.
5. Panel 12. Foster would later on reintroduce Valís tutor into the strip twice, once during King Valgrindís attempted coup (#346-8) and once on the occasion of Aletaís first arrival in Thule (#512). He also gave him the name Erland on both of those occasions (on this page, he is nameless).
6. Panel 9. It is tempting to wonder whether Horrit the witchís presence in the Fens might have been influenced by the legend of Hereward the Wake (see the commentary on #2, Panel 7). It is said that, at one point, the Normans employed a local witch to aid them in their assault upon Herewardís base in the Fens, pushing her forward on a wooden tower as she uttered spells and curses directed against Hereward and his followers; Herewardís men merely set fire to the tower, burning her with it. We have no proof that Foster had this story in mind when he decided to place a witch in the Fens for the young Val to encounter (the only similarity between Horrit and the witch in the Hereward legend is their home), but in light of his tendency to get ideas for his strip from medieval romance and historical novels, it is possible.
8. Panel 8. Again Hal Foster pits Val against a prehistoric monster (the giant turtle) more likely to have been found in the Mesozoic Era than in the 5th century. (Indeed, the damp and chilly climate of Britain is hardly appropriate for large cold-blooded reptiles to live in.)
10. Panel 3. Here begins Horritís prophecy. It fits the early tone of Prince Valiant, where magic could be depicted as real (see the note to #3, Panel 3 above) that all (or nearly all) of her words come true. Much of Horritís foretelling might be seenn as self-fulfilling (since her words inspire Val to leave the Fens, seek adventure beyond them, meet King Arthur and his knights, and see so much of the world), but it is much more difficult to explain away her prediction of Valís motherís death. (Although, Horrit merely tells Val that a terrible woe awaits him without being specific as to what that woe is, leaving open the possibility that she was merely making use of the traditional fortune-tellerís trick of describing the future in such vague terms that almost any eventuality could appear to fulfill that prophecy; Horritís words could appear to have come true just as well if it had been Aguar who had died instead, for example. Foster probably did not see it that way when he drew and wrote this page, however.)
Of course, Horritís prophecy (repeated on many occasions throughout the strip) that Val would never know contentment would have been a safe enough prediction, since Foster would periodically state throughout Prince Valiant that it is all but impossible for humans to know contentment.<./p>
Panel 6. King Arthur is mentioned and seen for the first time in Prince Valiant (other than in the stripís full title), as is Queen Guinevere.
It is still uncertain as to whether there was a real King Arthur or not. Some historians believe that he was based on an actual figure in the 5th or 6th century A.D., a British leader who fought against the invading Saxons; others believe him to be entirely mythical. This controversy is ultimately unimportant as far as Prince Valiant is concerned, however, for its King Arthur is clearly the Arthur of medieval romance (though linked to the real history of 5th century Britain in his clashes with the Saxons). Foster explained, in discussing his depiction of Arthur and his court, "If I drew [King Arthur] as my research has shown, nobodyíd believe it. I cannot draw King Arthur with a black beard, dressed in bearskins and a few odds and ends of armor that the Romans left when they went out of Britain, because that is not the image people have." (Kane, p. 76.)
Arthur first appeared in the writings of Dark Age Wales as a shadowy figure, generally portrayed as a mighty warrior. The 9th century Historia Britonnum (The History of the Britons) - popularly ascribed to a monk named Nennius, although many historians now doubt that he actually wrote it - described him as the leader of the Britons in their struggle with the Saxons, who defeated the Saxons in twelve great battles, culminating in a climactic encounter at Mount Badon. Other writings, however, portray Arthur in a mythical rather than historical or pseudo-historical setting. For example, the poem Preiddeu Annwn (The Spoils of Annwn), gives a fragmentary account of how Arthur voyaged to Annwn (a sort of Welsh fairyland), taking with him three shiploads of men; only seven of them returned with him. The prose tale of Culhwch and Olwen has Arthur ruling over a court composed not only of conventional heroic warriors, but also "tall-tale" figures who can drink up the sea, shoot a wren in Ireland while standing in Cornwall, or flatten mountains by merely standing upon them; he and his followers come to the aid of the young Culhwch when he seeks to wed the beautiful Olwen, by fulfilling the tasks that Olwenís curmudgeonly father, the giant Ysbaddaden, sets him, tasks that bring them into conflict with giants, witches, and the monstrous wild boar Twrch Trwyth.
In or around 1136, Arthur assumed a more familiar form when Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote a book entitled The History of the Kings of Britain, which claimed to be a history of Britain from its first settlement by Brutus the Trojan, a great-grandson of Aeneas, to the death of King Cadwallader in 689, but which was mostly Geoffreyís own invention (though often embroidering real history, or what Geoffrey and his contemporaries believed to be real history). Arthur formed the climax of Geoffreyís pseudo-history, as a mighty ruler of epic stature who presided over a court of unparalleled splendor at the City of the Legion (now Caerleon), and who not only defeated the invading Saxons and Picts, but also conquered Ireland, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, and Gaul, and was even on the verge of adding the Roman Empire to his domain when brought down by the treachery of his nephew Mordred. Geoffrey was the first person (so far as we know) to give Arthur a complete biography from birth to death, and his book solidified the legendary king in the imagination of western Europe, and maybe even beyond (only a few decades later, in the 1170ís, an anonymous writer described Arthurís fame as having spread even as far as Egypt, Antioch, and Palestine among other places, though he may have been exaggerating). It also became the basis for almost all later versions of King Arthurís story.
Succeeding writers would embroider Geoffreyís account of Arthur, adding fresh elements to it. Among these were the Sword in the Stone, the Round Table, Camelot, Lancelot and Guinevereís love affair, and the Quest for the Holy Grail (none of which appear in Geoffreyís work). This process culminated in Sir Thomas Maloryís Le Morte díArthur, written around 1470, which crystalized the legend into its current form. Interest in Arthur declined in the 17th century (partly due to the Stuarts embracing his legend for propaganda purposes, making it unappealing to the Parliamentary forces seeking to challenge the notion of the divine right of kings), but was revived in Victorian times (thanks, in particular, to Alfred Lord Tennysonís Idylls of the King), and still holds strong today.
For the modern English-speaking world, King Arthur has become perhaps the most famous legendary hero of medieval Europe (only Robin Hood could seriously compete with him for that title), and a symbol of the Age of Chivalry, not so much as it really was but as people like to imagine it to have been. Even with the present shift in Arthurian fiction towards "the search for the historical Arthur", that is, the hypothetical 5th or 6th century British military leader who may or may not have existed, pop culture treatments still focus on Arthur as a figure representative of the Middle Ages of the imagination. It is in that role that Prince Valiant depicts him (and the "search for the historical Arthur" was less prominent in fiction when Foster began the strip in 1937 than it is today).
Guinevere appears to have been introduced into the Arthurian cycle early, as Arthurís queen and consort. (In one of the Triads - a collection of figures or events in Welsh legend grouped in threes - it is even stated that Arthur had three wives all named Guinevere!) Geoffrey of Monmouth included her in his History of the Kings of Britain as Arthurís wife and the most beautiful woman in all of Britain; while she occupied only a small role in his account of her husbandís reign, later versions of the legend expanded upon it, focusing in particular on her unfortunate love affair with Sir Lancelot.
Horritís description of Guinevere as a "flighty wench" might be a reference to the notorious infidelity of Arthurís queen. In Geoffrey of Monmouthís work, she becomes Mordredís consort after his usurpation of the throne, and was apparently not reluctant to do so. (Though, in fairness to her, during the civil war between Arthur and Mordred that follows, she flees to a nunnery at Caerleon, where she spends the rest of her days; it is uncertain, however, whether her motivation is remorse or merely fear of her husbandís anger.) Succeeding versions of the story also made use of this; Layamonís Brut, a late 12th century adaptation of Geoffreyís work in Anglo-Saxon verse (more precisely, an adaptation of Waceís Roman de Brut, a Norman-French verse adaptation of Geoffrey), makes Guinevere an outright traitor alongside Mordred. The romances (in contrast to the pseudo-chronicles) rejected Guinevereís union with Mordred, replacing it with her amour with Sir Lancelot (which would twice appear in Prince Valiant, in #504-05 and in #1387-92); this tragic adultery had become one of the central elements of the Arthurian legend by Maloryís time, and is still familiar today. (Until recently in Wales, a young woman with loose moral standards would be nicknamed a Guinevere.)
Panel 7. While Foster (as mentioned above) had evidently adopted an attitude of "magic is real" in Prince Valiantís world at this point, his depiction of the dragon and unicorn that Horrit speaks of as a crocodile and a rhinoceros (encountered in #17 and #262 respectively) shows that he had limits on the amount of fantasy to incorporate into the strip. The griffon (presented here apparently as an eagle) never made an appearance, but one can make out, just behind the African tribesman, what is apparently the Irish elk that Val would see in #584. The African tribesman would himself appear during Valís trip to Africa in Boltarís company (#260-63), but Val never encountered the Chinese (as represented by the robed man to the right of the African and Horritís mention of "yellow [men]") during Fosterís run of the strip. During the MurphysĀEtime on Prince Valiant, however, Val did indeed make a journey to China to establish trade relations between it and Britain.
10. Panel 7. Fosterís description of Britain as a "hostile north country" whose poor climate brought about the death of Valís mother is another hint (see the commentary on #1, Panel 1) that he did not initially envision Thule as being Norway (from whose perspective Britain certainly could not be described as "north").
Much later on in the strip (in #744, Panel 4), Foster revealed that Valís mother was of Roman descent, which would certainly fit with her being used to a warm, sunny climate. (Though she appears to have weathered life in Thule, before Sligonís coup, well enough.) We never learn, however, how a Roman noblewoman came to marry a king from far-off Thule, in the distant north of the known world.
12. Panel 12. This marks the first entrance of Sir Lancelot, the first character from the Arthurian legend to actually cross paths with Prince Valiant.
Although Lancelot is one of the most famous characters in the Arthurian cycle, he appeared relatively late in its development. So far as can be told, there is no mention of him in either the early Welsh legends about Arthur (unless he is to be identified with a certain Lleanlleawg the Gael, as a few Arthurian scholars such as Roger Sherman Loomis have suggested), nor in the pseudo-chronicles of Geoffrey of Monmouth and his successors. He first recognizably appears in Arthurian literature in the late 12th century, particularly in the French verse romances of Chretien de Troyes. In Chretienís works, Lancelot was portrayed as one of the leading knights of Arthurís court, though second to Gawain (who was then seen by the romancers as the leading knight of the Round Table). His most prominent role is in Chretienís Lancelot, or the Knight of the Cart where he comes to the rescue of Queen Guinevere after her kidnapping by the evil knight Sir Meleagant, undergoing the humiliation of riding in a cart part of the way to Meleagantís homeland of Gorre. The story established Lancelot and Guinevere as lovers, a concept that soon became one of the Matter of Britainís central threads.
In the early 13th century, the French Prose Lancelot gave Lancelot a formal biography. It made him the son of King Ban of Benoic (or Benwick), who, like Aguar, was driven from his kingdom into exile (by the invading King Claudas). Unlike Aguar, however, Ban died shortly after he lost his kingdom; the Lady of the Lake then raised the infant Lancelot. (Lancelot gained his traditional title, "Lancelot du Lac" or "Lancelot of the Lake", because she fostered him; he bears that title in Prince Valiant, though the strip never alluded to this upbringing, and even depicted King Ban on several occasions as still alive.) She taught him the necessary skills of a knight, and then, when he was old enough, sent him to Arthurís kingdom to be knighted. There he performed many heroic deeds, such as capturing the haunted castle of Dolorous Garde (which he renamed Joyous Garde and made into his personal stronghold) and defeating the invading Duke Galehaut of the Long Isles (not so much through force of arms as through winning Galehautís friendship). During this time, he and Guinevere also fell in love, with eventual disastrous consequences not only for the lovers, but also for Arthur and his kingdom. Lancelotís great prowess of arms made him the foremost knight of the Round Table, surpassing even Gawain. But his adulterous love brought about his downfall. When Lancelot embarked upon the Quest for the Holy Grail, his sin with the Queen prevented him from achieving the Grail (ironically, the Grail was achieved by Lancelotís illegitimate son Galahad, who was begotten partly as a result of his fatherís love for Guinevere); he made an effort to forswear his old desire for her afterwards, but soon backslid, and became so careless about his affair with her that Gawainís younger brother Agravain, who hated Lancelot out of envy, learned about it and exposed it. A civil war quickly followed between Arthur and Lancelot which led to the deaths of Arthur and most of his knights; smitten with remorse, Lancelot became a hermit for the rest of his days and died repentant, his sins at last forgiven by Heaven.
Sir Thomas Maloryís Le Morte díArthur made use of the Prose Lancelotís story of Lancelot; Malory omitted the early stages of Lancelotís life, but dealt in full with the latter portions, including how he was tricked into sleeping with Elaine of Corbin and thereby begetting Galahad upon her, his failure to achieve the Holy Grail, and how his love affair with Guinevere helped destroy the Round Table, concluding with an account of Lancelotís repentance and becoming a holy hermit at Glastonbury. Since Malory is the leading primary source for the Arthurian legend in the English-speaking world, Lancelot has since come to be one of the most familiar figures in this cycle; indeed, he is probably the only knight of the Round Table whose name everyone has heard of. It is thus entirely appropriate that he would be the first knight from Arthurís court whom Val should meet.
14. Panel 9. Foster never fulfilled this prediction.
16. Panel 1. Sir Gawain, perhaps the most prominent Arthurian character in Prince Valiant, now enters the strip.
Gawain was a relatively early addition to the Arthurian legend. In the story of Culhwch and Olwen, one of Arthurís leading warriors (alongside Cai and Bedwyr, who would become Kay and Bedivere in more familiar forms of the story) is a certain Gwalchmei son of Gwyar, described as being Arthurís sister-son; Arthurian scholarshave generally agreed that this is a Welsh version of Gawain. In Geoffrey of Monmouthís History of the Kings of Britain, Gawain first appears under his familiar name, depicted as Arthurís nephew, the son of his sister Anna by King Lot of Lothian. At the age of twelve, he is sent to the household of Pope Sulpicius (an invention of Geoffreyís rather than a real historical figure), who knights him. When Arthur goes to war with the Romans (see the annotation for #185, Panel 4), Gawain fights valiantly for him throughout. He is slain, however, in the first battle with Mordred, at Richborough in Kent.
Geoffreyís successors began fleshing out Gawainís character further as the legend continued to develop. In Waceís Roman de Brut, Gawain appears for the first time in Arthurian literature (so far as we know) as an elegant courtier rather than merely another warrior; when Duke Cador of Cornwall urges Arthur to make war upon the Romans, Gawain counters his words with a speech in favor of peace, describing it as a time when young men have the leisure to engage themselves in courtly love and song. Chretien de Troyes followed this interpretation of Gawain, depicting him as not only the leading knight of the Round Table (surpassing even Lancelot), but as also polished and cultured, as famed for his courtesy as his valor - and a definite ladiesĀEman. On the surface, Chretienís Gawain seems an admirable figure; however, there are many hints that underneath his sophistication lies a hollowness that will keep him from rising to the heights that the title characters of Chretienís romances will attain.
Chretienís successors built upon these hints to diminish Gawain (especially as Lancelot took over his position as the chief knight of the Round Table). They expanded upon his philandering tendencies, depicting him as an inconstant seducer; his frivolity blinds him to spiritual matters, preventing him from achieving the Holy Grail in the Prose Lancelot (just as Lancelotís adultery barred him from the Grail). Furthermore, in the Prose Lancelotís final division, Mort Artu (The Death of Arthur), Gawain develops an even more serious flaw than superficialty and fickleness: vengefulness. When his younger brothers are accidentally slain by Lancelot while the latter is rescuing Queen Guinevere from being burnt at the stake, Gawain immediately vows vengeance upon Lancelot. This vow keeps the civil war between Arthur and Lancelot going even after the quarrel over Guinevere is resolved through the Popeís intervention, thus ensuring the fall of Camelot. Later French prose romances added a feud between Gawainís family and that of King Pellinore; after Pellinore slew Gawainís father King Lot in battle, Gawain responded by slaying both Pellinore and his son Lamorak, even though they were his fellow knights of the Round Table.
Gawainís reputation in England fared better, and he was the hero of many Arthurian poems there, especially the 14th century Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. However, Sir Thomas Malory, when he wrote Le Morte díArthur, adopted the unfavorable portrayal of Gawain in the French works as harsh and vengeful, presumably in order to make Lancelot seem more heroic by comparison. Alfred Lord Tennyson, in his Idylls of the King, also depicted Gawain in an unflattering light, though returning to Chretienís notion that his dominant failing was frivolity rather than violence. In "Lancelot and Elaine", for example, Gawain, assigned by Arthur the quest of tracking down Lancelot, who has won the prize at a tournament but left before he could claim it, goes reluctantly (because his errand will take him away from the festivities), attempts unsuccessfully to seduce Elaine of Astolat when he meets her, and when he learns of her connections to Lancelot, gives her the prize to present to him and returns to Arthurís court; there Arthur rebukes him for his disobedience in not carrying his mission through to the end.
The Gawain of Prince Valiant clearly owes much to the Gawain of Tennyson (and possibly that of Chretien de Troyes, though we do not know whether Foster had ever read any of Chretienís works or even heard of them) in his characterization as a light-hearted, flirtatious figure, who enjoys the company of ladies but is always careful to avoid commitment - and who, indeed, views matrimony as a fate worse than death. Foster makes him more sympathetic than his counterpart in Tennyson, while still showing his faults. Barely any hint of his tendencies to blood-feud enters the strip, however (except for two references to his quarrel with Lancelot, in #318, Panel 7, and #1024-29); the vendetta with Pellinoreís family never appears in Prince Valiant. (Presumably its presence would have clashed with Fosterís depiction of Gawainís chief flaw being over-sophistication rather than vengeance.)
In this stage of the strip, Gawain displays only a few hints of the figure that he would eventually become. While he has a sense of humor from the start, he is portrayed during the period that Val serves as his squire as a relatively serious, responsible figure, with no trace of the lady-killing or tendency to comical misfortunes that would be his leading character traits during the bulk of Prince Valiant. (Even Gawainís original costume varies from its familiar form; here he wears a simple white surcoat, rather than the fancy green surcoat with jagged edges that would later on become his regular apparel.) Presumably Foster held these character traits back since they would have clashed with Gawainís then-function of mentor to the young Prince Valiant; once Val had graduated from squirehood to knighthood, Foster was free to turn Gawain into the "comic relief" foppish flirt that he is most familiar as to Prince Valiant fans.
17. Panel 5. The "great sea-crocodile" is clearly a rationalization of a dragon, though an unconvincing one. The wet and chilly British climate would hardly be conducive to its health and vitality; nor is there any explanation as to how the crocodile had arrived in Britain to begin with. Presumably Foster was still thinking in terms of the "jungle/lost world adventure" genre that he had worked on when drawing Tarzan.
19. Panel 1. This is the first appearance of Camelot, King Arthurís most famous residence, in Prince Valiant. While Arthur had several courts in legend (including Caerleon and Carlisle), Camelot is the most immediately familiar of them all to a modern audience, and it is not surprising that Foster gives it such prominence.
Camelot first appeared in Arthurian literature in the late 12th century, in Chretien de TroyesĀELancelot. Originally, it was portrayed as merely one of several castles of Arthur, with his predominant court being Caerleon (which had been introduced in that role by Geoffrey of Monmouth in his The History of the Kings of Britain - see the annotation for #86, Panel 9). However, as time went on, Camelot grew more prominent in the romances, until it would eclipse all of Arthurís strongholds in the popular imagination. It was here, according to Malory, that Arthur married Queen Guinevere and set up the knights of the Round Table, and from here that the knights of the Round Table embarked on the Quest of the Holy Grail. Tennyson aided the process, portraying Camelot as a magnificent city with an otherworldly atmosphere. The famous 1960 Lerner-Loewe musical, Camelot, cemented this reputation - particularly thanks to its title songís celebration of the perfect weather that blessed Arthurís kingdom.
Foster even ignores (except for the tournament at Caerleon in #87-89) King Arthurís other traditional homes, portraying the great king as dwelling almost exclusively at Camelot except while on a campaign. This is contrary to medieval custom, where kings and powerful noblemen had several castles, spread out all over their lands, and would regularly travel from one to another in a series of journeys known as a progress, both to better oversee the state of their realm and to avoid eating up all the food in one part of the kingdom. No trace of this activity appears in Fosterís depiction of Arthur, however.
Foster does not immediately locate Camelot on the map, but would later, in #37, Panel 8, place it at Winchester, following Maloryís identification. (Nowadays, the most popular location for Camelot in Arthurian fiction is South Cadbury in Somerset, a hill-fort dating back to the Iron Age. The Tudor antiquarian John Leland mentioned that the locals believed it to be Camelot, and an archaeological dig conducted by Leslie Alcock in the late 1960ís revealed that during the late 5th and early 6th centuries, the hill was occupied by a wealthy chieftain, raising speculations that this chieftain could have been a historical original for King Arthur. However, this excavation was still thirty years in the future when Foster first brought Val to Camelot in 1937, and thus South Cadbury had not yet made itself familiar to the general public. Foster might not even have heard of it at the time that he was beginning Prince Valiant.)
Panel 2. This is one of two times in Prince Valiant where Arthurís full name, "Arthur Pendragon", is given. (The other is in #1432, Panel 3.) Everywhere else in the strip, the name "Pendragon" is applied to Arthurís father Uther, first mentioned here.
Uther first appears in early medieval Welsh poetry, but only as a vague name, that tells us nothing about how the composers of those poems or their audiences saw him. The word uthr in Welsh means "terrible" (not in the sense of "monstrous" or "horrible", but in the sense of "inspiring awe or wonder"), and some Arthurian scholars have speculated that Uther was portrayed as Arthurís father in legend because somebody mistook a description of Arthur in Welsh as "Arthur the terrible" for "Arthur son of Uther".
Geoffrey of Monmouth fleshed out Uther in his History of the Kings of Britain, giving him a life-story just as he did for his son Arthur. In Geoffreyís story, Uther was the youngest of the three sons of King Constantine, who became the ruler of Britain after the end of the Roman occupation; his two older brothers were Constans and Aurelius Ambrosius. After Vortigern usurped the British throne and murdered Constans, Ambrosius and Uther, then only boys, fled across the Channel to Brittany, where they found sanctuary with their kinsman, King Budic. When they grew to manhood, they returned to Britain and overthrew Vortigern; Ambrosius then became King of Britain while Uther became his leading general.
Not long afterwards, Ambrosius was poisoned by a Saxon in the employ of Pascent, Vortigernís only surviving son. Uther was leading the British army against Pascentís forces at the time, when he beheld a fiery star shaped like a dragon in the sky; astonished, he sent for Merlin, and asked him what this omen meant. Merlin explained that it was a sign of Ambrosiusís murder and a foretokening of Utherís becoming king and the future deeds of his son Arthur, then as yet unborn. Uther was so impressed that he took on the title of "Pendragon", which, according to Geoffrey, meant "dragonís head" in ancient British. (It actually means "Chief Dragon" or "Dragon-King" in Welsh.) He also had two golden statues made of the dragon; he kept one with him and took it on his campaigns, and gave the other to the church at Winchester.
Needless to say, Uther became King of Britain after Ambrosiusís death. Shortly afterwards, he fell in love with Igraine, the wife of Duke Gorlois of Cornwall, leading to a war between himself and Gorlois over her; in the course of the war, Uther begot Arthur upon Igraine with Merlinís help. (See the annotation for #849, Panel 1, for the details.) During the latter part of his reign, Uther fell ill and the Saxons took advantage of his bedridden condition to renew their inroads into his kingdom. At last Uther decided to take the field himself, even though he could only command his troops from a horse-litter; he fought the Saxons at St. Albans and defeated them soundly. The vanquished Saxons still got their revenge, however, by poisoning Utherís favorite spring of drinking water, thereby bringing about his death. He was buried at Stonehenge (where his older brother and predecessor, Aurelius Ambrosius, had already been laid to rest).
Later versions of the Arthurian legend held to Geoffreyís account, though with minor alterations and additions here and there. Most noteworthy of these was the verse romance Merlin by Robert de Boron, which renamed Ambrosius "Pendragon" and had Uther take on the name of "Pendragon" after his brotherís death, as a way of honoring his memory.
Foster in Prince Valiant regularly made the PendragonsĀEdragon King Arthurís heraldic symbol. In the medieval pseudo-chronicles and romances (and in many of the textbooks on heraldry written during this period, which included the "ascribed arms" of the knights of the Round Table, as well as of various biblical and classical worthies), however, Arthurís device was usually not a dragon. Geoffrey of Monmouth had him bear an image of the Virgin Mary upon his shield, while Arthurís "ascribed arms" either followed Geoffrey in this regard or gave him three or thirteen golden crowns upon a blue or red background or field (blue in French works, red in English works, most likely because the field of the French kingsĀEcoat of arms was blue, and the English kingsĀEred). Nevertheless, Geoffrey allowed Arthur a certain amount of "dragon-heraldry"; in his account of Arthurís arming himself before facing the Saxons in battle at Bath (Geoffreyís adaptation of the Battle of Badon), he portrays the king donning a dragon-crested helm, and during the Roman war, Arthur has a standard depicting a golden dragon.
In the relatively recent Arthurian literature of the 19th and 20th centuries, the notion of Arthurís symbol being a dragon became all the more prominent. Alfred Lord Tennyson made a number of references to it in his Idylls of the King; for example, these lines in "Lancelot and Elaine" where Arthur is presiding over a tournament:
.... to his crown the golden dragon clung,
And down his robe the dragon writhed in gold,
And from the carven-work behind him crept
Two dragons gilded, sloping down to make
Arms for his chair.... (lines 432-36).
When King Arthur returns to Camelot from dealing with a nest of bandits in "The Holy Grail", Percivale (the narrator) says "up I glanced, and saw/ The golden dragon sparkling over all" (lines 262-63). Tristram describes Arthur to Isolt in "The Last Tournament" as having "his foot... on a stool/ Shaped as a dragon" (lines 666-67). When Guinevere recalls her journey to Arthurís court to be married to him in "Guinevere", she remembers seeing "The Dragon of the great Pendragonship,/ That crowníd the state pavilion of the King" (lines 395-96). Later in the same poem, as Guinevere watches her husband ride away from the nunnery at Almesbury, Tennyson says of the kingís helmet "To which for crest the golden dragon clung" (line 590), and describes Guinevere seeing "the Dragon of the great Pendragonship/ Blaze" (lines 594-95).
Mark Twain also alluded to Arthurís dragon device in his A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthurís Court when he described the banners upon Camelotís walls as having "the rude figure of a dragon displayed upon them" (p. 21), while T. H. White in The Once and Future King made Arthurís coat of arms "or, a dragon rampant gules" (p. 330). Fiction writers delving into the search for the historical Arthur have done the same; the overall result has all but eclipsed the "official" blazon of Arthurís arms in medieval writings and art. It is likely that the interest in the "historical Arthur", in the context of the wars between the Britons and the Saxons in the 5th and 6th centuries, contributed to this trend; the traditional symbol of the Welsh is a red dragon (see the annotation for #1774, Panel 4 for further information), which would be appropriate for a man hailed by them as one of their greatest leaders.
Panel 6. Merlin, King Arthurís famous wizardly advisor, makes his entrance in Prince Valiant, seated on Arthurís right, though he plays no active role in this scene.
Merlin is so strongly associated with King Arthur and his court in the popular imagination that it must come as a surprise to discover that his earliest manifestation in literature not only has no direct links to the Arthurian legend, but that he was not even a contemporary of the great king. Merlin first appeared, under the name of "Myrddin", in early Welsh poetry written during the Dark Ages. He was said to have been the court bard to Gwenddolau, a king who supposedly ruled somewhere in the far north of Britain. After King Gwenddolau was slain at the Battle of Arderydd (from the evidence, an actual battle which took place around A.D. 573, approximately fifty years or so after Arthurís traditional time), Merlin went mad with grief over his death (and perhaps, according to hints in the poems, out of guilt at having somehow caused the battle, though it is not recorded as to exactly how he helped bring it about). He fled into the Caledonian Forest (the woodlands of southern Scotland), where he spent the rest of his life uttering prophecies of things to come.
Myrddin soon became famous in Welsh legend for his prophetic visions, and predictions of the future came to be ascribed to him. When Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote The History of the Kings of Britain, he incorporated Myrddin into his story, but renamed him "Merlin" (most likely to keep his readers from linking the famous seerís name to the French word merde). Instead of portraying him as the madman of the Caledonian Forest, however, Geoffrey gave Merlin the role of a boy prophet from the Historia Britonnum named Ambrosius who confronted Vortigern at Dinas Emrys, even fusing the names together to name him "Merlin Ambrosius" (a name which Merlin bears in this very panel, and which would be mentioned in Prince Valiant several times thereafter).
According to Geoffrey, King Vortigern of Britain needed the blood of a boy without a father in order to build a castle, and discovered just such a boy, Merlin, in Carmarthen. (See the annotation on #1774, Panel 8, for the details.) Merlin, the son of an incubus by the daughter of the King of Demetia (southwestern Wales), calmly prevented Vortigern from killing him and proceeded to utter a series of prophecies covering first actual historical and legendary events in Britain between his time and Geoffreyís (the coming of Arthur, the final victory of the Saxons, the Norman Conquest, and even the drowning of Henry Iís son Prince William in the White Ship in 1120), followed by a series of increasingly vague future events ("future" from Geoffreyís perspective as well as Merlinís) all the way down to an apocalyptic conclusion in which the heavens are thrown into confusion. After Vortigernís death, Merlin entered the service of his successors, Aurelius Ambrosius and his brother Uther. He advised Ambrosius to obtain the ring of stones known as the GiantsĀEDance from Mount Killaurus in Ireland, personally moving them to Britain when the BritonsĀEefforts to budge the stones had failed and setting them up on Salisbury Plain as Stonehenge. (See the annotation on #1062, Panel 7, for more about this story.) When Ambrosius was poisoned, Merlin, beholding a fiery star shaped like a dragon in the sky, told Uther both of his brotherís murder and of how the dragon-star foretold the greatness of both Uther and his son Arthur (see the annotation on Panel 2, above). It was also Merlin who helped Uther gain access to Igraine, the Duchess of Cornwall, upon whom he begot King Arthur (see the annotation for #849, Panel 1).
After assisting Uther in his pursuit of Igraine, Merlin vanished from Geoffreyís story, playing no further part in it and never interacting with Arthur at all. (Geoffrey did write a second book about Merlin, Vita Merlini or The Life of Merlin, but this was a retelling of Merlinís madness and flight to the Caledonian Forest, based on the Welsh fragments mentioned above - although it contains a scene where Merlin recalls helping to convey the fatally wounded King Arthur to Avalon for healing.) Later writers, however, apparently became fascinated enough with Merlin to expand his role further. The crucial step was taken by Robert de Boron around the year 1200, in his romance entitled Merlin; this adapted the story of Merlinís exploits as found in Geoffrey of Monmouthís History of the Kings of Britain but expanded upon them. After the conception of Arthur, Merlin has the future king secretly conveyed to a minor nobleman named Antor (called Sir Ector in Malory) who raised him as his own son; he also helped set up the famous test of the Sword in the Stone which led to Arthurís becoming King. Other romancers continued Merlinís story beyond there to have him advise the young Arthur on many occasions, including helping him attain his sword Excalibur from the Lady of the Lake, until he was smitten by the charms of Nimue, which led to his undoing (see the commentaries on #871 and #1141). Sir Thomas Malory included most of these acts in the early portion of his Le Morte díArthur, thus making them canon to later generations.
Even after Malory, Merlin continued to appear in many literary works. Medieval and early modern writers were fond of applying various prophecies to him (such as having him predict the career of Joan of Arc in the early 15th century) or, as the Age of Reason drew on, attributing mock-prophecies to him in a satirical fashion. Merlin became all the more prominent in British and American literature after the Arthurian Revival of the Victorian Age, making prominent appearances in both Tennysonís The Idylls of the King and Mark Twainís A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthurís Court (in the latter, portrayed by Twain in a less-than-sympathetic light as a charlatan embodying the forces of superstition who was constantly at odds with the Yankee, always losing to him until the final chapter). T. H. Whiteís The Once and Future King also gave a large role to Merlin (whose name White spelt "Merlyn"), and added two new elements to his legend that have become almost part of the "Arthurian canon" by now: the notion that Merlin lived backwards (providing a novel explanation for his gift of prophecy), and his function as Arthurís boyhood tutor, preparing him for his future role as king. (Merlin does not play this part in the original medieval texts - he has no contact with Arthur between entrusting him to Sir Ectorís care and supporting him after he becomes king - though there are foreshadowings of this role in Edmund Spenserís semi-Arthurian poem The Faerie Queene.) Since that time, Merlin has played a major role in modern-day Arthurian fiction, particularly Mary Stewartís Merlin trilogy (see the annotation for #1776, Panel 6).
Foster follows the traditions of popular culture in having Merlin still at Arthurís court during its noontide glory; in Malory, Merlin departs the court permanently almost immediately after Arthurís wedding and the foundation of the Knights of the Round Table. The great wizardís ensnarement by Nimue would not take place for many years in Prince Valiant - but it would come about in the end, all the same.
20. Panel 7. This is the first mention in Prince Valiant of the "invading Northmen". If these are meant to be Vikings (as is most likely the case) rather than Saxons, then this forms another anachronism in the strip (though not one as great as the inclusion of medieval castles and knights in 5th century Britain - which is a time-honored tradition of Arthurian romance, anyway). The Viking raids on Britain did not begin until near the end of the 8th century. The first recorded raid was in or about 789, when three Viking ships landed in the south of England. The Reeve of Dorchester, who was the nearest royal official, came out to meet them and attempted to conduct them to a nearby town, but they slew him and his attendants. (Magnus Magnusson in his book The Vikings speculates that these particular Vikings had actually come only to trade with the local Englishmen, and that their fight with the reeve and his men was motivated by their annoyance towards the meddling officials that were trying to hustle them off to town when all that the Vikings wanted to do was to sell their goods and have a few drinks.) Four years later, in 793, more Vikings raided the northern monastery of Lindisfarne and sacked it (according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, this event was foreshadowed by sightings of dragons in the heavens), ushering in a series of raids and invasions upon the British Isles, and mainland Europe as well, that would last for over two hundred years. This was still three hundred years in the future at the time that Prince Valiant is set (the latter half of the 5th century A.D.).
Sir Negarthís pardon and reformation fit in well with the conventions of Arthurian romance. While some robber-knights in Sir Thomas Maloryís Le Morte díArthur were simply slain in battle, others were frequently spared on the condition that they go to King Arthurís court and yield themselves to him. For example, Sir Gareth, Gawainís younger brother, on his first quest, defeated Sir Ironside, the Red Knight of the Red Lands, and sent him to beg mercy to King Arthur; Arthur pardoned him and made him a knight of the Round Table. Tennyson likewise made use of the motif in his Idylls of the King, where the villainous knight Sir Edyrn is likewise, after his defeat, sent off to Arthurís court, where:
... being young, he changed and came to loathe
His crime of traitor, slowly drew himself
Bright from his old dark life, and fell at last
In the great battle fighting for the King. (The Marriage of Geraint, lines 593-96).
Indeed, in #83, Panel 7, we will learn that Negarth is eventually admitted to the Round Table, a true mark of his reformation.
22. Panel 1. Fosterís description of the squires who taunted Val as "rough soldiers" suggests that they are not squires in the same sense as he (youths of noble birth training for knighthood), but "professional squires", either soldiers of non-aristocratic background or members of noble families not wealthy enough to become knights and had to spend their entire lives as squires. (Beric, who would serve as Valís squire from #292 to #407, is another example of such a figure.)
23. Panel 1. This is the first time in Prince Valiant that Arthurís kingdom is called "England". This is another anachronism, for England was named after the Angles, one of the Germanic tribes collectively known as Saxons who settled in Britain during the 5th and 6th centuries A.D., and who were traditionally portrayed as Arthurís enemies; this makes it extremely inappropriate to give the name "England" to Arthurís realm. (The name also ignores the fact that Arthur was, traditionally, king over the entire island of Britain; England is not synonymous with Britain, but represents only part of the island. Wales and Scotland - both of which were traditionally part of Arthurís kingdom, and where, indeed, local legends about Arthur and his associates are far more numerous than in lowland England - are part of Britain but not part of England.) To be fair to Foster, however, his depiction of Arthurís kingdom was based almost exclusively on its portrayal in medieval romance, rather than the real Britain of the 5th and 6th centuries, and the application of the name "England" to it is no worse than the presence of knights, jousting, and stone castles, none of which existed in Britain during that same period of history.
24. Panel 3. The Round Table now appears in Prince Valiant.
The earliest surviving mention of the Round Table in Arthurian literature is in Waceís Roman de Brut, although, since Wace describes the Table as "so reputed of the Britons" (Wace and Layamon: Arthurian Chronicles, p. 55), it may have already appeared in previous works about Arthur and his knights that have been lost. Wace explains that Arthur specifically had the Round Table made in that shape so as to make all the knights at it equal, and prevent discord among them over precedence. Layamonís Brut expanded upon this, by telling how at one of Arthurís feasts, his knights quarreled over who was to sit where, a quarrel that degenerated into an actual battle. Arthur forced his followers to seat themselves and make peace, but to avoid a repeat of the incident, he obtained the services of a skilled craftsman from Cornwall who built the Round Table for him as a permanent solution to the problem.
As the Arthurian legend continued to evolve, the Round Table took on a deeper significance. In Robert de Boronís Merlin, the Round Table was now depicted as having been made by Merlin as a spiritual successor of both the table where Jesus Christ and his disciples ate the Last Supper, and the table at which Joseph of Arimathea and his companions were served by the Holy Grail. Instead of seating all of the knights at court, it was restricted to a select order. Merlin originally made the Table for Uther Pendragon, though later on Arthur would make use of it as well for his knights. In both the Prose Lancelot and Sir Thomas Maloryís Le Morte díArthur, the Round Table passed into the possession of King Leodegrance of Cameliard, Queen Guinevereís father, after Uther Pendragonís death; when Arthur married Guinevere, Leodegrance gave the Round Table to him as part of her dowry. The Knights of the Round Table met each Pentecost at Arthurís court, during which time they repeated their oaths: to never commit murder or treason, to grant mercy to all who asked for it, to always aid ladies and damsels in need of assistance, and to never fight in a wrongful quarrel for any reward. Malory described the Round Table as seating a hundred and fifty knights (in practice, only up to a hundred and forty-nine knights, thanks to the nature of the Siege Perilous - see the entry on Panel 4 below), but this number varies from one medieval account to another (see the commentary for #1375, Panel 5).
The exact form of the Round Table varies throughout Prince Valiant, reflecting inconsistencies found in Arthurian art. In this scene, the Table is portrayed as not solid to the center, but ring-shaped, in order to allow the servants to bring food to the feasting knights; this is the form that the Round Table takes in many medieval depictions of it. On the other hand, in #484, Panel 8, the Round Table is shown as being solid to the center (and used as a council table rather than a dinner table, unlike here). In #1065-66, the Round Table is also drawn as solid rather than ring-shaped; in #2229, Panel 3, there is a hole in the middle of it, but surrounded by wood on all sides, allowing no means of gaining access to the center.
A famous replica of the Round Table hangs in the Great Hall of Winchester Castle, dating to the late 13th century. It bears a portrait of Arthur (most likely painted during Tudor times, particularly since it strongly resembles Henry VIII), and the names of twenty-four of Arthurís knights written around the rim. (This version, by the way, is also solid all the way through, rather than ring-shaped.)
Panel 4. Note the Siege Perilous beside Gawainís chair, the first of its two mentions in Prince Valiant (for the other, see the entry for #1375, Panel 5). The Siege Perilous was the one chair at the Round Table which had to remain empty for almost the entirety of King Arthurís reign; any knight who seated himself in it (apart from the one for whom it was specifically made) would immediately be consumed in infernal fires. (In the French romances that came to comprise the Vulgate Cycle, such an event had happened twice. Once, shortly after the Round Table was set up in Uther Pendragonís reign, a particularly arrogant knight dared to sit there, in defiance of Merlinís warnings, and immediately died. Later on, a nephew of King Claudas - cf. the annotation for #2152, Panel 1 - named Sir Brumart, while drunk, foolishly vowed to sit in the Siege Perilous; forced to abide by his words, he went to Arthurís court, seated himself in it, and met the inevitable fiery death, commenting aloud in his final moments that it was the fate that he had justly earned through his folly.)
It eventually became clear that the Siege Perilous was specifically reserved for Sir Galahad alone (although in the earliest versions, it was connected to Percival instead). In Malory, the morning of the day on which Galahad came to court, the following inscription appeared upon the Siege: "Four Hundred Winters and Four and Fifty Accomplished After the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ Ought This Seat to be Fulfilled". Sir Lancelot, beholding this writing with the rest of the court, realized that it had indeed been four hundred and fifty-four years since the Passion (i.e., the Crucifixion), meaning that the Siege Perilousís destined occupant would soon arrive. And later that same day, Lancelotís own son Galahad came to Camelot and seated himself in the Siege Perilous without any harm to himself; the Siege itself now bore the inscription: "This is the Siege of Sir Galahad the Hawte [High] Prince". Galahad departed forever from Arthurís court the following day on the Quest of the Holy Grail, however, leaving the Siege Perilous to remain forever empty afterwards.
The exact reason for this trait of the Siege Perilous remains uncertain in the medieval texts; the earlier versions, linking the Round Table to the table at which Jesus and his disciples partook of the Last Supper, portrayed the Siege Perilous as symbolic of the seat of Judas Iscariot, suggesting that its nature was a reflection of Judasís treachery. Later on, however (perhaps after the Siege became reserved for Galahad), the Siege Perilous was now viewed as equivalent to Jesus Christís own chair, which could only be occupied with impunity by one who possessed at least some measure of Jesusís purity.
Incidentally, the presence of the Siege Perilous at the Round Table threatens the original point of the Tableís being round (as found in Wace and Layamon), as a means of keeping the knights equal. One could easily argue that the Siege Perilous, as reserved for the noblest and holiest knight of all time, is the head of the table no matter what shape the Round Table is, and that those who sit next to it are especially favored. Indeed, in Malory, Merlin mentions to Arthur during the installation of the Round Table that even the seats next to the Siege Perilous are reserved only for those knights "that shall be most of worship" (apparently; the text is not too clear on this point), and gives King Pellinore either one of those seats or a seat adjacent to them as a mark of his worthiness, a move which angers the young Gawain (already hostile towards Pellinore for slaying his father); this suggests that the knights of the Round Table are not so equal in this setting as they are in Wace and Layamonís interpretation. For that matter, Malory makes no mention of the Round Tableís shape being a means of equalizing the knights; instead, he states that "Merlin made the Round Table in tokening of [the] roundness of the world" (people in the Middle Ages knew that the world was round; the notion that they believed the world to be flat until Columbusís voyage in 1492 is a modern myth, invented by Washington Irving), a concept also used by the anonymous author of the Vulgate Quest of the Holy Grail who was his source. One is tempted to wonder whether the medieval writers understood that the Siege Perilous threatened the equality of the Round Table and therefore decided upon a different rationale for the tableís shape.
25. Panel 7. This is an early instance of the style that Prince Valiant would adopt throughout the strip, and which sets him apart from the traditional knight of chivalric romance; he defeats his opponents more through cleverness and subtlety than through mere prowess of arms, becoming almost an Arthurian Odysseus.
26. Panel 2. This scene is true to the traditions of Arthurian romance (as found in Malory, at least), where defeated knights were customarily sent back to Arthurís court, to yield themselves up to him (or, on some occasions - such as in the case of those knights whom Lancelot overcame - to Queen Guinevere).
37. Panel 8. Foster for the first time explicitly places Camelot at Winchester.
38. Panel 1. The Tournament of the Queenís Diamonds is evidently an allusion to Tennysonís Idylls of the King. In "Lancelot and Elaine", Tennyson tells of how Arthur, while he wandered Britain before he became King, came upon the skeletal remains of two brothers who had slain each other, one wearing a crown set with nine diamonds. He took away the crown and, after he assumed the throne, decreed a series of annual tournaments at each one of which his knights would compete for one of the diamonds. Sir Lancelot was victorious at all nine of these tournaments, and won all of the diamonds; it was duringthe last of these tournaments that he met Elaine of Astolat and wore her sleeve during the melee. This so aroused Queen Guinevereís jealousy that when he presented her with the diamonds, she threw them all into the river nearby. They were thus "the Queenís Diamonds" only for a brief moment, and certainly not while the tournaments for them were taking place - but nevertheless, Foster was most likely referring to the event in "Lancelot and Elaine" when he wrote and drew this scene.
Panel 4. Foster borrowed Morgan Todd from the Welsh chivalric romance Geraint and Enid, found in the Mabinogion. Morgan Todd (or Morgan Tud) is there portrayed as Arthurís chief physician, who tends the wounded Edern son of Nudd after he is sent to Arthurís court by Geraint, and later on similarly treats the wounded Geraint following his many adventures in Enidís company. Arthurian scholars have speculated that Morgan Todd might have been derived from Morgan le Fay, who was noted for her healing magic, thanks to the author of Geraint and Enid becoming confused about her gender.
Panel 5. Ilene, Valís first love, is introduced. It is a pity that we do not know whether Foster had foreseen from the start, when he first drew this page, that her romance with Val would end in tragedy. (By the time that Foster killed her off, he had realized that she would have held Val back from continuing his adventures and so had to be removed for the good of the strip - cf. the note on #81, Panel 9 - but we do not know whether he understood this from the start.)
40. Panel 3. The villainous knight in red armor is a familiar "stock character" of Arthurian romance; with at least two outstanding examples. The first was the Red Knight of Quinqueroi Forest in Perceval by Chretien de Troyes, who rode into Arthurís court, sent the king a message of defiance, and carried off a cup from his table (spilling its contents over Queen Guinevere to add to the insult); the young Perceval promptly challenged him to battle and slew him with a javelin in the eye. The second was the Red Knight of the Red Lands (whose real name was Sir Ironside), in Sir Thomas Maloryís tale of Sir Gareth in Le Morte díArthur, who besieged the castle of the Lady Liones and overcame and hung every knight who challenged him in an attempt to break the siege, until Gareth, on his first quest, defeated him and sent him to Arthurís court to yield himself. (There Ironside reformed and became a knight of the Round Table.) And like the Red Knight of Prince Valiant, both of these Red Knights were overcome by young would-be knights on their first adventures. (Percevalís unconventional method of slaying his Red Knight even parallels Valís own fondness for unorthodox methods of defeating his opponents.)
Another, much darker, Red Knight appears in "The Last Tournament" in Tennysonís Idylls of the King. Rumored to be a former knight of the Round Table who had left it because of disillusionment at the increasing corruption in Camelot (Tennyson himself identified him with Sir Pelleas, a young knight who was betrayed by Sir Gawain in a love affair), the Red Knight set up a rival court in the north of Britain and sent an insolent message to Arthur, defying him and announcing that while his own followers were brigands and murderers, at least they did not pretend to be anything other than that, in contrast to the hypocrisy of Arthurís knights. Arthur led an army to defeat him, but the actions of his men proved the Red Knight to be speaking the truth; against the kingís orders, they slaughtered all of the Red Knightís household without mercy and burnt his castle to the ground.
43. Panel 2. The depiction of a "holy hermit" tending the wounds of a fallen knight is another familiar feature of Arthurian romance that Foster uses here. These appear often in Maloryís Le Morte díArthur, many of them portrayed as retired knights who retreated into solitude at the end of their worldly careers. (Sir Lancelot himself became a hermit after the passing of Arthur, spending the last seven years of his life in this state, as did many of his kinsmen and adherents.)
Panel 7. Val bears Ileneís favor, again making use of the conventions of Arthurian and chivalric romance, where a knight taking part in quests or tournaments would carry with him a token representing his lady and bestowed upon him by her. The most famous example of this in the Arthurian cycle is Lancelot bearing the sleeve of Elaine of Astolat in a tournament, hoping to thereby disguise himself all the more effectively from the other participants. Nor was this convention confined to literature. In 1319, according to John Leland, a knight named William Marmion was given a splendid helmet by a lady at a feast in Lincolnshire, on the condition that "he should go into the daungerest place in England, and there to let the heaulme to be seene and knowen as famuse"; he wore it into battle against the Scots in the northern marches. Two hundred years later, King James IV of Scotland (1488-1513) bore a turquoise ring as a token from the Queen of France when he invaded England in 1513 (only to be slain at the Battle of Flodden).
Panel 8. Foster faithfully followsArthurian tradition again; villainous knights in chivalric romance were frequently portrayed as hanging their defeated adversaries from trees near their homes. Sir Ironside, the Red Knight of the Red Lands, displayed this custom in particular, much to the horror and revulsion of the young Sir Gareth. (This would have been all the more horrible from the point of view of a medieval knight, since hanging was an unaristocratic fate, reserved for commoners alone; it would be an utter disgrace for a knight, a man of noble birth, to undergo such a death. Noblemen who were condemned to death under the law were customarily beheaded.)
46. Panel 3. Valís demon mask would have an impact lasting beyond his use of it against the ogre of Sinstar Wood and his followers. In 1972, the famous comic-book illustrator Jack Kirby began a comic book series for DC Comics entitled "The Demon", whose title character bore a striking resemblance to Prince Valiantís disguise; Kirby stated that the resemblance was deliberate on his part, as a tribute to Foster. Appropriately enough, the Demon had roots to the Arthurian legend himself, being a former servant to Merlin.
53. Panel 5. Ileneís father receives his title for the first time as Thane of Branwyn. The title of "thane" is most familiar to modern-day readers through William Shakespeareís Macbeth, where all the Scottish nobles are thanes (until the end of the play, when Malcolm promotes them to earls), but it originated among the Anglo-Saxons rather than among the Scots. "Thane" is a variation of "thegn", an Old English term for a kingís retainer or servant. Since kingsĀEretainers were generally of high rank, it soon became a noble title, especially among the early Scots.
(Because of the wordís roots, "thane" would be an inappropriate title for members of the pre-Saxon Arthurian nobility - but again, this fits the anachronistic nature of Arthurian romance.)
56. Panels 5-6. Morgan le Fay, one of King Arthurís best-known adversaries, makes her first appearance in Prince Valiant.
Although Morgan le Fay is most familiar as an enemy of Arthurís, she did not always have that role in the legend. Early mentions of her, such as in Geoffrey of Monmouthís Vita Merlini, portray her as an ally, a beautiful fairy or enchantress who dwelled on the isle of Avalon, received Arthur when he was brought there after the Battle of Camlann, and willingly tended his wounds. Gradually, however, this interpretation darkened. In the Prose Lancelot, Morgan was depicted as hostile towards Queen Guinevere (who had once broken up an affair that Morgan had been conducting with Guinevereís cousin Guiomar), and made several attempts to expose the queenís own affair with Sir Lancelot to King Arthur. A slightly later French romance, the Suite de Merlin, portrayed Morgan le Fay as hostile towards Arthur himself; Malory used this concept as well, ensuring that it would become a cornerstone of the modern worldís interpretation of the legendary sorceress.
In Malory, Morgan was the (apparently youngest) daughter of Arthurís mother, Igraine, by her previous marriage to the Duke of Cornwall. After the Duke of Cornwall was slain fighting against Uther Pendragon, Uther married the widowed Igraine and had her older two daughters, Morgause and Elaine, married off to King Lot of Lothian and Orkney and King Nentres of Garlot; Morgan, however, was too young to be wedded then, so she was put to to school in a nunnery, and afterwards married to King Uriens of Gore (see the annotation for #83, Panel 7), to whom she bore a son named Uwaine. While at the nunnery, Morgan somehow learned magic and later decided to use it to destroy Arthur so that she could seize his throne. She duped him into fighting a knight in her service named Sir Accolon of Gaul, arming Accolon with the real Excalibur and Arthur with a worthless duplicate; fortunately, Arthurís life was saved through the intervention of the enchantress Nimue. Morganís treachery was then revealed, but she managed to steal Excaliburís scabbard, which prevented its wearer from losing any blood, and threw it into a lake, escaping Arthurís pursuit by temporarily transforming herself and her attendants into stone. She made a second attempt to murder Arthur by sending him a magical cloak which would burn up whoever wore it (evocative of EuripidesĀEMedea); Nimue again came to Arthurís rescue by advising him to have Morganís messenger wear the mantle first, resulting in her (the messengerís) fiery death.
Afterwards, Morgan shifted her tactics to kidnapping or attempting to murder many of Arthurís knights, particularly Sir Lancelot. In "The Tale of Sir Lancelot du Lac", she and three fellow sorceress-queens, the Queens of North Galis (North Wales), Eastland, and the Outer Isles, came upon Lancelot asleep under an apple tree and bore him away to Morganís castle, the Castle Chariot, as their prisoner. (This scene probably inspired Fosterís account of how Morgan kidnapped Gawain.) They then asked him to choose one of them as his lover; Lancelot refused all of them in order to remain faithful to Guinevere, and was afterwards rescued by the daughter of King Bagdemagus on the condition that he assisted her father in a tournament against the King of North Galis (which he did). Morgan also made a few unsuccessful efforts at exposing Lancelot and Guinevereís love affair. After the final battle, however, she apparently repented of her evil deeds and was one of the women who took Arthur away to Avalon for healing (apparently the original interpretation of Morgan as an ally to Arthur resurfacing).
Panel 7. The name of Dolorous Garde is derived from Arthurian romance. The original Dolorous Garde indeed had a sinister reputation in the Prose Lancelot, where it first appeared,, but it was not actually a home of Morgan le Fayís. It was a haunted castle plagued with dark enchantments, until the young Sir Lancelot, on one of his first adventures, conquered it and freed it from its curse. He afterwards renamed it Joyous Garde and made it his home, until he was finally banished from Britain in the civil wars that ended Arthurís reign. (Joyous Garde never appeared in the main text of Prince Valiant. It did once appear, however, on one of a series of trading stamps that appeared in the strip in its early years, depicting various figures and sites from Arthurian legend, as well as weapons, armor, people, and events from real medieval history.)
57. Panel 5. Foster had presumably forgotten when writing this story that Morgan was the sister of Gawainís mother Morgause, meaning that Gawain would be Morganís nephew and that her attraction to him would be incestuous; one could always argue, of course, that Morgan probably would not be the least bit concerned about that issue. (These family ties, however, would later on be mentioned in Prince Valiant, in #763, Panel 6, and #1152, Panel 4.)
58. Panel 3. Gawainís comment on the fates of Morganís past husbands is Fosterís invention, yet echoes (perhaps unintentionally) a scene early in Malory. Morgan le Fay, during her attempt to kill Arthur through Sir Accolon, plotted also to kill her husband King Uriens so that she could marry Accolon and they could rule Britain together. She attempted to slay him with his own sword as he slept, but their son Uwaine caught her in the act and stopped her. Morgan persuaded him to spare her by pretending that she had been temporarily possessed by the Devil; Uwaine gave her the benefit of the doubt, but removed every weapon from the bedroom to keep her from making a second effort at murdering his father.
Panel 6. It appears that at this point, Foster still saw magic as real in the world of Prince Valiant (indeed, much of the content of the story of Valís encounter with Morgan le Fay would only make sense if this was so), but the visions can easily be explained away as the products of a hallucinogenic drug in Valís wine. (Foster not only left the door open for that explanation here, but even rationalized it as such years later.)
60. Panel 7. Merlinís instructions to Val echo a traditional law of magic in legend and primitive belief, the Law of Contagion; in order to enchant a person, one must have an object in some way connected to that person (such as a strand of hair, for example).
64. Panel 1. It is clear from this scene that Foster viewed Morganís guards and servants as actual demons, again part of his early notion of magic being real in Prince Valiant. Decades later in the strip, when Val would cross paths with Morgan again (#1752-58), Foster would provide a more rational explanation for their uncanniness (though one that does not explain their response to the cross).
66. Panel 8. This is the first mention of Vikings in Prince Valiant by that name. As mentioned above (in the commentary on #20, Panel 7), their raids on 5th century Britain are anachronistic.
A note on the word "Viking": "Vikings" referred only to the actual raiders from Norway, Sweden, and Denmark who attacked various portions of Europe in the 9th, 10th, and 11th centuries. It did not apply to those peoples in Scandinavia who did not embark upon such journeys.
70. Panel 7. The Singing Sword is introduced here into the strip, carrying out the function of the famous sword with its own exalted lineage that a knightly hero is almost required, by the traditions of the genre of chivalrous romance, to bear. It would become to Prince Valiant what Excalibur was to King Arthur, Durendal to Roland, and Gram/Nothung to Sigurd/Siegfried.
The name "singing sword" has become a much-used one in Arthurian popular culture since then, although I do not know how much of this was thanks to Prince Valiant. (One of its best-known roles was its appearance in the Bugs Bunny cartoon Knighty Knight Bugs (1958), where the famous animated rabbit was assigned by King Arthur the task of recovering the Singing Sword from the Black Knight - played by Yosemite Sam - and his pet dragon; the sword was portrayed here, of course, as literally singing.)
I have so far been able to locate only one use of the "singing sword" concept prior to Prince Valiant, in Rudyard Kiplingís Puck of Pookís Hill (a book which Foster may very well have read - see the commentary on #259, Panel 6 below). In the opening story, "Welandís Sword", the god Weland (Kiplingís adaptation of Wayland Smith, the legendary master-smith of English folklore) comes to England to be worshipped; when his followers abandon him after their conversion to Christianity, Weland is reduced to shoeing horses, unable to return home to Asgard until someone thanks him for his services - something that none of his customers ever do. Puck (the same Puck featured in Shakespeareís A Midsummer Nightís Dream) learns of Welandís plight and wishes to help him; after he sees Welandís most recent customer, a local farmer, refuse to give thanks for his horse being shod, he proceeds to lead the ungrateful manís horse all about the countryside until morning, when a young nobleman named Hugh comes upon him; after hearing the farmerís story, he rebukes him for refusing to give thanks, leads him back to Welandís forge and makes him show some gratitude (albeit of a begrudging kind). Hugh follows the farmerís words with some heartfelt thanks of his own, thus freeing Weland at last; in his joy, Weland decides to repay Hugh for his kindness and forges a splendid sword for him. This sword displays the habit in the following two stories, "Young Men at the Manor" and "The Knights of the Joyous Venture", of letting out a strange groaning or singing sound at dramatic moments, awing Hugh and his friends. We do not know if this sword was the inspiration for the Singing Sword, but again, since Foster had probably read Puck of Pookís Hill, it is possible.
71. Panel 5. While Valhalla has become a term referring to the afterlife in general, it is especially appropriate here as the final destination of a Viking slain by Val in battle. In Norse mythology, Valhalla (Old Norse for "the Hall of the Slain"), was Odinís feasting-hall in Asgard, the realm of the gods. It was a place of enormous size, with more than six hundred and forty doors, each one of which was wide enough to allow nine hundred and sixty men to march through it. Any warrior slain in battle was brought here by the Valkyries, Odinís handmaidens, and became the einherjar, warriors sworn to serve Odin in the afterlife. Each day they fought each other in fierce battle, and were then magically restored to full health and feasted in the hall upon roast pork (provided by the boar Saehrimnir, who was always magically restored each night so that he could feed the einherjar again the following morning) and mead provided by a goat named Heidrun. The einherjar would fight for Odin at Ragnarok, the final battle of the gods against the frost giants and monsters, though there they would all be slain.
Panel 7. Brian M. Kane, in his biography of Hal Foster, stated that Valís stand against the Vikings on the bridge in Dundorn Glen was inspired by a scene in Howard Pyleís novel Otto of the Silver Hand. In Pyleís story, Baron Conrad of Drachenhausen, having just rescued his young son Otto from the dungeon of his enemy Baron Henry of Trutz-Drachen, holds a narrow bridge against the pursuing Henry and his knights while his own men take Otto to a friendly monastery where he will be safe. (Conrad was less fortunate than Val; he and Henry slew each other.)
72. Panel 7. This is the first hint in Prince Valiant that Thule is in Scandinavia.
74. Panel 11. Valís message to Arn, "Nor-east to Jutes Land", suggests that Foster may not have seen Thule as being in Norway at the time that he drew this page. The Jutes were one of the Germanic tribes collectively known as Saxons who were invading Britain during the 5th century, and came from northern Denmark (a portion of which is still known as Jutland to this day). If "Jutes Land" is taken literally here, this would suggest that Foster was imagining Thule in Denmark rather than Norway at this stage in the strip. (Valís early travels in Thule would also support this location, as we shall see.) Both Denmark and Norway lie northeast of Britain, so the "Nor-East" part of Valís message fits both equally well.
77. Panel 3. The description of Thagnarís ships as made from "Danish cedar" may also be a sign that, at this stage in Prince Valiant, Foster might have seen Thule as being in Denmark rather than Norway.
81. Panel 4. Arnís mention of "that uneasy bauble that sets [sic] so heavily on [Sligonís] head" evokes the famous line in Shakespeareís Henry IV Part Two, "Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown" (Act III, Scene i, line 31), though we do not know if the allusion was intentional on Fosterís part. (The line in Shakespeareís play was also applied to an usurper: in this case, its speaker, Henry IV, who had gained the throne by deposing Richard II, just as Sligon had gained his throne by deposing Aguar.)
82. Panel 7. Despite both Prince Valiant and popular belief, Vikings never actually wore horned helmets in battle (which would, for obvious reasons, have been impractical in a fight). Such helmets did exist, but only for ceremonial occasions.
Panel 9. Foster explained in an interview once why he had to have Ilene die: "I had to kill her off. As I saw her, she would have made a good wife. Sheíd have [Valís] slippers waiting when he came home but she wouldnít like it if he went out slitting throats." (Kane, p. 119.) So, in the interests of Val being allowed to continue his adventures, Ilene had to be written out. Foster still received a torrent of mail from indignant readers protesting his decision.
83. Panel 2. Val and Arn are able to make their journey from Thule towards western Europe without any mention of crossing the sea between Norway and Denmark; this could be yet another sign that Foster did not envision Thule as being in Norway at this point. Another such example of Val travelling dry-shod from Thule to mainland Europe appears in #119, Panel 2. (There is a parallel here - though I do not know whether Foster was aware of this or not - to many of the Arthurian romances, where knights are portrayed as traveling from Britain to Brittany without any mention of crossing the Channel.)
Panel 7. With the exception of Negarth, the knights of the Round Table whom Val names here are all traditional figures from the Arthurian cycle. (Negarthís presence on the list suggests that his reformation had proceeded to such an extent that he had now been given a seat at the Table.)
Sir Kay first appears in the early Welsh legends concerning Arthur under the name of Cai, and was portrayed as one of his foremost warriors. In the poem Pa Gur, Arthur praises Kayís prowess, speaking in particular of his battle against Palugís Cat, a giant wildcat that had been ravaging the isle of Mona (now Anglesey). In Culhwch and Olwen, Kay is not only one of Arthurís leading champions, but provided with superhuman gifts; he can grow to the size of a tree at will, go without sleep or hold his breath under water for nine days, and exudes such warmth that he can remain dry even in a rainstorm. He successfully carries out many near-impossible tasks in this tale, such as slaying the giant Wrnach with his own sword or seizing the beard of the robber Dillus; unfortunately, after Kay performs the latter feat, Arthur composes an irreverent little poem about it which so enrages Kay that he forswears Arthurís service forever.
Geoffrey of Monmouth ignored Kayís magical gifts, but kept the notion of his being one of Arthurís leading followers. In his History of the Kings of Britain, Kay is portrayed as Arthurís seneschal, a title that he would henceforth bear throughout the future development of the Arthurian legend, and also as Duke of Anjou (a role that would not be as long-lasting). He fights valiantly for Arthur in the Roman war that serves as the climax to the great kingís reign, but is slain in the chief battle, fighting against the Medes.
Verse romances such as those of Chretien de Troyes proceeded to build further on Kayís role, fleshing out his characterization. He appears in them as a sharp-tongued man, who seldom has a polite word for anybody and whose abrasive manners generally result in his getting soundly thumped by the person whom he had just insulted. Often, Kay would serve as a foil to the more courteous Gawain; he would be set a task by Arthur, approach it in his usual blunt fashion, and meet with a humiliating defeat, after which Gawain would take a more diplomatic approach to the same problem and meet with success. (It is tempting to wonder whether Kayís above-mentioned umbrage towards Arthur over the satirical verse regarding his victory over Dillus could be an embryonic version of his churlish nature in the literature of the High Middle Ages.) In spite of this almost comical role, Kay retained his high position at court and Arthurís favor throughout the tales (if at times in a manner that could lead the reader to question Arthurís judgment regarding Kay).
Robert de Boronís Merlin introduced the concept of Kay as Arthurís foster-brother (perhaps to explain Kayís importance at court, despite his rudeness), telling how his father Antor (the Sir Ector of Malory) was entrusted by Merlin with the guardianship of the young Arthur. (Indeed, the medieval French accounts of this event went on to state that Kayís own mother was given the task of nursing Arthur in his infancy, and displaced Kay so hastily from her breast in order to begin suckling the future king that Kay spoke for the rest of his life with a stammer.) De Boronís poem also introduced the story (better known to us through Malory) of how Arthur served as Kayís squire at the time that he drew the Sword out of the Stone, and how Kay initially tried to take advantage of this event to pretend that he had been the one who had performed this great feat; after it became clear that the credit for that deed really belonged to Arthur, Sir Ector begged his foster-son as a boon to make Kay his seneschal, which boon Arthur granted.
In Malory, Kay appears as a valiant and courageous knight in his early appearances, fighting effectively in Arthurís battles. (His finest moment came about during a war between Arthur and five invading kings, who surprised his camp by the Humber with a night attack. Arthur, Kay, Gawain, and Sir Griflet were trapped with Queen Guinevere by the bank of the Humber, when Kay noticed that the five kings had made the mistake of approaching Arthur on their own, without any followers, and suggested an immediate assault upon them. When Gawain argued that this attack would be foolhardy, "for we are but four and they be five", Kay replied that if Arthur, Gawain, and Griflet would each slay one of the kings, he would slay two - which he did. Both Arthur and Guinevere praised Kay afterwards for his valor and fulfillment of his vow.) Afterwards, however, he quickly degenerated into the more curmudgeonly figure of the French romances. He bestowed rude nicknames upon Sir Gareth and Sir Brewnor le Noire when they first came to court (one canít help thinking that the young Prince Valiant at Camelot got off easy, in only being taunted by the other squires and not by Kay!), and displayed in general such a sour disposition that the other knights were only too eager to unhorse him in a joust whenever possible. (On one occasion, however, Lancelot took pity on Kay and exchanged armor with him when they crossed paths while out seeking adventure. The knights who came upon Kay in Lancelotís armor thereafter hurriedly shunned any confrontation with him, while those knights who encountered Lancelot in Kayís armor decided to challenge the insufferable seneschal to a passage of arms, only to find themselves hurled to the ground.)
Sir Percival was the original hero of the Grail cycle (before the invention of Galahad), first introduced in Perceval by Chretien de Troyes. His father and older brothers had all been slain in battle or tournaments, and Percivalís mother, wishing to preserve him from harm, fled to the woods with him and brought him up to be ignorant of knights and warfare. But one day Percival saw a group of knights riding through the forest; believing them to be angels, he eagerly greeted them, and upon learning about who they were, immediately set off for Arthurís court to become a knight. Due to his ignorance of the outside world, he had several misadventures that came about through his misunderstanding of chivalric customs, but finally became one of Arthurís knights. In the early versions of his story, Percival would eventually (apparently; Chretien never finished Perceval, so we do not know his original intent; this had to be guessed by his continuers) achieve the Holy Grail; with the Prose Lancelot, however, that role was shifted to Lancelotís son Galahad, though Percival would also achieve the Grail on a smaller scale, alongside both Galahad himself and Bors. After Galahadís death and the Grailís ascension to Heaven, Percival became a hermit and died shortly afterwards.
This panel is one of only three occasions when Percival is mentioned in Prince Valiant, the other two being #1860, Panel 2, and #2227, Panel 1. In all three cases, he was treated as just another name among the champions of King Arthurís court.
Sir Tristram was originally not part of the Arthurian cycle, but was gradually drawn into it. Tristram (or Tristan, as he was called in the early versions of his story) was the nephew of King Mark of Cornwall, whose sister married the King of Lyonesse (originally interpreted as either Lothian or Leonais in Brittany, but later on, in early modern times, re-imagined as a once-mighty kingdom off the coast of Cornwall that was destroyed by a great flood, leaving behind only the Scilly Isles). As a youth, he came to his uncleís court just as King Mark was facing a challenge from a mighty Irish warrior known as the Morholt; Mark had refused to pay tribute to Ireland, and the Irish king had sent the Morholt to meet one of Markís knights in single combat to decide the issue. The Morholt was so strong that none of Markís men were willing to face him; Tristram volunteered to serve as his uncleís champion, and slew the Morholt in the ensuing fight. But the Morholt had wielded a poisoned spear in the battle and wounded Tristram with it; King Markís physicians, examining the wound, told him that he could only find a cure for the poison in the Morholtís homeland of Ireland. Tristram went thither in disguise (under the singularly unimaginative alias of Tramtrist), where the Irish kingís daughter Isolde (or Iseult), a skilled healer, tended him and nursed him back to health. The two of them developed feelings for each other, but when the Irish king discovered that "Tramtrist" was really the man who had slain the Morholt, Tristram had to flee back to Cornwall.
After learning from his nephew about Isoldeís beauty, Mark decided to take her to wife and sent Tristram back to Ireland to arrange the proceedings. Isoldeís mother, aware that her daughter was not eager to marry Mark, gave her a love potion that she and Mark were to drink on their wedding night; however, Tristram and Isolde inadvertently discovered it on the sea voyage back to Cornwall, drank it, and fell hopelessly in love with each other. Thereafter, they kept up a constant secret affair at Markís court; several times King Mark would become suspicious, but the lovers always found a way of convincing him that there was nothing going on between them. At last, however, Mark finally found the proof that he needed, and banished Tristram from his court. (For the end of Tristramís story, see the annotation for #383, Panel 2.)
As mentioned above, originally the story of Tristram was independent from the Arthurian legend. But such was the popularity of the Matter of Britain that Tristram, Isolde, and Mark were eventually drawn into it (although they never became as firmly rooted in it as other additions to the cycle such as Merlin). In these later versions, Tristram comes to King Arthurís court after being exiled from Cornwall and becomes a knight of the Round Table, second only to Lancelot according to Malory. (While Tristramís inclusion in the Arthurian legend was mainly a product of the High Middle Ages, there is an earlier - if bizarre - tale connecting the two, a Welsh Triad which lists Tristram as one of the Three Great Swineherds of Britain. According to it, Tristram looked after King Markís pigs while the swineherd who usually tended them delivered a message to Isolde for him, and protected them so well that when Arthur, Kay, and Bedivere tried to carry off the pigs, Tristram thwarted them at every turn.)
Maloryís inclusion of Tristram in his Le Morte díArthur helped anchor him all the more in the Arthurian cycle. Edmund Spenser gave him a brief appearance in Book Six of The Faerie Queene, and Tennyson focused one of his Idylls of the King, "The Last Tournament", around Tristram and Isolde, portraying them as foils to Lancelot and Guinevere (while Lancelot and Guinevere have a genuine tragic nobility amid their adultery which allows them to finally leave their sin for higher and holier things, Tristram and Isolde are shallow and scoff at Arthurís ideals). More recently, the pre-Arthurian aspects of Tristramís tale have been rediscovered by writers of the 19th and 20th centuries, who have produced many tales about him that omit Arthur and his court (the most famous of these being Richard Wagnerís opera Tristan and Isolde).
Tristram would play a fairly prominent role in Prince Valiant (almost as often in the foreground as Lancelot and Gawain) thereafter, until Foster finally killed him off in #383.
Uriens was the King of Gore (its location is not given in Malory or his predecessors; but since he is generally agreed to be based on the historical King Urien of Rheged, a Dark Age kingdom in northern Britain centered around Carlisle, Gore might be equated with Rheged) and Arthurís brother-in-law, who married his half-sister Morgan le Fay. Originally Uriens was hostile towards Arthur, being one of eleven kings who rebelled against him in the early years of his reign (another being King Lot of Lothian and Orkney, Gawainís father), but made his peace with him afterwards; Arthur even gave him a seat at the Round Table. He never participated in Morganís schemings against Arthur, and indeed, was almost murdered by her once (see the annotation on #58, Panel 3, above). This is the only occasion on which he is mentioned in Prince Valiant. (At least, I think that this is a mention of "Uriens", assuming that the letter which begins his name in the text is an angular "U" rather than a "V".)
84. Panel 5. There were two Sir Ectors in the Arthurian legend. The first of these was Sir Kayís father and Arthurís foster-father; Merlin gave Arthur into his keeping while the latter was still a baby, and Ector raised the future king as his own son until Arthur revealed his true heritage through his feat with the Sword in the Stone. The second (known as Sir Ector de Maris to differentiate him from the first Sir Ector) was the half-brother of Sir Lancelot. In Malory, after Lancelot died in retirement at Glastonbury, Sir Ector de Maris delivered a famous lament for him that is widely considered one of the finest pieces of prose in Le Morte díArthur.
Since the only other occasion on which Sir Ector is mentioned in Prince Valiant (#100, panel 3) clearly identifies him as the first Sir Ector, I assume that the "kindly Sir Ector" in this panel is Arthurís foster-father rather than Sir Ector de Maris.
This panel also contains the first mention of the invasion of Britain during Arthurís time by the Saxons and Angles, an actual ongoing event in the 5th and 6th centuries that would become a major problem for Arthur and his knights throughout much of Prince Valiant. The fact that Ector refers to the Angles being driven out of "England" is a bit jarring, though, since England received its name from the Angles.
Panel 6. This is the first mention of Sir Lancelotís traditional French background. Foster equates his homeland with Brittany, the portion of France that looms most prominently in Arthurian legend (thanks not only to its proximity to Britain, but also to its settlement by Britons who emigrated there in the 5th and 6th centuries, hence its name). Malory, on the other hand, identified Lancelotís homeland (called Benwick in his Le Morte díArthur) as either Bayonne or Beaune, both of which are in southern France.
Panel 8. The description of King Bors as Sir Lancelotís father is a mistake of Fosterís; King Bors was actually the brother of King Ban (Lancelotís father in Malory) and thus Lancelotís uncle. King Bors was also the father of Sir Lionel and Sir Bors de Ganis, both of whom were important knights among Lancelotís kinsmen; Bors de Ganis was even one of the three knights who achieved the Holy Grail (alongside Galahad and Percival). Sir Bors never appeared in Prince Valiant, although Sir Lionel received one brief mention near the end of Fosterís time on the strip, in # 2227.
85. Panel 2. It would be wonderful to know if Foster, when he wrote this scene, had in mind Lancelotís own misfortune of being in love with the same woman as one of his closest friends - especially since that love would result in a tragedy just as terrible as the potential outcome he describes for the Val-Ilene-Arn triangle (or maybe worse, since Lancelotís tragedy destroyed an entire kingdom).
Panel 5. The Solent is the channel between the Isle of Wight and the British mainland, an appropriate place to sail through when going to Winchester (where Foster locates Camelot).
86. Panel 8. The custom of "an untried knight" bearing white arms with no design upon his shield is another traditional element in Arthurian romance used here by Foster.
Panel 9. Caerleon was one of Arthurís leading courts in medieval legend, originally far more prominent than Camelot. It first appears in an Arthurian context in Geoffrey of Monmouthís History of the Kings of Britain, where Arthur held a great court at the climax of his reign; Geoffrey enthusiastically describes the splendors of Caerleon, which he names the City of the Legion (a literal translation of "Caerleon", which had, in Roman times, been the headquarters of the Second Augustan Legion), in Book Nine, Chapters 12-14, which would become the basis for the depictions of Arthurís court in medieval literature afterwards. Even in Malory, Caerleon remains an important home for Arthur, entering his work before Camelot is first mentioned.
This is the only time that Arthur would be shown holding court at Caerleon (or, indeed, anywhere other than Camelot in peacetime) in Prince Valiant, and on the occasion of Valís second visit there (#1138), Caerleon would be described in far less glamorous terms.
87. Panel 8. This description of Tristram as "greatest of all warriors save only Launcelot" comes from Malory, who makes Tristram second only to Lancelot among the knights of the Round Table; the third was Sir Lamorak (who is never mentioned in Prince Valiant).
91. Panel 8. Val discovers the skeletal remains of the dinosaur that had attacked him in #4-5. Foster does not mention how it had died. Had it been unable to free itself from the trap that Val had set for it in their past encounter, and starved to death? Or had it met its end some other way?
Years later, perhaps troubled by the anachronism of a dinosaur surviving into historical times, Foster would engage in a bit of retrocon when Val was telling his son Arn about his youthful adventures in the Fens (#1346, Panel 4), and have him describe the dinosaur as having dwelt in the marsh "in olden times", presumably meaning the Mesozoic Era.
92. Panel 7. Horrit now gives the Singing Sword a more specific name (though one that would seldom be used in the strip), that of "Flamberge". A flamberge is a sword with wavy edges, also known as a "flaming sword".
This is the first mention of Excalibur, King Arthurís sword. It (apparently) makes its entrance in Arthurian legend in Culhwch and Olwen, where Arthur, making a list of his prized possessions, includes in it his sword Caledfwlch. Geoffrey of Monmouth named it Caliburn, and included it among Arthurís gear during his description of Arthur arming himself for the Battle of Bath; he mentioned that it was forged on the isle of Avalon. The French romances would later on alter the swordís name to "Excalibur". (A few of them, including those of Chretien de Troyes, make Excalibur Gawainís sword rather than Arthurís; from this, it has sometimes been argued that Arthurís connections with it are illusory. However, no trace of this link between Excalibur and Gawain can be found in either Geoffrey of Monmouth or Malory, who serve as the primary sources of Arthurian legend for the modern-day English-speaking public; in their works, Excalibur is Arthurís sword throughout. Thus, even if Excalibur was Gawainís sword rather than Arthurís from the point of view of the average medieval romancer and his audience, the modern-day public has understandable and even justifiable reasons for associating it with the famous king.)
When the Sword in the Stone first entered the Arthurian legend (in Robert de Boronís verse romance Merlin), it was identified with Excalibur. However, later versions of the story made the two of them separate swords; in this account, used by Sir Thomas Malory (and thus made familiar to an English-speaking audience), Arthur broke his original sword fighting King Pellinore, and Merlin took him to see the Lady of the Lake. The Lady of the Lake gave him Excalibur, which rose up from the middle of her lake, held by an arm clad in a sleeve of white samite; Arthur rowed out to the arm and took the sword. With it came a scabbard which Merlin described as worth ten Excaliburs; whoever wore it would never bleed. (The scabbard was eventually stolen from Arthur by Morgan le Fay; she threw it into a lake, from which it was never recovered.)
Arthur bore Excalibur thereafter until after he was wounded by Mordred in his last battle (oddly, Arthur slew Mordred with a spear rather than with his famous sword). Dying, he told Sir Bedivere, his last surviving knight, to throw Excalibur into a nearby lake. Bedivere, concerned at thus disposing of his kingís great sword, twice pretended to have done so while hiding it, but when Arthur asked him what he had seen, Bedivere replied that he had seen only the waters rippling. Arthur thus knew that he was lying, and the third time, Bedivere at last did as Arthur had commanded him. The arm rose up from the lake, caught Excalibur, and sank below the surface of the water with it. Bedivere reported this to Arthur, who thus knew that Excalibur had been returned to the Lady of the Lake.
Panel 8. Fosterís description of Horritís predictions of Valís future as "what may not be told here" serves a double purpose; it makes the aforesaid future appear all the more ominous if it cannot be described, and it preserves suspense.
95. Panel 4. Foster makes a slip in his mention of "we are but twenty"; in #92, he had described Aguar as having thirty followers in exile.
96. Panel 5. For the first time, Prince Valiant witnesses a Saxon invasion of Britain.
Foster differs from the traditional accounts of Arthurís Saxon wars in portraying the Saxons as raiders from overseas. In the pseudo-chronicles, such as Geoffrey of Monmouthís History of the Kings of Britain, the Saxons were already established in the east of Britain, thanks to Vortigern, when Arthur became king; while history is less certain about the details of the Saxon arrival in Britain, it is usually agreed that they had established permanent settlements and even kingdoms by the time that Arthur is usually held (if he was based on a real person) to have lived, the late 5th and early 6th centuries. Foster, on the other hand, implies that the Saxons are still overseas raiders who have yet to establish any lasting residence in Britain; throughout the early years of the strip, whenever they came to Britain, Arthur would always drive them back to the sea. Only later on in Prince Valiant would they begin to be portrayed as settlers.
100. Panel 5. Ulfius and Brastias (mentioned only here in Prince Valiant) were two knights from Uther Pendragonís generation. Ulfius was a friend and confidant to Uther; when Uther made war upon Duke Gorlois of Cornwall because of his desire for Gorloisís wife Igraine, Ulfius served as Utherís advisor. In particular, it was he who suggested that Uther send for Merlin and obtain his help; when Merlin magically disguised Uther as Gorlois to allow him access to Igraineís chamber, Ulfius accompanied the king and the wizard, disguised as Jordan, one of Gorloisís knights. After Arthur became king, Ulfius loyally served him as he had done Uther, and was made his chamberlain.
Sir Brastias was originally one of Duke Gorloisís knights; Merlin impersonated him while accompanying the disguised Uther to Tintagel. Brastias survived Gorloisís death and, oddly enough, entered Utherís service afterwards, followed by Arthurís after Utherís death. Arthur appointed Brastias Warden of the Northern Marches. Ulfius and Brastias fought valiantly for Arthur when he was faced with a rebellion from King Lot of Lothian and Orkney and his allies, and also went into Gaul on a diplomatic mission to obtain help from Kings Ban and Bors.
Sir Bedivere was, like Sir Kay, one of the first knights to enter the Arthurian cycle, appearing in the pre-Geoffrey of Monmouth Welsh legends under the name of Bedwyr. He played a leading role in the adventures of Arthur and his warriors in Culhwch and Olwen, where he was depicted as a close friend of Kayís and an expert spearman, although apparently (the textís wording is not too clear here, unfortunately) having only one hand. Geoffrey of Monmouth made him Arthurís cupbearer (a function which later romancers, such as Malory, transferred to Bedivereís brother Lucan) and the Duke of Normandy; he also had him slain in the same great battle with the Romans as Kay.
Bedivereís most famous feat in Arthurian legend (which Foster was presumably referring to when he described how Bedivere "served his king to the end") was returning Excalibur to the lake after Arthurís final battle (see the entry for #92, Panel 7 above). It should be noted, however, that Bedivere did not always have this role; in the earliest known version of the story, in the Prose Lancelot, the knight who performs this deed is Sir Girflet - who appears under the name of "Griflet" in Malory. Indeed, as long as Geoffrey of Monmouthís depiction of Bedivere as being slain in Gaul while fighting the Romans was considered canonical, the act could not be assigned to him. The identification of Bedivere with the knight who threw Excalibur into the water was first made - so far as we know - by the Stanzaic Le Morte Arthure, a medieval English poem in the late 14th century which was one of Maloryís sources. Malory followed the Stanzaic Le Morte Arthure in ascribing this function to Bedivere, and Tennyson followed Malory when he wrote "The Passing of Arthur" in his Idylls of the King, thereby cementing it in the popular consciousness.
Modred or Mordred (Foster uses both spellings at different times) first appears in the Annales Cambriae (a Dark Age Welsh text, meaning "The Annals of Wales" in English) under the name of Medraut, where it is stated that both he and Arthur were slain at the Battle of Camlann. The text does not say whether they were enemies or allies, but the Welsh legends preceding Geoffrey of Monmouth generally portrayed them as adversaries; according to the Triads, two of the three greatest ravagings ever committed in Britain were Arthur and Medraut raiding each otherís fortresses (suggesting that in this body of legend, Medraut was viewed, not as a traitor or rebel, but a rival chieftain politically independent of Arthur). It was Geoffrey of Monmouth who (presumably) formed the more familiar interpretation of Mordred, making him Arthurís nephew, the son of King Lot of Lothian by Arthurís sister Anna and brother to Gawain. In Geoffreyís work, Arthur left Mordred in charge of his kingdom while he went to Gaul to fight the Romans; Mordred rebelled, usurped the throne, and took Guinevere to wife. Arthur, learning of Mordredís treachery, returned to put down his rebellion, and they fought in the Battle of Camlann, where Mordred was slain and Arthur badly wounded.
Mordredís role was gradually fleshed out as the legend continued to develop. The Prose Lancelot introduced the notion of Mordred being actually Arthurís son, the result of an unwitting liaison between Arthur and his own sister, with his evil stemming from his incestuous conception. (Foster would subtly refer to this story a few times in Prince Valiant, most noticeably in #1546, Panel 3.) It also had Arthur and Mordred fight each other personally in the final battle, with Arthur slaying Mordred but being mortally wounded in the process; in Geoffreyís account, Mordred is slain in the early stages of the Battle of Camlann by an unknown hand and Arthur receives his mortal wound from Mordredís followers in their efforts to avenge their leaderís death. Malory would include both of the Prose Lancelotís additions in his Le Morte díArthur, solidifying them as part of the familiar story.
Mordredís treasonous plottings would resurface in Prince Valiant many times as the strip progressed, turning him into a recurring nemesis to Val and his family as well as to Arthur.
101. Panel 2. Horsa, the leader of the Saxons, was a traditional figure in the legends about the coming of the Saxons to Britain in the 5th century. According to the accounts given in the Venerable Bedeís Ecclesiastical History of the English People, the Historia Brittonum, and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, and amplified in Geoffrey of Monmouthís History of the Kings of Britain, the first Saxons to arrive were led by two brothers named Hengist and Horsa. They landed at Thanet in Kent (this event was traditionally dated to 449, but historians no longer take that seriously) and made a pact with the British king Vortigern; he agreed to give them land, if they in turn would help defend Britain from various invaders, especially the Picts. For a while, Hengist and Horsa lived up to their agreement; however, after a time, when more and more Saxons had emigrated to Britain under their leadership, they turned on Vortigern and his people and made war upon them. Horsa was slain early in the fighting, though the details of his death vary; the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle has him slain at Aylesford in Kent in 455, while Geoffrey of Monmouth (and the Historia Brittonum, which was his source material for the early Saxon wars) had Horsa slain at Epiford by Catigern, a son of Vortigernís (to be more precise, Horsa and Catigern slew each other). Hengist lived on, though, and fought for many more years. The early legends say nothing about his death other than that it took place; Geoffrey of Monmouth, however, had Hengist taken prisoner when he fought Aurelius Ambrosius at Conisburgh in Yorkshire and, at the urging of Bishop Eldad of Gloucester, executed as the early medieval equivalent of a war criminal.
Historians are still divided as to whether Hengist and Horsa were real people or mythical. Since the two brothers first appear in written records a few centuries after they were supposed to have lived, when there would have been time enough for the real events of the 5th century to have become embroidered by legend, and their names are both Old English words for "horse", many scholars have suspected that Hengist and Horsa were really euhemerized gods, perhaps an Anglo-Saxon equivalent to the Dioscuri (Castor and Pollux) of classical mythology. Others, however, believe that Hengist and Horsa could have been real. The scarcity of contemporary sources for this period of history means that we will probably never know the truth.
Foster would regularly make Horsa the leader of the Saxons, having him face King Arthur and Prince Valiant in battle at least three more times. His choice of Horsa for this role is surprising, however, since all the stories about Hengist and Horsa portray Hengist (who would not even be mentioned in Prince Valiant until #1394, Panel 6) as the more prominent of the two brothers. It was Hengist rather than Horsa whom the rulers of Kent claimed descent from (through his son Aesc), and it is Hengist rather than Horsa who handles the negotiations with Vortigern and the deployment of the Saxons throughout Britain in legend, Hengist whose daughter Vortigern marries, Hengist who outlives Horsa and even (in Geoffrey of Monmouth) has the far more detailed death. Why Foster should have made Horsa rather than Hengist Arthurís great opponent in the Saxon wars of Prince Valiant must remain forever a mystery.
(For that matter, Horsaís identity as Arthurís foe is another deviation from legend; in Geoffrey of Monmouth, he was slain before Arthur was even born. However, as we shall soon see, Foster places Arthur earlier on the timeline than tradition generally does.)
The dragon is again shown as Arthurís symbol. Tennyson introduced the concept of lions as Lancelotís heraldic device in his Idylls of the King, speaking in "Lancelot and Elaine" of "Sir Lancelotís azure lions, crowníd with gold" (l. 659); in medieval accounts of the coats of arms of the knights of the Round Table, Lancelotís blazon was one or three red bends (diagonal stripes) upon a white field. Tristram, on the other hand, was generally attributed a lion on his shield in medieval heraldry (perhaps as a play on the name of his homeland, Lyonesse).
Panel 3. Sir Dagonet is another canonical figure, as is his function as King Arthurís court jester. According to Malory, Dagonet was knighted by Arthur himself, and entertained him at tournaments. His knighthood was evidently purely honorary, for he was clearly no warrior (on the few occasions that he fought anyone in Malory, he lost every single time). His most noteworthy jest was when he disguised himself as Sir Lancelot in order to strike fear in the heart of the cowardly King Mark of Cornwall (a joke actually organized by Sir Dinadan); the joke went sour, however, when Sir Palomides (after rebuking Mark for his ignominious flight) unhorsed Dagonet so soundly that his neck was almost broken.
Tennyson gave Dagonet a major role in "The Last Tournament" in The Idylls of the King, where he provides a mocking commentary on both Arthurís ideals and Tristramís adulterous affair with Isolde, until the end of the poem when, as the civil war that will destroy Camelot begins, the court jester sadly tells Arthur "I shall never make thee smile again" (line 756). William Shakespeare mentioned him briefly in Henry IV Part Two, where Falstaffís senile friend, Justice Shallow, recalls having played the part of Dagonet in "Arthurís show" in his youth (Act III, scene ii) - indicating just how much of a hopeless mediocrity Shallow must have been even then!
103. Panel 5. Foster was perhaps overly generous in having Prince Valiant immediately admitted to the Round Table upon receiving knighthood. In the medieval romances, a seat at the Round Table was a rare and select honor that had to be earned by many deeds after becoming a knight; even Lancelot was not immediately admitted to it upon receiving his spurs, but had to undergo several adventures first.
105. The clothing and armor of the people of Thule on this page and the ones following, while having a northern flavor, are in the same medieval style as that of Arthurís court, with little of the Viking Age about them. Apparently Foster had originally intended Thule to be more courtly and less wild than he would later on portray it.
108. Panel 9. Alfred de Gerinís name is another sign of how Thule, at this stage in Prince Valiant, was far more "chivalric" in style than it would later become; "de Gerin" is a Norman-French surname, not likely to have been found in Viking Age Norway. (Though "Alfred" is an Anglo-Saxon name in origin, best-known for having been borne by Alfred the Great.)
110. Panel 3. King Ban was Sir Lancelotís father in Malory. He was the King of Benwick (despite Foster, located not in Brittany but in southern France, at either Bayonne or Beaune); when King Arthur was having trouble with eleven rebellious kings early in his reign, he formed an alliance with King Ban and his brother, King Bors, who came to Britain with an army. Merlin concealed them in the forest of Bedegraine (now Sherwood Forest of Robin Hood fame) near the site of the battle between Arthur and the rebellious kings; after Arthur and his enemies had fought each other vigorously for some time, Kings Ban and Bors burst out of the woods as reinforcements, taking the eleven kings by surprise and turning the tide against them.
In the Prose Lancelot, King Ban died not long afterwards, when his old enemy King Claudas conquered his kingdom and sacked his last remaining castle; Malory makes no mention of this, and neither does Foster, who throughout the strip portrays Ban as still alive.
112. Panel 1. The presence of a friar as the officiating churchman at Alfred and Clarisís wedding is another anachronism. Friars did not appear until the beginning of the 13th century, when St. Francis of Assisi founded the Franciscans in 1210 and St. Dominic founded the Dominicans six years later. (This means, incidentally, that the presence of Friar Tuck in those Robin Hood stories set during the reign of Richard the Lion-hearted - 1189-99 - is also anachronistic. Although it is worth pointing out additionally that the notion of Robin Hood being a contemporary of Richard the Lion-hearted and John Lackland is a relatively late development in the legend, probably largely due to Sir Walter Scottís Ivanhoe; the earliest Robin Hood tales placed him during the reign of one of the Edwards - either Edward I (1272-1307), Edward II (1307-27), or Edward III (1327-77). Friar Tuck did not enter the tales of Robin Hood, for that matter, until the 15th century.)
Unlike monks (who lived in a monastery and stayed there), friars wandered about the countryside; they were founded in part as a protest against the wealth and luxury that were increasingly filling the monasteries and an attempt to return to the more spiritual, less worldly roots of Christianity (though, as such works as Chaucerís Canterbury Tales make clear, they soon developed a reputation for worldliness themselves). The Franciscans (or Grey Friars) would preach open-air sermons, while the Dominicans (or Black Friars) focused on combating heresy.
The presence of any Christian churchman, whether friar or not, contradicts the later depiction of Thule as still pagan, worshipping the Norse gods, and again suggests that Foster had not yet realized how "Viking Age" he would later on make Thule.
Panel 8. The tournament is yet another sign of how much Thule at this stage in Prince Valiant differed from its later portrayal through the bulk of the strip. (Indeed, in #1529-30, it would be revealed that Aguarís Viking subjects do not even comprehend tournaments, and Valís attempt to introduce the concept to them results in merely a chaotic free-for-all.)
115. Panel 7. Father Time includes "fortresses unconquerable" among his trophies; might this be a foreshadowing of the siege and fall of Andelkrag (described in the text as a "fortress unconquerable"), only a few pages later in the strip?
116. Panel 7. Note the apparent death from old age of Valís horse, now reduced to bones, as a side-effect of Valís own aging - which is evidently reversed when Valís own youth is restored to him.
117. Panel 3. Valís horrified cry that his adventure in the Cave of Time could not possibly have happened might be Fosterís way of allowing room for a rationalist approach, suggesting that it was only a hallucination (maybe linked to the wine).
118. Panel 2. The travelerís report provides a definite chronological setting for Prince Valiantís adventures for the first time in the strip. Attila the Hun is the first character in the strip (though he never appeared on stage in it) who was an undeniably real historical figure (as opposed to King Arthur and Horsa, whose historicity has still been unproven). Furthermore, the traveller is clearly referring to Attilaís invasion of northern Italy in 452 (although Attila never actually took Rome in the course of his campaign).
Attila, one of the best-known figures in the history of 5th century Europe, was the nephew of the great Hunnish king Ruga. When Ruga died in 434, Attilaís older brother Bleda succeeded him as ruler of the Huns, with Attila as his second-in-command. After Bledaís own death in 443 (there is some speculation that Attila might have helped bring it about, though no definite proof), Attila became the new king of the Huns, and began his career by threatening the Eastern Roman Empire and exacting tribute from it (he even marched on Constantinople at one point, but had to retire when his troops were afflicted with illness), before turning his attention to the Western Roman Empire (see #119, Panel 7 for the details).<./p>
Incidentally, by placing Prince Valiant in the early 450ís, Foster places King Arthurís reign somewhat earlier than the legends have generally located it. When Arthur is specifically placed on the timeline by the medieval writers (which did not happen very often), it was usually in the early 6th century; the Annales Cambriae dated his victory over the Saxons at the Battle of Badon to 518 and his death at the Battle of Camlann to 539. Geoffrey of Monmouth dated the Battle of Camlann and Arthurís subsequent passing to 542. Sir Thomas Malory stated that Sir Galahad sat in the Siege Perilous 454 years after the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, thereby dating the event to roughly A.D. 485, and thus locating Arthur somewhat earlier in time than the pseudo-chronicles. However, no medieval writer, to the best of my knowledge, ever placed Arthur in the 450ís, at least, not explicitly. (In a set of trading stamps that accompanied Prince Valiant about this time, Foster stated on one that Arthurís reign was from 420 to 460. In this same series, he also dated Val and Aguarís exile to Britain to 425, and the Battle of the Fens, Valís knighting, and Aguarís subsequent recovery of Thule to 433. This clearly contradicts the chronological fix of having Attilaís march on Rome take place only shortly after Aguarís restoration - and also clashes with Fosterís statement in the main body of the strip - in #104, Panel 6 - that the exile to Britain lasted for twelve years rather than eight.)
Panel 3. It is tempting to wonder if, when Foster chose the name "Andelkrag" for the magnificent castle of Prince Camoran, he had been influenced by "The Madness of Andelsprutz", one of the short stories of the noted Irish fantasy writer Edward Plunkett, Lord Dunsany (1878-1957). Dunsanyís tale revolves around the mighty city of Andelsprutz, which comes to a tragic end after it falls into madness (not the inhabitants of the city, but the city itself); Andelkrag does not suffer a similar fate (unless one believes the almost-suicidal final actions of its defenders to be insanity), but the similarity of the two names, and the application of both to a once-mighty city or fortress which suffers a cataclysmic downfall, suggests such a connection. This connection is all the more probable since Foster had read and enjoyed Lord Dunsanyís works (having been introduced to them through his friend, Charles F. Armstrong), and, by his own admission, often drew inspiration from them for Valís adventures. We shall see more of these further on.
119. Panel 2. Note that Val rides from his fatherís kingdom into the lands surrounding Andelkrag with no mention of a sea-crossing between Norway and mainland Europe (where Andelkrag evidently is). This is still another indication that Foster may not have initially envisioned Thule as being in Norway. (For earlier signs, see the note on #83, Panel 2.)
Panel 4. While Foster portrays the Hunnish hordes that Val battles in this portion of the strip as comprised entirely of Huns, in actual history, Attilaís forces were swelled by Germanic tribesmen who were attracted into his service through the promise of booty. In fact, it is believed by historians that Attilaís Germanic followers outnumbered his Hunnish followers during his invasion of western Europe (particularly since Attila had sent a large portion of the Huns to ally with the Armenians against the Persians at the time).
Panel 7. Emperor Valentinian is the historical Valentinian III, Western Roman Emperor from 423 to 455. He was the nephew of Honorius, the previous Western Roman Emperor (395-423), who reigned during Alaric the Gothís sack of Rome in 410; his mother, Galla Placidia, was Honoriusís sister.
Fosterís account of Valentinianís "shameful peace" with Attila is actually inaccurate, though based on real history in a confused way. Valentinianís sister, Honoria, had planned to depose her brother and replace him with her chamberlain and lover Eugenius; Valentinian had discovered her plans, however, executed Eugenius, and sent Honoria to Constantinople, where she was placed under the supervision of Pulcheria, the older sister of the Eastern Roman Emperor Theodosius II (408-450), a pious woman with a strong taste for prayer and fasting. Partly to escape Pulcheriaís strict regimen and partly to further her own political power, she sent a messenger to Attila, bearing her ring and a proposal of marriage. Attila, finding the idea of marrying into the imperial family of Rome much to his liking, accepted, requesting half the Western Roman Empire for a dowry; Theodosius, upon discovering Honoriaís scheme, sent her back to her brother, who refused to agree to the marriage. Attila promptly invaded the Western Roman Empire. After sacking a few cities in Gaul, he was turned back temporarily at the Battle of Chalons in 451 (see the annotation for #187, Panel 5), but the following year, mounted an invasion of northern Italy. After taking a few cities, he was met at the river Mincio by Pope Leo the Great (440-461) and a couple of senators, who begged him to spare Rome. Attila agreed to their request and returned to Hungary. Various explanations have been given for why he did so; according to legend, he was awestruck by the Pope (especially when St. Peter and St. Paul appeared to support his words and threaten him with divine punishment if he did not do as Leo bade him), but modern historians suspect it to be more the result of plague and famine ravaging Italy, combined with a healthy bribe from the Romans. (It has also been suggested that at the time that the Popeís embassy arrived, Attila was about to head for home anyway, since summer was drawing to a close and he wished to return to Hungary before winter.)
Foster would later on refer to Attilaís meeting with Pope Leo in #468, Panel 8, and #469, Panel 2, during his account of the Vandal sack of Rome.
123. Panel 1. Hungary was indeed, as its name implies, the homeland of the Huns during this period of history, having been ceded to them by the Romans in 433, during the reign of Attilaís uncle, Ruga.
Foster repeats his error of Attila having received a "Roman bride".
127. Panel 2. Attila died in 453. He had married a young woman named Ildico and died during their wedding night, apparently from a burst artery. (It was later on claimed that Ildico murdered him in his sleep, though there is no evidence to support this. This rumor was later on merged with legends that had accumulated around a Hunnish victory over the Burgundians in 437 to develop into the tale found in the Volsunga Saga where Atli - the Norse version of Attila - is murdered by his wife Gudrun, to avenge the deaths of her brothers Gunnar and Hogni.)
As Foster states, the Huns declined in strength following Attilaís death. Hungary was divided up among his sons, who began fighting each other for power. Only a year or two after Attilaís death, his successor, Ellak, was slain in battle against his fatherís former ally, King Ardaric of the Gepids, at the Nedao river, and the Huns were driven from Hungary, eventually fading into obscurity.
128. Panel 8. Slithís name and role as a cunning and skillful thief appears to have been borrowed from "The Probable Adventure of the Three Literary Men" in The Book of Wonder by Lord Dunsany. Dunsanyís Slith is a master-thief employed by a band of nomads to steal a golden box filled with beautiful songs and poetry from a mysterious house atop the far-off mountain of Mluna; he and his two fellow thieves obtain the box through Slithís wiles, and are almost out of the house when a strange light appears in an upper chamber. Slith, seeing the light and knowing both why it was lit and who lit it, jumps "over the edge of the World and is falling from us still through the unreverberate blackness of the abyss" (Wonder Tales, p. 15). While Fosterís Slith has a much happier fate than Dunsanyís, it is still safe to conclude that the former was named after the latter.
130. Panel 8. Could this be an attempt by Foster to explain the "charm of the Singing Sword", suggesting that its magic is really just a case of Val being a well-trained and highly skilled swordsman? Val, however, though generally a rationalist, prefers to believe that the Singing Sword really is enchanted; Foster, by presenting both options here, allows his readers to decide for themselves.
133. Panel 9. Valís description of the Huns having raided Europe for "nearly six years" may be a veiled allusion to contemporary history, rather than a reflection of the actual deeds of the Huns in the 5th century. This strip was first printed in 1939, six years after Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany. Was Foster referring to that, using the Huns as a parallel to the Third Reich? (It is worth noting that, during the First World War, the Germans were nicknamed "the Huns" by the Allies.)
138. Panel 3. The Huns were famous for their horsemanship, and it was even said that they held their councils on horseback. Count Zosimus, a contemporary historian, claimed (though he might have been exaggerating) that the Huns were also awkward on foot, a concept that Foster follows here.
139. Panel 1. Kalla Khan is Fosterís invention, but his name is almost "Ellak" (Attilaís eldest son, and immediate successor) spelled backwards. This may be only a coincidence - but an intriguing one.
Panel 6. In the 5th century, the Visigoths (one of the leading Germanic tribes in western Europe) occupied southern Gaul or France. They would later on be pushed into Spain, however, after King Clovis of the Franks defeated their ruler, Alaric II, in 507 and conquered the Gaulish part of his kingdom.
In real history, the Visigoths played a noteworthy role in battling the Huns during Attilaís invasion of western Europe. In 451, their king, Theodoric I, fought alongside Aetius at the Battle of Chalons; however, he was slain in the fighting, and his son Thorismund returned home to protect his new throne from potential rivals (such as his brother Theodoric II, who murdered him and seized the throne two years later). If it is still 453 in the strip at this point, then the king of the Visigoths could be either Thorismund or Theodoric II (although it is doubtful that Foster had a specific figure in mind for his Visigothic king).
Panel 8. This marks the first mention of Tristramís famous tragic love affair with Isolde in Prince Valiant. (See the commentary on #83, Panel 7.)
With Fosterís mention of Gawain having to leave Britain on account of "King Arthurís displeasure at his mischief", Gawainís depiction in Prince Valiant becomes solidified as the merry, somewhat frivolous and over-sophisticated figure prone to comical mishaps that he would be portrayed as henceforth.
153. Panel 3. Fosterís mention, again, of the Huns having ravaged Europe for six years, coming in a page that was most likely written and drawn in 1939 (though released on January 14, 1940), suggests once more that he had been paralleling the Huns to the Nazis (see the annotation to #133, Panel 9).
156. Panel 5. The Trojan Horse was the stratagem by which the Greeks finally won the Trojan War. They built a gigantic wooden horse and filled it with soldiers, then pretended to give up the siege of Troy and sail for home, claiming that they were leaving the horse behind them as an offering to Athena. The Trojans decided to pull the horse into the city in the hopes of transferring Athenaís blessing from the Greeks to themselves; that night, the warriors inside the horse crept out and opened the gates to admit the rest of the Greek army into Troy. Since then, the Trojan Horse has become the most famous example of a victory won by duping the enemy into allowing one to enter his home.158. Panel 6. At the Battle of Hastings in 1066, Duke William of Normandy was faced by a Saxon army under King Harold Godwinson of England that had taken up its position on high ground and formed a shield-wall, grouping themselves and their shields so tightly together that Williamís mounted Norman knights could not break their ranks. At last, after a few unsuccessful attacks upon them, the Normans retreated in apparent disorder; the Saxons, convinced that they had routed them, broke up the shield-wall to pursue them, and in so doing, weakened their defenses to such an extent that the Normans were able to turn about and defeat them; by the end of the day, William was victorious and Harold dead. (Historians still argue over whether the Normans were engaging in a deliberate feint to tempt the Saxons into abandoning their position and thereby making themselves vulnerable, or if they actually were falling back.)
Fosterís description of Valís tactics in his victory over the Huns being the same as those used by William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings is only partly accurate since the Huns in Valís battle were mounted, rather than foot-soldiers like the Saxons under Harold Godwinson. But the core principle was the same: using a feigned retreat to trick the enemy into breaking up his formation and thus becoming open to a counter-attack.
Despite Fosterís description of how a strategy devised by one of King Arthurís knights could have brought about "the fall of Britain", Williamís victory in 1066 brought about the downfall, not of the Britons descended from Arthurís people, but of the Saxons descended from Arthurís enemies. In such a case, the NormansĀEuse of Valís techniques would have been more a case of the Round Tableís posthumous revenge upon the heirs of its old foes.
177. Panel 2. Foster rationalizes the giant by making him an ordinary human who was a victim of gigantism, rather than a giant in the mythological sense (the member of a non-human race).
181. Panel 8. According to tradition, Venice was founded in 452 by refugees from the various towns in northern Italy that Attila had sacked on his campaign, such as Aquileia and Padua. (Their numbers were later on swelled by further refugees from the Lombard invasion of Italy in 568.) They were not the first people to settle there - the historical evidence indicates that there had been fishermen living on the islands that would become Venice for many centuries prior to Attilaís invasion of Italy - but they were the first to actually turn the islands into one of the most famous cities in all Italy.
Foster alters the real history of Venice slightly in having it founded after Attilaís death rather than during his Italian campaign, and having it troubled during its birth by the Hunnish raiders (who had ceased to be a threat to that part of Europe after Attila died).
182. Panel 1. Padova is better known today as Padua, which would survive into the Italian Renaissance and beyond. It features a few times in William Shakespeareís comedies; The Taming of the Shrew was set there, and it was the home-town of both Portiaís cousin Dr. Bellario in The Merchant of Venice and Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing.
Panel 4. Foster engages in retro-continuity here in mentioning "the sport they [Val, Tristram, and Gawain] used to enjoy in the English Fens". In fact, it was Val alone who had gone hunting and fowling in the Fens; Gawain and Tristram had only visited those marshlands in the strip during the battle with Horsa and his Saxons, and there was no hint that they had done anything there other than take part in the fighting.
Nevertheless, such adventures were of great interest to Foster. At the age of 18, he eagerly went duck hunting in the marshes of the Red River, bringing back " Ďenough ducks to put them in the freezer so that the folks could have duck dinners for a month.ĀEquot; (Kane, p. 20). Unfortunately, at the time he was employed at a mercantile bank and was "playing hookey" from his duties during this expedition; upon his return, his boss told him disapprovingly, "You seem to think that duck hunting is more important than business." Foster answered "Yes", and lost his job in a hurry.
Panel 6. Ravenna emerged into prominence in the latter years of the Western Roman Empire, beginning when the Western Roman Emperor Honorius (395-423) chose it as a place of refuge when Alaric the Goth and his forces invaded Italy (eventually to sack Rome in 410). It became the new imperial capital from then on, being far more defensible due to its being on the sea-coast and surrounded by marshes on land.
183. Panel 1. The "white-faced boy-emperor" is Romulus Augustulus, traditionally considered the last Western Roman Emperor. He was raised to that rank in 475 by his father Orestes (a former secretary to Attila who had risen to prominence in the imperial administration), but the following year, was forced to abdicate by a Germanic mercenary named Odoacer or Odovacar. Odoacer then proclaimed himself merely "king of Italy" rather than emperor. Popularly, Romulusís abdication in 476 marks the end of the Western Roman Empire; in fact, he had never been officially recognized by the Eastern Roman Empire at all. The "Emperor of the West" from the Eastern Roman Empireís view was one Julius Nepos, who had the year before fled to Dalmatia and who survived for a few more years.
Foster never depicted Romulus Augustulusís involuntary abdication in his strip, although he did mention Odoacer, as an off-stage character, in #1781, Panel 2.
Foster's description of Romulus Augustulus as a "white-faced boy-emperor" may have been inspired by the opening paragraph of Harold Lamb's The Crusades, which used the exact same phrase for the young emperor (page 3, The Crusades, New York: Doubleday, Doran & Company, Inc., 1930). Lamb's book was published in 1930, ten years before this page appeared.
185. Panel 4. Prince Valiant refers here to Julius Caesarís famous crossing of the Rubicon in 49 B.C. Traditionally, the Rubicon formed the boundary between Italy and Cisalpine Gaul; by Roman law, no general was permitted to bring his army across it when returning to Rome. In 49 B.C., Caesar, having recently conquered Gaul, was now at odds with the Senate, which feared that he had become too powerful and had ordered him back to Rome to face its judgment. Caesar chose to cross the Rubicon with his army instead, thus beginning a civil war that culminated in Caesarís victory over the Senateís forces (led by his former ally Pompey) and securing control over Rome (until his assassination on the Ides of March in 44 B.C.). Since then, "crossing the Rubicon" has become synonymous with making an irrevocable decision.
Romeís unsuccessful demand of tribute from Arthur is an actual part of the Arthurian legend, if now almost forgotten. In Geoffrey of Monmouthís History of the Kings of Britain, after Arthur conquered Gaul, he returned to Britain and held a great feast at Caerleon. In the middle of the festivities, twelve ambassadors from Rome arrived, bearing a message for him from Lucius Hiberius, Procurator of the Republic; in it, Lucius angrily rebuked Arthur for withholding the tribute due to Rome and for seizing Gaul from the Roman Empire, and demanded that he come to Rome and face the punishment for his acts. Arthur not only refused to pay tribute or to yield himself up, but also decided to declare war on Rome so that he might become Emperor (on the grounds that many past British kings - including Constantine the Great, whom Geoffrey treats in his work as a King of Britain - had also conquered Rome), and crossed over into Gaul with an army. There he defeated and slew Lucius in battle, but before he could march on Rome itself, he was called back to Britain on account of Mordredís rebellion, leading to the fateful Battle of Camlann.
Later versions of the legend (primarily in the pseudo-chronicle tradition of Geoffrey) made use of this story, improving it along the way; Lucius, for example, rises in rank from Procurator to Emperor. Sir Thomas Malory, in Le Morte díArthur, included two versions of this scene. The first appears after the defeat of the newly-knighted Sir Griflet at King Pellinoreís hands, when twelve ambassadors arrive from Rome to demand tribute; Arthur, already in a foul mood over Grifletís discomfiture, tells them sternly that the only tribute he will give the Emperor is a spear or sword. No immediate sequel to this event takes place, but later on in Maloryís work, a second embassy appears to make the same request of Arthur, who, as per Geoffrey, not only refuses to make the payment, but gathers his knights and goes to war with Lucius in Gaul, defeating him; Maloryís account differs from Geoffreyís, however, in that there is no rebellion to call Arthur home, and he successfully enters Rome and is crowned Emperor after Luciusís death. Tennyson also made use of the scene at the end of "The Coming of Arthur" in his Idylls of the King.
Foster keeps the unsuccessful Roman embassy, but here portrays it as coming from the historical Valentinian III rather than the mythical Lucius, and omits the "Roman war" sequel.
186. Panel 9. Foster here foreshadows Valís adventures with Angor Wrack.
187. Panel 2. Ariminum is now called Rimini; it is best known as the home-town of Francesca da Rimini, from Canto Five of Danteís Inferno.
Panel 5. Flavius Aetius was the last great general of the Western Roman Empire. He was not only a skilled military commander, but also had much familiarity with the barbarian peoples that Rome was having trouble with, thanks to having spent his youth as a hostage among both the Huns and the Visigoths (the latter under Alaric the Goth himself), familiarity that he could use to his advantage whether making war upon them or negotiating with them.
Aetiusís most famous feat was his victory over Attila the Hun at the Battle of Chalons or the Catalaunian Fields in 451, in conjunction with King Theodoric I of the Visigoths (who was, however, slain in the battle). Despite Foster, however, the historical evidence indicates that Attilaís "mad career" was not actually halted at Chalons, since he was able to invade Italy the following year; the battle appears to have been a draw instead.
According to Gildasís De Excidio Britanniae (a 6th century British work denouncing the morals of the Britons of his time, and the closest thing that we have to an eyewitness account of 5th and 6th century British history), after the Britons became troubled with barbarian invasions in the aftermath of the Roman departure, they sent an embassy to Aetius (whose name Gildas mangles to "Agitius"), begging him to send help, with the plea "The barbarians drive us to the sea, and the sea drives us back to the barbarians!" In spite of this entreaty, however, Aetius (if he actually received this message and it is not merely legend) sent no aid, presumably being too busy with matters on the Continent. Foster makes no mention of this event anywhere in the strip.
190. Panel 3. Fosterís portrayal of Gawain as speaking English is another anachronism. The English language originated as the language of the Angles and Saxons, the traditional enemies of Arthur and his knights; while it is not impossible for them to have familiarized themselves with it to some extent on the basis of "know your enemy", it would certainly not be their native tongue. In actual history, a 5th century Briton would have spoken either a very early form of Welsh or (if he was educated enough) Latin.
191. Panel 4. Aetiusís assassination by Valentinian III (in 454) took place under different circumstances in real history than it did in Prince Valiant. When Aetius visited the Emperor for a meeting, Valentinian drew his sword and slew him on the spot, taking him by surprise. While Foster alters the details of the murder in order to involve Val and his companions, he accurately shows its significance; Valentinian, out of petty jealousy, killed his best general and thus left Rome vulnerable to its enemies.
192. Panel 1. In strict accuracy, the end of the Western Roman Empire (if one interprets "the end of the Western Roman Empire" as Romulus Augustulusís abdication) was twenty-two years after Aetiusís death rather than twenty, but no one can blame Foster for rounding out the number.
193. Panel 4. Valentinian is referring here to Arthurís refusal to pay tribute to Rome (see #185, Panel 4).
Panels 5-6. Foster deviates from history again in his account of Valentinianís death. In real history, he was killed by a couple of soldiers in the pay of the ambitious senator Petronius Maximus (who had earlier encouraged Valentinian to murder Aetius, whom he viewed as an obstacle to his goals), who ambushed him while he was on his way to the Campus Martius, where military exercises were held. (Petronius Maximus would later on appear in Prince Valiant in #468-69, where his role in Valentinianís death would finally be revealed.)
Valentinian III was murdered in 455. Foster has thus made use of a succession of actual historical events from 452 to 455 in their proper chronological order, from Attilaís invasion of northern Italy all the way down to Valentinianís assassination.
196. Panel 4. This exploit of Tristramís is unknown to medieval legend. It was most likely an invention of Fosterís, probably inspired by a passage in Lord Dunsanyís "The Sword of Welleran" where it is mentioned that Soorenard and Mommolek, two of the legendary heroes of the city of Merimna, once performed a similar feat.
197. Panel 2. Ostia was the port serving Rome during the time of the Roman Empire.
198. Panel 6. Mt. Vesuvius is best-known today, of course, as the volcano whose eruption in A.D. 79 destroyed Pompeii and Herculaneum, probably the most famous natural disaster of ancient history.
201. Panel 1. The first two occasions in which Val used this strategy were in #29 (when he disguised himself as one of Baldon and Osmondís guards) and #132-33 (when he obtained a Hunnish officerís uniform). On the second occasion, however, Val obtained the Hunís uniform, not to disguise himself from pursuit, but merely to have less "flashy" attire than his knightly armor from Thule while conducting his guerilla campaign against the Huns.
202. Panel 1. Fosterís mention of Northmen settling in Sicily is most likely inspired by the Norman conquest of Sicily in the late 11th century. The Normans were the descendants of Vikings who had settled in that part of northern France now known as Normandy in 911 and become gradually Frenchified (see the commentary on #707, Panel 7, for details). A group of landless young Norman nobles from the díHauteville family went south to Italy to seek their fortunes, and gradually conquered Sicily, the most prominent of these adventurers being Robert Guiscard (whose son, Bohemond, was one of the leaders of the First Crusade). Of course, this is another anachronism, since it was not due to take place for another six hundred years.
Panel 4. Scylla and Charybdis were two of the most infamous sea monsters of Greek mythology, who together guarded a narrow strait. Scylla was a monster with six heads who preyed upon passing ships (and helped herself to the local sea-life when no ships were available); Charybdis was a sort of living whirlpool which sucked down every ship that she encountered.
No record is made in Greek myth of Heracles (Hercules) ever encountering Scylla and Charybdis. However, Odysseus (Ulysses), the wily King of Ithaca and protagonist of Homerís Odyssey, did indeed face these two horrors, on his way home from Troy. The demi-goddess Circe (see the annotation for #1707, Panel 7) warned him about them, and advised him to steer his ship closest to Scyllaís side of the straits; he would lose six men this way (one taken by each of her heads), but it was better than losing all of his men to Charybdis. Odysseus did as she had counselled him. Since then, "between Scylla and Charybdis" has come to mean having to steer a narrow course between two equally undesirable possibilities (although Scylla was clearly, from Homerís description, the lesser of two evils).
(Later accounts, such as the one found in Ovidís Metamorphoses, expanded on the story of Scylla, stating that she was once a beautiful sea-nymph, but transformed by a jealous Circe into a sea monster; they also gave her a set of dogsĀEheads growing out from her body - these presumably being the six heads mentioned in The Odyssey.)
While Homer does not state where the strait that Scylla and Charybdis dwelt was (and probably did not care), his commentators from classical times onwards have often speculated on its geographical location (and those of the other strange lands that Odysseus visited on his travels). One of the most popular candidates was the Straits of Messina between Italy and Sicily, where there is indeed a whirlpool that could be interpreted as the original of Charybdis. Foster follows this theory, although he has Val face only mundane sea-perils when daring the straits.
Panel 5. In classical times, it was believed that Vulcan, the Roman god of fire and the forge (and equivalent to Hephaestus, the Greek smith-god), had his smithy within the depths of Mount Etna in Sicily. This became a mythological explanation for the mountainís volcanic activity. (Another was that Zeus had buried the monstrous giant Typhon here, who from time to time attempted to escape; those efforts were, according to this myth, what produced the volcanoís rumblings and eruptions.)
Mt. Etna also has a connection (if little-known, and one which Foster was probably not thinking of when he drew this scene) to the Arthurian legends, incidentally. During the Middle Ages, Arthur was sometimes portrayed as dwelling in retirement at Mt. Etna, serving him as almost a Sicilian equivalent to Avalon. (Morgan le Fay was also associated with Sicily; mirages appearing in the Straits of Messina have become known as "Fata Morgana" - the Italian equivalent of her name - after her.)
205. Panel 2. The popular depiction of galleys and other ships of the classical world being rowed by slaves (made especially familiar to the modern world thanks to Lew Wallaceís Ben Hur and its movie adaptation starring the late Charlton Heston) is another myth; oarsmen in ancient Greece and Rome were free men who were paid for their work. However, galley slaves did exist in the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance, so it is possible that Foster was, instead of following one of the most famous misconceptions about the historical past, merely anachronistically transferring medieval customs to the 5th century again, just as he had done with his depiction of King Arthurís court. (The former is more likely, however.)
208. Panels 7-8. Aleta makes her first appearance in Prince Valiant. Hal Foster modeled her appearance after his own wife Helen.
211. Panel 1. The Cyclades are a group of islands in the Aegean Sea, to the southeast of Athens.
212. Panel 1. Foster may have borrowed King Lamorackís name from the Arthurian legend, for it bears a striking resemblance to that of Sir Lamorak de Galis, the third-greatest knight of the Round Table in Malory (Lancelot and Tristram being the greatest and second-greatest, respectively). Lamorak was one of the sons of King Pellinore and a mighty champion; however, he also had the misfortune to fall in love with Queen Morgause of Lothian and Orkney, the widow of King Lot and the mother of Gawain and his brothers. This angered Gawain and his brothers for three reasons: first, that Lamorak, instead of marrying Morgause, was carrying on an affair outside of wedlock with her, serving as a disgrace to their family, second, that his father King Pellinore had slain King Lot in battle, and third, that Lamorak had overthrown them in jousts and tournaments several times. (On one occasion, King Arthur held a tournament where he requested Lancelot and Tristram not to participate so that Gawain could have an opportunity to win the prize. Unfortunately, Sir Lamorak arrived late in the tournament, apparently unaware of Arthurís wishes, and proceeded to unhorse Gawain and his brothers, leading to his being declared the winner. King Arthur delightedly welcomed Lamorak, presumably forgetting how the latterís arrival had ruined his design; Gawain, all the more furious, called his brothers together to comment, "Fair brethren, here may ye see: whom that we hate King Arthur loveth, and whom that we love he hateth.") At last, Gawain and his brothers (except for Gareth, who refused to take part in the act and denounced it afterwards) hunted Lamorak down and slew him, all fighting him at once, an unchivalrous act which cost them much of their reputation in the eyes of their fellow knights.
This derivation of Lamorack's name seems all the more likely, since (as we shall see) Foster named several other figures of his own invention in the strip after canonical personages from the Arthurian cycle.
Panel 7. The portrayal of the Misty Isles here (and in #209, Panel 6) as a remote, half-mythical region clashes with their later depiction in the strip as a kingdom clearly on the map (though given only a vague placement in the Aegean) and carrying on trade relations with the rest of the eastern Mediterranean in a normal fashion; obviously Fosterís ideas about what Aletaís homeland was to be like changed in the course of Prince Valiant, just as his interpretation of Thule did.
It might be added that the depiction of the Misty Isles (and also of Tambelaine, for that matter) as independent kingdoms ruled by local monarchs is an improbable one in the historical reality of the 5th century A.D.; the islands of the Aegean Sea would have been part of the Eastern Roman Empire, more likely to be ruled over by administrative officials sent from Constantinople than by autonomous kings and queens. However, Foster, while making use of the actual events of the time period, was still clearly thinking in terms, not of sober history, but of knightly romance, where the situation that he describes is appropriate to the mood of the genre. (After Foster retired from the strip, his successors introduced a series of attempts by the historical Emperor Justinian, who ruled over the Eastern Roman Empire from 527 to 565, to conquer the Misty Isles, all of which, fortunately, failed.)
213. Panel 3. Sombeleneís name is most likely another borrowing from Dunsany, this time from his "The Bride of the Man-Horse". Dunsany bestowed this name on a female superhuman being (a descendant of gods, centaurs, and sphinxes) of surpassing beauty whom his protagonist, the centaur Shepperalk, carries off.
215. Panel 1. One might question whether, at this stage of history (circa A.D. 455), any figure of authority in the eastern Mediterranean would be openly invoking Poseidon in a public ceremony. Less than a hundred years before, the Roman Emperor Theodosius I (379-395) had abolished paganism throughout the Roman Empire (even putting an end to the Olympic Games until they were revived in 1896); after this, it is improbable that any of the Olympian gods would be explicitly worshipped in this manner.
Of course, as I have mentioned above, the presence of an independent kingdom in the Aegean Sea is even more historically improbable - and one could always argue that King Lamorack, if he was politically independent enough from the Eastern Roman Empire to go by the title of king, would not consider himself bound by any imperial decrees from Rome or Constantinople. In any case, Foster was writing an adventure story rather than a serious historical novel (despite his painstaking research), and invocations to the gods of Greek mythology would seem more colorful and exotic than prayers to the Christian God.
223. Panel 2. Jaffa (or Joppa) was the port serving Jerusalem in ancient and medieval times. It was from here that Jonah set sail in a vain attempt to evade his divinely-commanded mission to Nineveh (Jonah 1:3), only to be swallowed by a giant fish at sea; Jaffa seems to have had a tendency to be linked with the greater denizens of the deep, for in Roman times the skeleton of a whale was exhibited there, believed to be the remains of the sea monster that Perseus had rescued Andromeda from in Greek mythology.
Panel 4. The Barbary Coast was the northern coast of Africa (though it was not known by that name in the 5th century). Its name originated from the practice of the ancient Greeks to call all peoples that did not speak Greek as "barbaroi"; because the Greek language came to be viewed by the Greeks, and by their heirs the Romans, as almost synonymous with civilization, "barbaroi" came to be associated with a lack of civilization and high culture, thus becoming the origin of our word "barbarian". Since the native peoples of North Africa were not Greek-speakers, they were accounted "barbaroi", and thus their homeland would receive the title of "Barbary". (The inhabitants of northern Africa, indeed, are called "Berbers" as a variant of "barbaroi".)
The pirates of the Barbary Coast did not become prominent, however, until early modern times, during the 16th and 17th centuries. Their presence is anachronistic (although pirates were a general problem in the Mediterranean in ancient and medieval times as well).
224. Panel 5. The mention of "Moslems" is another anachronism in Prince Valiant, for Islam did not exist in the 5th century; indeed, Mohammed was not even born until around 570, over a hundred years after Valís first visit to Jerusalem. During the 5th century, Jerusalem and the Holy Land were still part of the Eastern Roman Empire. In 614, Jerusalem was temporarily taken by the Persians; the Eastern Roman Emperor Heraclius recovered it in 629, but lost it to the Muslims in 638, after which Jerusalem would be under the control of Islam for the next four and a half centuries. All of this was still in the future during the period in which Prince Valiant is set, however.
Valís later visits to Jerusalem and the Holy Land contain no explicit mention of Islam or Muslims, suggesting that Foster had recognized the anachronism; however, he continued to portray the local culture there during those same visits as evocative of medieval Islam. (Though this is no worse than the portrayal of 5th century Britain as having a culture evocative of England during the High Middle Ages.)
Panel 6. The Jaffa Gate is the most commonly-used entrance to Jerusalem.
Panel 7. The Via Dolorosa (or "Way of Sorrows") is the traditional name for the route that Jesus is believed to have taken on his way to Calvary to be crucified.
225. Panel 3. Constantine the Great (306-337) was the first Roman Emperor to convert to Christianity, legalizing the new religion in the Edict of Milan in 313. In 326, he came to Jerusalem and built the Church of the Holy Sepulchre over what he believed to be the tomb that Jesus was buried in after the Crucifixion. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre has been destroyed at least twice (once by the Persians in 614, once by the caliph al-Hakim in 1009) but was rebuilt both times, on the latter occasion by the Crusaders following their recovery of Jerusalem in 1099.
Panel 5. The Tower of David is an actual landmark in Jerusalem, but, despite its name, has no connection to King David. Instead, it was built by King Herod in 24 B.C. as part of his palace.
Panel 6. The Dome of the Rock was built atop the Temple Mount (the site of both King Solomonís temple and the later temple built after the Babylonian Exile) to mark both the traditional site of Abrahamís near-sacrifice of his son (though the Muslims believe this son to have been Ishmael, their traditional ancestor, rather than Isaac) and the rock from which Mohammed is said to have ridden up to Heaven upon the horse al-Borak (though there is no evidence that he ever visited Jerusalem). It was built in 691 by Caliph Abd al-Malik (thus making its presence in Prince Valiant anachronistic).
The Garden of Gethsemane was the site of Jesusís betrayal and arrest (Matthew 26: 36-56, Mark 14: 32-52; Luke and John do not mention it by name).
226. Panel 2. Jericho is, of course, best-known for having been captured by the Israelites under Joshua after its walls were destroyed by a miracle (Joshua 6). Lying to the northeast of Jerusalem, it is a natural early stop on the way from Jerusalem to Damascus. (The traveller in Jesusís parable who was robbed by thieves and succoured by the Good Samaritan was journeying from Jerusalem to Jericho at the time - Luke 10: 30.)
Panel 9. The Druse are a Muslim sect, nowadays found mostly in Lebanon. Very little is known of the details of their religious beliefs, due to their secretive nature; however, it is known that their sect was founded by one Hamzah ibn Ali in Cairo in 1017, and named after a follower of his, Muhammad al-Darazi. (The date of their founding makes their presence in Prince Valiant even more anachronistic than that of the Muslims.)
227. Panel 3. Damascus was celebrated for the high quality of its swords in medieval times.
Panel 5. The mention of Baghdad is yet another anachronism in Prince Valiant, for that city was not founded until 763.
232. Panel 1. The Wheel of Fortune was a popular image in medieval times, that originated in Roman mythology. The ancient Romans believed in a goddess named Fortuna or Fortune who represented the forces of luck or blind chance; she owned a great wheel which, when spun, would randomly send blessings or curses upon humans. During the Middle Ages, the image of Fortuneís Wheel changed to almost a foreshadowing of the ferris-wheel; humans were seated in chairs upon it, rising up high and then being dashed to the ground with its successive spins, as an emblem of their rise to earthly power and riches and subsequent loss of them.
Both the Alliterative Morte Arthure and Maloryís Le Morte díArthur had Arthur experience nightmares about his own forthcoming end, linked to the Wheel of Fortune. The Alliterative Morte Arthure portrayed him as dreaming, on the eve of his receiving word of Mordredís treacherous revolt, that he was placed in a chair upon the Wheel of Fortune by the goddess Fortune, who treated him gently and lovingly, and then raised to the top; however, then Fortune turned upon him and sent the wheel spinning so that Arthur was crushed beneath it. In Malory, Arthurís dream about the Wheel of Fortune takes place the night before the final battle with Mordred; here the king finds himself seated in glory at the top of the wheel, and then hurled by its spinning into "an hideous deep black water" filled with monstrous creatures that eagerly seize upon him. In both instances, the dream presages Arthurís fall in the final battle with Mordred.
233. Panel 5. This is the first time that Foster gives Valís age. (See the commentary on #246, Panel 5, below.)
Fosterís statement that Val had "sat at the Round Table" is inaccurate; Val had not actually taken his seat there at this point in the strip. He had left for Thule with his father immediately after being knighted by King Arthur, and would not return to Camelot until #290.
238. Panel 5. Merlinís rationalist advice to Val would be crucial to the atmosphere of Prince Valiant, but in fact, Merlin had not yet delivered it to the young prince on the occasion of his visit to Belsatan. Foster would not write that scene, indeed, until #628. (For that matter, in Valís one adventure involving Merlin preceding this page, the rescue of Gawain from Morgan le Fay, both Merlin and Morgan le Fayís magic was portrayed as real rather than mere scientific trickery.)
Furthermore, Foster did not live up to the concept behind Merlinís remark here in telling the story of Belsatan, for the magic in it (Belsatanís undead servants, his ability to conjure up storms, and transporting Acidia instantaneously back to his tower) is all left without rationalization (and indeed, there appears to be no way of explaining it other than as magic). Clearly Foster was still visualizing Prince Valiant as a fantasy strip, despite Merlinís words in this panel.
Panel 6. Magi were originally the priests and learned men of ancient Persia (the most famous of whom were the "wise men from the east" who came to Bethlehem to present their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the infant Jesus in Matthew 2: 1-12). Because they were believed to have supernatural abilities, the word "magic" is derived from their name. The term "magus" or "magi" was thus also applied to wizards and sorcerers; Foster presumably uses it in this sense when applying the word to Belsatan, rather than suggesting that he was a member of the order. (Foster errs, however, in calling him a "magi"; "magus" is the singular, "magi" the plural.)
Panel 8. Fosterís "Next Week" caption repeats the error of using "magi" in the place of "magus" (see the commentary on Panel 6, above).
240. Panel 7. Valís failure to have any dreams that night thanks to the difficulties of getting to sleep was an ingenious move; as a result, the truth of Belsatanís claims to be able to weave dreams is neither confirmed nor denied. (Foster did not apply this concept to the other fantastic elements in this story, however.)
242. Panel 4. A minor nit appears here: Belsatan is forced to fend for himself in Acidiaís absence, with no mention made of his undead servants (who, indeed, disappear after #239, Panel 7). Why did they not attend to these tasks?
Panel 7. Behind the humor of Acidiaís "best centuries of my life" there is another sign that Foster, at the time of writing the Belsatan story, was seeing the world of Prince Valiant as one where magic was real; if Acidia is telling the truth here, she has been gifted with both a very long life-span and a greatly extended physical youth.
243. Panel 3. Fosterís mention of Belsatan having to pay "a certain terrible price" is an unfortunate element; it is clear enough what that price would have been. This gives a dark tinge to what was clearly intended to be a light-hearted, gently humorous look at the troubles and joys of married life; the prospect of eternal damnation for the old man clashes too strongly with the tone of the story.
244. Panel 4. Foster again presents the anachronism of Arthurian knights speaking English in the 5th century (see the commentary on #190, Panel 3).
Panel 5. Sir Astomoreís name was most likely borrowed from Maloryís Le Morte díArthur, where a minor knight of the Round Table named Sir Astamore appears a few times. Maloryís Astamore is little more than a name; his only important role in the book is the dubious distinction of being one of the twelve knights who helped Mordred and Agravain in their attempt to expose the love affair of Lancelot and Guinevere, resulting in his death at Lancelotís hands in the fight outside the Queenís chamber.
While Sir Astamoreís name probably was the source of Astomoreís name in Prince Valiant, it is unlikely that the two knights are meant to be the same, since Fosterís account of Astomoreís implied end (as an aged pilgrim in Jerusalem) is incompatible with Maloryís account of Astamoreís death. More likely Foster simply was engaged in name-borrowing again (see the annotation for #212, Panel 1).
Panel 6. Sir Astomoreís decision to spend his final days going on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem matches the strong piety of medieval knights, but also echoes the conclusion of Maloryís Le Morte díArthur (though whether this was deliberate on Fosterís part or not I will not even speculate). After Lancelotís death, four of the last surviving knights of the Round Table (Sir Bors, Sir Ector de Maris, Sir Blamor, and Sir Bleoberis) went to the Holy Land, where they died.
246. Panel 5. Valís turning eighteen here allows us to work out the timeline of his early life in some detail. Foster would later on state (in #289, Panel 9) that three years elapsed between Valís knighthood at the Battle of the Fens (and return to Thule immediately thereafter) and his return to Camelot. If Val was eighteen on the occasion of his return, he would have been fifteen when he was knighted. Foster stated in #90, panel 9, that Val spent two years at Arthurís court as Gawainís squire, so that, in turn, would mean that he was thirteen when he first went there, and twelve when he encountered Thorg and Horrit in the Fens the previous year. This fits the way that Val is drawn in those scenes.
Foster also mentions in #104, Panel 6, that Aguar and his supporters spent twelve years in exile in the Fens, which means that Val would have been three years old when he came to Britain at the beginning of the strip (though #2000 would contradict this).
Panel 8. The captainís greedy interest in the Singing Sword is never followed up; the strip takes a different turn when, before he can act on this motive, he is murdered by his crew in the following instalment. Perhaps Foster had originally planned to have the captain attempt treachery against Val, but then remembered that he had already used that idea some pages earlier in the strip. Or he might have simply meant to provide a sordidly realistic contrast to Valís idealism in the preceding panel.
248. Panel 3. The crewís request to Val that they "rob passing merchant ships" makes his later belief that they were good-hearted and loyal men seem astonishingly naive. Presumably he mistakenly believed that their request was motivated by a yearning for adventure, rather than by greed.
257. Panel 8. The Canary Islands were known to classical geographers, who named them the Fortunate Islands, thanks to their pleasant climate. According to Pliny the Elder in his Natural History, King Juba II of Mauretania sent an expedition to one of these islands, now Gran Canaria, around 40 B.C., which reported encountering great wild dogs while there; consequently, the island was named Canaria, derived from "canis", the Latin word for "dog". From there, the name came to be applied to the islands in general. (The familiar yellow birds were named after the islands, which they were native to, rather than the other way around.)
Foster makes no mention of the Canary IslandsĀEnative human inhabitants, the Guanches, a now-extinct tribe of Stone Age shepherds who seem to have had a striking similarity in physical appearance to the Cro-Magnon men of prehistoric Europe. (King Juba made no mention of them either in his account of the Canaries, which was obviously a major source of Fosterís - and which might explain their absence from Prince Valiant.)
259. Panel 6. Foster makes use of the traditional stereotype of gorillas as savage monsters; in real life, gorillas are shy, gentle, timid animals.
Val and Boltarís adventure in Africa bears a striking resemblance to the story "The Knights of the Joyous Venture" in Rudyard Kiplingís Puck of Pookís Hill. In Kiplingís story, Hugh the Saxon and his friend, a Norman knight named Sir Richard Dalyngridge, inadvertently stumble aboard a Viking ship bound for Africa to seek gold, and proceed to have a series of adventures strongly evocative of Val and Boltarís. Like Val and Boltar in Prince Valiant, they stop at what are (judging from Kiplingís description) the Canary Islands - although here they are attacked by the local humans (obviously the Guanches) rather than by dogs - and when they reach Africa, do battle against gorillas (which they mistake for demons) and are richly rewarded by the grateful Africans; furthermore, Hugh, like Val, is armed with a "singing sword" (see the commentary on #70, Panel 7 above). Even many of the details of Kiplingís story are echoed in Fosterís strip, such as the trees whose roots appear to grow out of the water and the fever that overpowers many of the Vikings. These similarities are so strong as to make it almost certain that Kiplingís story was the inspiration for Val and Boltarís journey to Africa.
262. Panel 4. Horritís prophecy in #10, Panel 7, that Val would encounter a unicorn on his travels, is fulfilled, in exactly the way that the art for that panel indicated. The rhinoceros is one of the leading inspirations for the unicorn of legend, thanks to its single horn (which is not a true horn but a growth of hair, incidentally). Another is the wild oryx, which has two horns, but appears to be one-horned when seen in profile. (The oryx is a more satisfactory original for the beautiful and majestic unicorn than the ugly and ungainly rhinoceros.)
265. Panel 8. Actually, Gawain only took part in one of the "two splendid fights", his battle, alongside Val and Tristram, with the imperial guard following Valentinianís assassination. The first fight, Val and Tristramís battle with the angry husband and his men, was one that Gawain was not even present at (though he was unwittingly responsible for it).
267. Panel 5. Carcasson (properly, Carcassonne) is a city in southern France noted for its well-preserved medieval fortifications, which have helped give it a reputation for romance and wonder.
Foster may have been particularly inspired to give Carcassonne the role of an exotic place of wonder thanks to two works. The first of these is a poem by Gustave Nadaud, "Carcassonne", which tells of an old French peasant who longs to behold this beautiful city and speaks to the narrator of its wonders, but dies on the way to it, without ever beholding it. Whether Foster had read this poem or not is unknown, but it is likely that he had read a story of that same title by Lord Dunsany, in which Prince Camorak of Arn (the name of his domain is enough to draw the attention of any reader of Prince Valiant) and his knights set out in quest of this fabled city, but never find it.
275. Panel 5. Val has gone without his family badge since #131.
276. The comically inept battle between "Sir Avoirdupois" and "Sir Malnutrition" strongly evokes the similar duel, equally farcical, between King Pellinore and Sir Grummore Grummorson in Chapter 7 of T.H.Whiteís The Sword in the Stone, more in the general concept of two knights fighting a ridiculous battle that culminates in a draw through mutual exhaustion than in the precise details. (Whiteís drawings of Pellinore and Grummore in the original editions of The Sword in the Stone and its sequel, The Witch in the Wood - later on rewritten for The Once and Future King as The Queen of Air and Darkness - even depict them with similar builds to Fosterís bumbling champions, Pellinore as tall and skinny like "Sir Malnutrition" and Grummore short and fat like "Sir Avoirdupois".)
We will probably never know whether Foster had been influenced here by White, but The Sword in the Stone was available to him at the time that he drew this page, since it was published in 1938. There are other indications, later on in Prince Valiant (see the annotation for #763, Panel 6), that Foster had read Whiteís Arthurian fiction and incorporated elements from it in his strip.
278. Panel 3. The title of "sheriff" originated in England in the 11th century, and is short for "shire reeve". The sheriff was a local royal official for the shire over which he presided, charged with such duties as collecting taxes for the king and looking after the kingís lands in that particular shire. (The term is most familiar to the average modern reader, of course, through the Sheriff of Nottingham, the leading adversary of Robin Hood.) Of course, "sheriff" was a strictly English title in its origins and would not have been found in medieval France (or 5th century Gaul) in actual history; we can always assume, however, that the word is being used as an equivalent to a real (but, to English-speaking audiences, unfamiliar) title in medieval France.
Panel 4. The presence of the noble title of "thane" is also improbable for a French lord, being English in origin (see the commentary on #53, Panel 5, for further information).
282. Panel 8. Technically, Gawain would not have actually thought of vampires, since these legendary undead beings originated in the folklore of eastern Europe rather than in that of the British Isles (the word "vampire" did not even enter the English language until 1734). However, the fear of the "living dead" is common to all superstitious cultures, so Gawain could be imagined as mistaking Diemanís daughter for the British equivalent of such a creature.
283. Panel 5. Val is again, as in #238, Panel 5, shown believing in Merlinís rationalistic teachings, before learning them. (Indeed, Val was not even portrayed during his original time at King Arthurís court - the only opportunity that he had had at this point in the strip to make contact with Merlin - as studying under the famous wizard, although Foster would include this "retrocon" several times thereafter.) For that matter, in light of Valís past encounters with Horrit, Morgan le Fay, Merlin, Father Time, and Belsatan, he would certainly have very good reason to believe the superstitions of the Middle Ages. (However, Val is correct to take the scepticís approach here, for the "Curse of Blacktower" story, though Gothically eerie in atmosphere, contains no genuine magical or supernatural elements.)
285. Panel 4. It is tempting to wonder if Foster had been influenced by Sir Walter Scottís Ivanhoe in his depiction of the death of Diemanís daughter. In Scottís historical novel, Ulrica, the last of the noble Saxon family of Wolfganger, bitterly seeks revenge upon the Norman family of Front-de-Boeuf that had slain her father and kin, reduced her to slavery, and usurped the rule of her familyís castle of Torquilstone. After Sir Reginald Front-de-Boeuf is mortally wounded in battle against Robin Hoodís men, Ulrica sets the castle on fire with him inside, and stands upon one of the towers amid the ensuing inferno, chanting a "barbarous hymn" in triumph until the tower collapses beneath her and she falls to her death.
Foster clearly made some alterations if Scottís Ulrica and her vengeance was indeed his inspiration for the "Curse of Blacktower" tale; Diemanís daughter is young (if she was a baby at the time of her fatherís death, she can be little more than twenty at the time of Val and Gawainís adventure), and the charactersĀEroles are reversed so that it is the Gaifortes who are depicted as sympathetic and noble and the family of Blacktower as malevolent; furthermore, Diemanís daughter, unlike Ulrica, fails to achieve her revenge. But the central image is the same: a woman driven almost mad with hatred and vengefulness, seeking the destruction of her familyís traditional enemy, standing in her final moments atop the tower of a burning castle. Under such circumstances, it would be very surprising if Foster had not had Scottís Ulrica in mind, even if only in his subconscious, when he wrote and drew this story.
288. Panel 3. Once again Foster erroneously makes Lancelot the son of King Bors instead of (correctly) the son of King Ban (for the first time that he did this, see #84, Panel 8). Fortunately, this was the last time that he would make this mistake in Prince Valiant.
Panel 9. Boltarís indignant comment on the "positively unflattering" likeness of himself on Lancelotís wanted posters is likely another piece of influence from Lord Dunsany. In Dunsanyís "The Loot of Bombasharna", the pirate captain Shard is disgusted to learn that every major city has wanted posters of him, "and all the pictures were unflattering" (Wonder Tales, p. 20).
291. Panel 2. King Arthurís report of an alliance between the Vikings and the Picts was almost certainly inspired by the semi-legendary accounts of the Saxon wars in 5th century Britain; as early as the 8th century (in the Venerable Bedeís Ecclesiastical History of the English People), it was said that the Angles entered into a league with the very Picts whom they had been employed by the Britons to fight against. Foster substitutes Vikings for Saxons, but his making Horsa the Viking leader (a little further on in the adventure) suggests that he had merged these two peoples.
Panel 3. Arthur is, of course, talking about Hadrianís Wall, one of the most famous landmarks of Roman Britain. The wall was built at the command of the Roman Emperor Hadrian (117-138) when he visited Britain early in his reign, to mark the northern frontier of the province (contrary to both Foster and popular belief, the purpose of the Wall was not to hold back the Picts, but to serve as a base of operations for the Roman soldiers stationed at the border and to control peacetime traffic). The wall was built between 122 and 133, stretching 73 and a half miles from the Tyne to Solway Firth. (During the reign of Hadrianís successor, Antoninus Pius (138-161), the Romans briefly pushed the frontier north of Hadrianís Wall to build the Antonine Wall between the Firth of Forth and the Clyde, but it was soon abandoned and they returned to Hadrianís Wall as the border-marker.) While undergoing a few setbacks (including a major attack by the Picts and Scots in 367), the Wall lasted until the late 4th century, after which it appears to have been abandoned.
The timing of Valís adventure at Hadrianís Wall, not long after his journey to Africa with Boltar, raises another question. As has been mentioned earlier (see the annotation for #259, Panel 6 above), Val and Boltarís African adventure shows strong signs of having been influenced or inspired by "The Knights of the Joyous Venture" in Rudyard Kiplingís Puck of Pookís Hill. Later in Puck of Pookís Hill, Kipling told the story of a Roman centurion named Parnesius, posted at Hadrianís Wall in the late 4th century A.D., and his struggles with the Picts, in three chapters, "A Centurion of the Thirtieth", "On the Great Wall", and "The Winged Hats". Could Foster have had the idea of sending Val to Hadrianís Wall upon his return to Britain from reading Kiplingís work?
292. Panel 1. Beric, who will serve as Valís faithful squire until his death in #407, makes his first definite appearance in the strip in this panel, though he will not receive his name until #301.
293. Panel 3. The "vallum" is a real feature to the south of Hadrianís Wall, apparently built at the same time as the Wall itself. It appears to have been made as a means of marking the southern boundary of the Wallís territory (a sort of "No Trespassing" sign for the benefit of the local Britons), rather than for a military purpose. Archaeological evidence indicates that it was abandoned around 140.
294. Panel 5. Julianís dating the Roman departure from Britain to 412 appears to be another slip of Fosterís pen; the traditional date was 410. Historians are no longer so certain that the Romans did entirely leave Britain in this year, however; it is now believed that there were some garrisons kept in the island even after that.
It might be added that the use of Anno Domini dates by the characters in Prince Valiant is also anachronistic; this system of reckoning years did not appear until the early 6th century when a monk named Dionysius Exiguus calculated Jesusís birth to 753 years after the traditional date of the founding of Rome by Romulus and Remus (now recognized as an inaccuracy, since Dionysius thereby had Jesusís birth taking place four years after the death of King Herod, but the Gospel according to Matthew makes it clear enough that Jesus was born during Herodís lifetime), and thereby introduced the western worldís most familiar chronology. (Fosterís successors had Val actually meet Dionysius Exiguus in the course of his adventures and learn about his new system of timekeeping.)
296. Panel 5. Horsaís portrayal here as the Viking leader is astonishing, since in his first appearance, at the Battle of the Fens, he had been portrayed as a Saxon chieftain instead (as was the original Horsa whom I believe the Horsa of Prince Valiant to be a representation of). It is possible that Foster had gotten the Vikings confused with the Saxons - both overseas raiders from northern Europe, of a Germanic/Scandinavian strain. This seems all the more probable since, as said above (see the annotation for #291, Panel 2), in the traditional accounts of the Saxon wars in the 5th century, the Saxons were believed to have made an alliance with the Picts, just as the Vikings have done in this story. In his later appearances in the strip, Horsa would return to being consistently a Saxon leader.
301. Panel 1. Beric is named for the first time.
302. Panel 3. Morgan Todd makes another appearance here; Foster includes in his description of Arthurís physician an amusing comment on the nature of medieval medicine.
303. Panel 2. Gil Hirvisís name may have been inspired by the names of many of the Irish rulers in Geoffrey of Monmouthís History of the Kings of Britain, such as Gilloman (the Irish king from whom Uther and Merlin seized the GiantsĀEDance - see the annotation to #1062, Panel 7), Gilmaurius (an Irish king whom King Arthur conquers), and Gillapatric, Gillasel, and Gillarvus (Irish leaders allied to Mordred who were slain at the Battle of Camlann). Foster does not say whether Gil Hirvis was a formal traitor in league with the Picts and Horsa, or just an opportunist attacking Arthurís supply lines in order to fill his own coffers (and it doesnít matter to the story anyway).
312. Panel 9. Val refers to Sligonís wife and Claris, whom Sligon had left behind in #107.
314. Val makes his final visit to Horrit on this page (although he would encounter Thorg one last time many years later, in #1549-50).
315. Panel 9. Val had encountered Merlinís door before in #62, Panel 2.
316. Panel 7. The effects of Merlinís cry of "Thunderations!" are another sign that Foster at this point in the strip still saw the famous wizard as having genuine magical abilities.
318. Panel 7. The "bitter quarrel between Gawain and Sir Launcelot" to which Foster alludes is evidently based on Maloryís account of King Arthurís downfall, where strife between Gawain and Lancelot played a major role and indeed "wrecked the kingdom". While Lancelot was rescuing Queen Guinevere from being burnt at the stake, he inadvertently slew Gawainís younger brothers, Gaheris and Gareth. Gawain was angered by their deaths and vowed to avenge them; it was his desire to exact retribution upon Lancelot that kept the war between Arthur and Lancelot continuing long enough for Mordred to usurp the throne.
Clearly the strife between Lancelot and Gawain that Foster presents here is not the one in Maloryís account, especially since Gaheris and Gareth would appear alive on a few occasions in the strip thereafter, meaning that Lancelot could not have killed them as yet; nor, indeed, do the events that Malory depicted as connected to this war appear in Prince Valiant. For that matter, Camelotís fall does not soon come about from this quarrel (although the feud would resurface in #1024-29), and Gawain would be back to his old, light-hearted, flirtatious, merrily irresponsible self by the time that Val paid his next visit to Arthurís kingdom in #380, the shadows lifted from him without explanation. Obviously Foster did not want to be burdened with a guilt-wracked Gawain for the rest of the strip - or to have the Round Table destroyed at this stage in Prince Valiant.
319. Panel 1. The "unholy hermit" adventure may have been inspired by the scene in Sir Walter Scottís Ivanhoe where King Richard the Lion-hearted (in disguise) spends the evening in the cell of Friar Tuck and partakes of his hospitality. (Sir Walter Scott, in turn, by his own admission, derived this incident from a late medieval ballad, The Kyng and the Hermite.) While the "unholy hermit" of Prince Valiant is far more villainous than the good Friar, actually plotting to murder and rob Val, there is the same concept of a "holy hermit" who, underneath his pious exterior, lives a much more worldly life than a man of his calling ought to; both dine well on the kingís deer and are on friendly terms with a band of outlaws (though the outlaws whom Val subsequently comes into contact with after disposing of the hermits are likewise a far cry from Robin Hood and his merry men).
Panel 2. Poaching the kingís deer (that is, deer living in royal forests - forests specifically reserved for the king to go hunting in) was a serious offence in medieval England, though more commonly associated with the tales of Robin Hood (fitting the tone of the "unholy hermit" as a darker version of Friar Tuck) than those of King Arthur and his knights.
325. Panel 5. Scandia, mentioned here for the first time, appears in the writings of Pliny the Elder as a land in the distant north (in the same passage where he speaks of Thule); the name is obviously linked to "Scandinavia". Foster, as the next panel shows, locates it in Sweden.
Panel 6. Upsala (or Uppsala) is a major city in Sweden, and its capital in Viking times; it was also famed as a center of learning. According to the 11th century historian Adam of Bremen, it was also the site of a great temple in pagan times, where stood images of Odin, Thor, and Frey; a great feast was held here every nine years, which all in Sweden were obliged to attend. Historians and scholars have questioned whether the temple actually existed (or was as grand as Adam of Bremen described it), but Upsala has one genuine memento of its prominence during the Viking Age: the burial mounds of ancient Swedish kings close by.
For the first time in Prince Valiant, it is indicated that Thule is in Norway.
329. Panel 2. Ahab of Tunis is never explicitly identified as a Jew in the strip, but it is clear that he is one, and that the cruel treatment that he receives from both Wattle and the shipís crew stems from medieval anti-Semitism. The yellow cap that Ahab wears was a traditional "Jewish uniform" in the Middle Ages; furthermore, Wattleís contemptuous label of "usurer" for Ahab alludes to one of the reasons (or pretexts) for hostility towards Jews during this period: they lended money at interest, which Christians were forbidden to do. (The Christians, in scorning the Jews for money-lending, conveniently overlooked the fact that the reason why so many Jews were money-lenders in the first place was because it was the only occupation the Christians had not legally barred them from.)
Panel 4. Although Val suffers from many faults that one would expect from a medieval knight (such as pride, a short temper, and recklessness), it is a delight to see here that he does not also suffer from the anti-Semitism of his contemporaries.
Panel 6. The name of Ahab comes from the Old Testament, hinting again that its bearer in Prince Valiant is Jewish. However, it is unlikely that an actual Jew would ever have borne such a name. The original Ahab of the Bible was an especially corrupt and idolatrous king of Israel, who became almost a byword for tyranny and apostasy. Encouraged by his wife Jezebel (who was even more wicked than he), he encouraged Baal-worship throughout his kingdom, which brought him into frequent conflict with the prophet Elijah. He also coveted the vineyard of one of his subjects, Naboth, and when Naboth refused to part with it, had him executed on trumped-up charges so that he could confiscate it; Elijah promptly denounced him for this act of injustice, and foretold how the king would come to a bad end - a prophecy that was fulfilled not long afterwards when Ahab was slain in battle against the Syrians. (I Kings 16: 29-33; 17:1; 18; 21; 22: 1-40). It would be almost as probable to find a Jew bearing the name of "Ahab" as to find a Christian bearing the name of "Herod".
331. Panel 2. The Goodwin sands are a sandbank approximately five miles off the coast of Kent, and had a notorious reputation as a navigational hazard in the English Channel. (Shakespeare himself made use of this same reputation when he had one of Antonioís ships wrecked upon them in The Merchant of Venice.) Many legends formed around this sandbank, including the claim that the Goodwins are all that remain of a great city named Lomea, which was destroyed by flooding around the time of Edward the Confessor; Lomea, however, is more likely entirely mythical, another of the legendary "lost lands" of British folklore (such as Lyonesse or Lethowstow off the coast of Cornwall, or Cantref y Gwaelod in Cardigan Bay).
334. Panel 4. Wattle alludes to the biblical story of Jonah, an Old Testament prophet who was told by God to deliver a warning to the city of Nineveh (then the capital of the Assyrian Empire, the greatest enemy of the Israelites at that time). Rather than go there, Jonah took a ship for Tarshish (generally believed by biblical scholars to be Tartessos, on the coast of Spain, which was at that time viewed as "the edge of the world"), but the ship was caught in a terrible storm, and Jonah at last confessed to the sailors on board that the storm was the consequence and punishment for his own disobedience, and would cease when he was thrown overboard. When the sailors finally did so, the storm ceased, while Jonah was swallowed by a "great fish"; he admitted in contrition that he had done wrong, whereupon God had the fish return Jonah to dry ground so that he could go to Nineveh and complete his task. Since then, "jonah" has become a term for a passenger on board a ship who bears a taint that endangers the vessel and all on board.
337. Panel 5. Trondheim was a major town in Norway in Viking times, also known as Nidaross. According to legend, it was founded in 997 by King Olaf Tryggvason (if this is true, its presence in Prince Valiant is another anachronism); it was abandoned after his death, but reoccupied by St. Olaf, under whom it became almost the capital of Norway for the next two centuries. (Archaeologists believe, however, that Trondheim was settled even before Olaf Tryggvasonís time, as a trading center, though we as yet lack any hard details.)
339. Panel 6. The kraken was a legendary sea monster in Norwegian folklore, described by Bishop Erik Pontoppidan of Bergen in his The Natural History of Norway, published in 1723; it was supposedly a multi-armed creature. Scientists now believe that the kraken legend originated from sightings of giant squid; Hal Foster clearly followed this theory here.
342. Panel 6. Ahabís mention of "my race" is another hint that he is Jewish.
343. Panel 2. Foster presumably borrowed Valgrindís name from Norse mythology; it was the gate of either Asgard or Valhalla according to Verse 22 of the Grimnismal, a poem in the Elder Edda.
Panel 3. Troubadors originated in southern France during the High Middle Ages, as composers and singers of lyric poetry, particularly dwelling on romantic love. While some were professional minstrels, others were members of the nobility, such as Duke William IX of Aquitaine (1071-1127), the grandfather of the celebrated Eleanor of Aquitaine, or King Richard the Lion-hearted of England (Duke Williamís great-grandson). They would be anachronistic for the 5th century, of course, but would fit in admirably in the Arthurian Britain of romance. However, a troubador would certainly seem out of place in Thule as Foster was now portraying it, no longer an elegant medieval kingdom but a rough-and-tumble Viking land whose nobles would prefer straightforward tales about warrior-heroes and fierce battles over songs of love.
344. Panel 1. Valís father is named "Aguar" for the first time in the strip. Foster presumably borrowed the name from a minor (and off-stage) character in Malory, from a sequence that takes place during the Quest of the Holy Grail. Sir Lancelot comes to a hermitage where he discovers the body of a dead holy man who had once lived there, and learns his life story from both the current resident hermit and a demon which the hermit conjures up. The holy man had once been a great warrior but had then retired from the world to become a hermit; however, when his nephew, Sir Aguarus, was in great danger, the holy man left his hermitage long enough to assist him in battle. The similarity of "Aguarus" to "Aguar" makes it likely that this was the source of the name that Foster gave to the King of Thule.
Panel 4. Despite the mentions earlier of a tournament, Valgrindís men dress like Vikings (or, more accurately, like the popular conception of Vikings) rather than like medieval knights. Foster has by this point clearly adopted the notion at last of Thule being Viking Age rather than medieval in its culture (contradicting the picture given in the immediate aftermath of Aguar recovering his throne from Sligon).
346. Panel 5. Valís old tutor from his time in the Fens (#5, Panel 12) is re-introduced and now, like Aguar, receives a name.
Panel 6. "Western borders" was presumably a slip of Fosterís; since Thule is in Norway and the Finnas are the Finns, a war with the Finnas would be far more likely taking place on Thuleís eastern borders.
358. Panel 4. Fosterís comment that Aguarís hopes of a peaceful world have not yet been fulfilled is all the more poignant, since this page first appeared in 1943, while World War II was still raging.
376. Panel 7. The Medieval Castle originated as a result of paper shortages during World War II; if a newspaper plagued with this problem was unable to run all three tiers of Prince Valiant, it could drop The Medieval Castle without robbing Prince Valiant proper of its story.
Foster showed his fondness for the name "Arn" in using it for the older of his two young protagonists, alongside the two characters bearing that name in Prince Valiant itself (the Prince of Ord and Valís eldest son).
377. Panel 7. The Medieval Castle (see the commentary on #378, Panel 7, below) was set on the eve of the First Crusade (1096-99), and thus approximately thirty years after the Battle of Hastings in 1066 had brought England under Norman rule. Since almost all of the noble families in England by this point would be Norman (with the Saxon noble families dispossessed and maybe even destroyed through their leaders having been slain at Hastings or the resistance period that followed it), it is no surprise that the (anonymous) lord of the castle and his family would be Norman as well.
378. Panel 7. The First Crusade took place between 1096 and 1099; since this event only begins at the very end of The Medieval Castle, this would place the events in the strip at approximately 1095.
381. Panel 3. Sir Blamor (assuming that Foster is not merely borrowing a name here, but using the actual knight from the medieval romances) was a kinsman of Sir Lancelotís in Malory. He joined Lancelot in his retirement at Glastonbury following the departure of Arthur, and after Lancelotís death, went to the Holy Land in the company of Sir Ector de Maris, Sir Bors de Ganis, and Sir Bleoberis, where the four of them fought several battles against the Saracens and finally all died on Good Friday.
It is appropriate thatVal and Gawain should consult Sir Blamor on Tristramís whereabouts, for Blamor did have a fairly prominent encounter with Tristram in Malory. He and his brother Bleoberis believed that King Anguish of Ireland had murdered a kinsman of theirs and accused him of the crime at Arthurís court. Sir Tristram, who had been commissioned by King Mark of Cornwall to persuade Anguish to give his daughter Isolde to Mark in marriage, offered to champion the Irish king against Sir Blamor (after being assured that Anguish was indeed innocent of the charge), defeated Blamor in single combat, and persuaded him to withdraw his accusation.
Tristramís affair with Isolde is again brought in, and Isoldeís husband, King Mark of Cornwall, is introduced into the strip, for the first and only time. King Mark appeared in legend as part of the Tristram cycle, to only enter the Arthurian legend at the same time that Tristram did. (He appears to have been loosely based on Cunomorus, a king of Cornwall in the late 6th century who was active in Brittany, and was even slain in battle there. This Cunomorus had a son named Drustanus, who may have been similarly a loose original for Tristram, though changed in the legends from son to nephew - most likely because the storytellers found the notion of Isolde thereby being Tristramís stepmother too uncomfortable.)
In the early versions of Tristramís story, King Mark is portrayed as a wise and noble king, who even comments after the deaths of the lovers, after he learns of the love potion that had been responsible for their becoming enamored of each other, that had he only known about it from the beginning, he would have renounced all claim to Isolde. However, after the Tristram legend merged with the Arthurian cycle, Mark degenerated into a villain - and a cowardly one at that, who dared not even face Tristram in fair fight but attempted to dispose of him through many underhanded schemes. This is how Malory portrayed him in particular, having Arthurís knights disdain him for his poltroonish and treacherous behavior; furthermore, Mark does not even confine his machinations to Tristram alone, but also murders his noble brother, Prince Boudwin, in an envious rage following Boudwinís saving Cornwall from a Saracen invasion without Markís help. One 13th century French prose romance even had Mark sack Camelot and burn the Round Table following the departure of Arthur and the death of Lancelot, though Malory did not make use of this concept. Prince Valiant adopted the interpretation of Mark as a villain.
Panel 5. This is the first time that Tintagel, one of the most famous sites connected to King Arthur and the Arthurian cycle, appears in Prince Valiant. Tintagel is best-known as the site of Arthurís conception (and, in Victorian and modern versions of the legend, his birth), but this is not alluded to here (though it would be mentioned in the strip later on). Instead, Foster portrays it in this scene as the castle of King Mark of Cornwall, a role which Malory also bestowed upon Tintagel in his version of the Tristram story.
382. Panel 8. Since the seneschal is sent to Winchester, The Medieval Castle evidently takes place in southern England, either in or close to Hampshire (where Winchester is located).
383. Panel 2. Foster here follows the Malory version of Tristramís death, portraying him as slain by King Mark while singing to Isolde. In earlier versions of the Tristram story (before his tale became connected to Arthurís), Tristram underwent a different fate. After he was banished from Cornwall, he went to Brittany, where he married a Breton princess also named Isolde (called Isolde of the White Hands to distinguish her from the Isolde who was Tristramís love). Tristram was seriously wounded in battle not long after, and sent a message to Cornwall, urging Isolde to come to heal him. It was agreed that if Isolde could come, the ship bringing her to Cornwall would bear white sails, but if she could not come, the returning ship would bear black sails.
Isolde set out for Brittany at once, but Tristram was too weak from his wounds to look out the window and see the ship for himself, so he begged Isolde of the White Hands to do so for him and tell him what color the sails were. She looked out and saw the ship approach with white sails, but in a fit of jealousy, said that the sails were black. Tristram at once lost hope and died.
Panel 4. In Malory, Isolde died of grief immediately following Tristramís murder; Foster does not mention this. (She likewise died in the earlier, pre-Arthurian version of the story, upon arriving at Tristramís castle in Brittany and discovering that she had come too late.)
401. Panel 8. Fosterís inclusion of a duke in England at the time of the First Crusade (1096-99) is anachronistic; this title was not introduced into England until the reign of Edward III (1327-77), who bestowed the title of Duke of Cornwall upon his oldest son, Edward "the Black Prince", in 1337.
403. Panel 5. Foster is engaging in retrocon here; on neither of Valís previous visits to the Misty Isles had there been any mention made of a temple of Aphrodite.
404. Panels 2-4. Fosterís account of Aletaís suitors may be influenced by the Dunsany tale "The Quest of the Queenís Tears". In it, the mysterious and beautiful Queen Sylvia is courted by many princes from far-off lands, some of whom, like many of Aletaís suitors, come in the guise of troubadors; Fosterís very description of these latter "concealing noble names" may well have been borrowed from Dunsanyís description of Sylviaís wooers in minstrelsĀEattire "concealing kingly names" (Wonder Tales, p. 27.) The description of the lands that Aletaís messengers go to including "some not even known to romance" may be likewise inspired by this passage in Dunsanyís story: "be he only a petty duke of lands unknown to romance". Like Aleta, Sylvia will not accept any of her suitors; unlike Aleta, she does so, not because her heart is given to one not present, but because she is too cold to love anyone.
407. Panel 7. The description of the serfs as "sullen Saxons" again reminds us that The Medieval Castle is set only a generation after the Norman Conquest (see the commentary on #377, Panel 7 above), at a point when Norman and Saxon would not yet have had time enough to blend into Englishmen. The SaxonsĀEsullenness would certainly not be surprising; alongside the general friction between peasants and the ruling-classes demanding wealth from them would be the bitterness of a conquered people, for whom the defeat at Hastings would still be a relatively recent memory.
409. Panel 3. Fosterís description of Val here may be another sign of influence from "The Quest of the Queenís Tears" (see the annotation to #404, Panels 2-4 above). One of Queen Sylviaís suitors in that story, Ackronnion, is described as being "clothed with rags, on which was the dust of roads, and underneath the rags was war-scarred armour whereon were the dint of blows" (Wonder Tales, p. 28). The similarity to Fosterís words concerning Val, "On his ragged cloak is the dust of long, far roads, his armor is scarred with many battles", can scarcely be a coincidence.
Panel 6. Although Foster never names the King of England in The Medieval Castle, the stripís explicit setting on the eve of the First Crusade identifies him as William II (1087-1100), also known as William Rufus, the son and successor to William the Conqueror. William was a strong king, like his father, but was also notoriously greedy and brutal, even for his time, and extremely unpopular. His reign finally came to as violent an end as his life, when he was slain by an arrow while hunting in the New Forest on August 2, 1100. To this day, nobody knows who slew him and whether it was deliberate or not; tradition has it, however, that the guilty party was one of his knights, Sir Walter Tirel, who shot him by mistake. (While Tirelís guilt has never been proven, he fled England immediately afterwards, making the theory that he was the bowman in question plausible.)
414. Panel 8. The Yule log, though a well-known Christmas custom, is not recorded as having been observed in England until the 17th century, when Robert Herrick alluded to it (although it might well have been in use even before his time). In fact, its earliest documented mention goes back only to 1184, about ninety years after the events in The Medieval Castle, and in Germany rather than England. This may make its mention here anachronistic, though it is impossible to be certain.
415. Panel 9. Arn and Guyís Christmas tree is, alas, a definite anachronism; Christmas trees do not appear to have entered England until the time of the Hanoverian or Georgian dynasty (1714-1837). They were a popular Yuletide custom in Germany (one tradition - unfortunately, most likely apocryphal - credits Martin Luther with their invention), and the Hanoverians, who were of German descent, brought them over to England. The English publicís general dislike of the Georges, however, prevented it from adopting Christmas trees until Prince Albert popularized the notion after his marriage to Queen Victoria in 1840.
417. Panel 2. Valís visit to Tobruch might have been influenced by actual events in World War II that had taken place not long before Foster drew and wrote this page. In 1942, Tobruch (or Tobruk) was the site of a fierce battle between the British and the Germans during the Desert War. General Erwin Rommel captured Tobruk on June 20, 1942, after a monthís fighting; the British recaptured it in November of that same year. It is tempting to wonder whether Foster, giving Val a series of adventures in North Africa, chose Tobruk as the site for one of them because it had recently been "in the news".
418. Panel 3. In the 5th century A.D., Tobruch would not have had an autonomous sultan ruling over it; it and the rest of Libya would have still been part of the Eastern Roman Empire. (The title of "sultan", for that matter, evokes the Muslim world, making it anachronistic for the 5th century.) Foster is again providing Prince Valiant with a political geography based on the atmosphere of medieval romance, rather than real history.
419. Panel 7. Albertís title of friar is anachronistic; as mentioned in the commentary on #112, Panel 1, friars did not appear until the early 13th century, over a hundred years after the events in The Medieval Castle.
424. Panel 5. The Tuaregs are a Berber-speaking people native to north Africa. Timbuktu was a Tuareg town, but was founded around 1100, making its mention here another of Fosterís anachronisms. (It would eventually become one of the principal cities of the Mali Empire, before its later decline.)
Cirene (or Cyrene) was one of the major cities of North Africa in classical times. It was originally (according to legend) founded by a certain Battus and his followers when they emigrated to Libya from Thera (an island in the Aegean Sea) around 630 B.C., and was later on absorbed by the Roman Empire. It disappeared from history after being taken by the Arabs in 642, almost two hundred years after Prince Valiantís adventures.
425. Panel 3. Aletaís dance for the Tuaregs may have been inspired by an extended simile in Lord Dunsanyís "Idle Days on the Yann", which described how a swarm of butterflies danced "as some haughty queen of distant conquered lands might in her poverty and exile dance, in some encampment of the gipsies, for the mere bread to live by, but beyond that would never abate her pride to dance for a fragment more" (A Dreamerís Tales, p. 66).
430. Panel 3. Bengazi (or Benghazi) is a fairly prominent town in Libya (called Berenice in classical times, after the wife of Ptolemy III). It also would not have had a sultan ruling over it in the real 5th century, and there is no evidence for the Visigoths ever reaching northern Libya to threaten any of the towns there. Like Tobruch, Benghazi was the site of heavy fighting during the Desert War portion of World War II, changing hands no less than five times before the British finally took it in the November of 1942; it is not unlikely that these events (recent ones at the time that Foster wrote and drew this page) influenced Fosterís decision to have Val and Aleta visit this town as well.
432. Panel 8. The war to which the lord of the manor and Sir Gregory are summoned is, of course, simply a plot device of Fosterís to provide a reason for Arn and Guy to have to temporarily shoulder adult responsibilities, and one need not inquire too deeply whether it was based on any events in actual history. Nevertheless, according to The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, in 1095 (around which year The Medieval Castle would be set), King William II of England summoned his levies for war not once, but twice. The first occasion was to put down a rebellion by the Earl of Northumberland; the second was an incursion into Wales as a response to Welsh raids in the Marches (an unsuccessful one, thanks to the Welsh hiding in the mountains where the kingís army could not easily reach them). It is tempting to see one of these expeditions (most likely the first one) as being the war which the lord of the manor and Sir Gregory took part in - and it is certainly gratifying to note that, whether Foster had researched the matter or not, there actually was a "royal war" happening at just the right time for the story.
443. Panel 5. Despite Ramudís report of "three kingdoms" who have been forced to pay tribute to Donardo, only two of these (the realms of Alfgar and Hakim) appear in the strip, and the third one is never even mentioned after this. Presumably Foster changed his mind after writing this panel.
457. Panel 7. Peter the Hermit was one of the holy men whose words helped inspire the First Crusade. After Pope Urban II urged the rulers, nobles, and knights of western Europe to liberate Jerusalem and the Holy Land from the Seljuk Turks, at the Council of Clermont in 1095, Peter began travelling about the countryside, preaching the need for a crusade everywhere as well. Such was his eloquence that thousands of peasants and villagers left their homes and set off for Jerusalem at once in the "Peopleís Crusade", a preliminary to the First Crusade. (They were promptly defeated and mostly slain by the Turks without even reaching Jerusalem.)