The Once and Future Childslayer by Kathy Cawsey

The Once and Future Childslayer: Guy Gavriel Kay’s Inversion of Malory’s Morte Darthur

KATHY CAWSEY, Department of English, Dalhousie University

Guy Gavriel Kay’s Fionavar Tapestry interprets Arthur’s return not as a reward or honor, but as a punishment for killing the children on Mayday. This reinterpretation links the ‘Mayday’ incident with the famous ‘May passages’ and provides a rewriting of the Morte Darthur’s stance on prophecy, predestination, and free will. (KC)

The range of responses to the Arthurian legends in modern fantasy fiction is overwhelming. From momentary ‘grace-notes’ to whole-sale adaptation of the legend, late-twentieth-century fantasy writers have made Arthur a staple of the fantasy genre. The Arthur story has been used in almost every way imaginable, though some aspects have proven more fruitful than others. The Grail legend, the symbol of the Fisher King, and the doomed love-triangle of Tristan and Iseult loom large; many fantasy and science-fiction writers also capitalize on the ‘time travel’ element opened up by Sir Thomas Malory’s ‘once and future king’ phrase in The Morte Darthur.1 Interestingly, Merlin and other characters travel in time more often in modern fantasy than Arthur himself, the original ‘once and future’ character.2 Guy Gavriel Kay, a Canadian fantasy writer, does use a time-traveling Arthur in his fantasy trilogy The Fionavar Tapestry; however, unlike many fantasy authors, Kay uses the Arthurian story and the ‘return of the king’ angle not just as a popular legend or trendy motif, but as a means of staking out a philosophical argument about the nature of freedom and free will.

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