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The Winter King by B. Cornwell > Part One: A Child in Winter

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message 1: by SarahC (new)

SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 188 comments Mod
for comments on this part of the book


message 2: by Dee (new)

Dee Marie (dee_marie) | 61 comments Ok, I will start out...first off, what I like.

Bernard Cornwell is an amazing writer. He draws the reader into a story and dares them to leave. This is my third reading of The Winter King. I obviously like the story, as a story...but…however, as an Arthurian Legend…it has much to be desired.

The Winter King is not my favorite Arthurian Legend. Except for the names of the characters...there is not a lot that "stays true" to the old legends. All authors deviate...but he more than deviates from the traditional legends, he tosses everything out.

Yes, Merlin is still the all-powerful wizard. Nimue is his paramour. The High King is Uther. The setting is in Britain…and that is where the traditional storytelling ends.

As I stated…I love Bernard Cornwell as a writer. He has a wonderful way with words, and paints an intriguing picture…but, it just irks me a wee bit that his departure is so blatant. Why not just write a medieval fantasy and not attach Arthurian names to his story?

*sits back and waits for the backlash* :]


message 3: by SarahC (new)

SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 188 comments Mod
Ok, Dee has the ball rolling, so here I go...

Cornwell does what I wanted Stephen Lawhead to do in his Arthur series. (Dont get me wrong, I REVERE Lawhead for the wonderful novel Avalon so much, but I couldnt find the same tone in the Arthur SERIES. Maybe I just dont understand what he was trying to do there. Fair enough?) So with Cornwell's WK, there's a certain kind of human level in his narrative. Even though I often have seen the novel referred to for it's heaviness on battle and brutality, I like the personal feel of it and the well-done dialog. I think more in the tradition of M. Stewart in that way.

I like what we see of life without Arthur first and, of course, he then rides in at the last of Part 1. I think this is a good pace for the plot. That is probably what I think of as a weakness in some historical novels telling of such a long-ago time and of such a powerful legend. They dont know where to begin. Bernard does so nicely.

Part One sets Mordred up immediately in the story, but he is without voice because he is a baby. I think this is unique for most Arthur stories.

I relate to Dee's comments on the deviation in this novel from the classic outline of the legend. But so far, the Mordred setup intrigues me. HE is the true heir to Uther, and Arthur stands as only the "upstart bastard." I am willing to try this out, due to us not really knowing who Mordred ever was. Was he Arthur's son, his nephew, his what? Early texts dont tell us really, do they? So I want to see how this relationship plays out, with Mordred in the royal lead this time.

I am curious of what will become of Mordred's physical handicap.

We have the lengthy episode of Nimue and then her connection with Derfel through the blood bond and the scar. It does seem to set Nimue up as a driving force of magic and, perhaps, mayhem, while Derfel will be the sane voice of the story ("there isn't any madness in you.") We'll see.

Dee, does Winter King remind you of any other particular Arthur novels?

Without any spoilers, without speaking ahead too far, who do you think Cornwell has taken the most liberty with? Or what point of the story do you think has strayed too far? You may have to answer part of that later... :]

Looking forward to everyone's comments.





message 4: by Bob (new)

Bob | 37 comments Mod
I understand some frustration with the deviation from the overall story of Arthur but isn't that what modern authors have to play with? Better to play there then play with the spirit of the characters. For me that is much harder to take. Though having read The Winter King before I know he plays with that a bit as well. Can't wait to discuss those! ;)

I like where Arthur (group member) was going with his topic on paganism. Like the Mists of Avalon, the battle between Christians/Pagans is at the core of the battle for Britain in The Winter King. Bernard does a great job representing the pagan beliefs and why holding on to them was so important.


message 5: by Dee (new)

Dee Marie (dee_marie) | 61 comments Hey Sarah...I will have to ponder upon your question, as to what other Arthurian novels remind me of "The Winter King" (my Arthurian library is huge) :]

I hate it that Cornwell has Mordred as Uther's son...it is just not right, grrrrr :]

However, Cornwell does write a good tale. I like the character that he introduced...Derfel. And Derfel's relationship to Nimue.


message 6: by Dee (new)

Dee Marie (dee_marie) | 61 comments Hi Bob,

I agree, that is one thing that Cornwell does well (and it is keeping with the Arthurian traditions) the conflict between Pagans and Christians.


message 7: by Nicky (new)

Nicky (shanaqui) | 146 comments I know what you mean about the interpretations of characters, Anna. It struck me as quite realistic as compared to the high fantasy Arthurian stuff I'd read before. But I got to quite like it.

(You may have a big problem with Lancelot in this one. I did at first. Now I've read Le Morte Darthur, I see where that characterisation comes from, though.)


message 8: by Nicky (new)

Nicky (shanaqui) | 146 comments Well, the Lancelot from this appears to be noble, which is where it comes from... and he's someone that a woman as strong as this Guinevere can control easily. That's how it works in this version, I guess.

If you actually read Le Morte Darthur, he's a bit of an ass there too. I know it was the value system of the text and blahblahblah, but he feels absolutely no remorse for cuckolding his feudal lord, and everything comes down to his honour, his achievement. He only saves Guinevere because it would be counter to his honour not to.


message 9: by Bob (new)

Bob | 37 comments Mod
I knew the Lancelot conversation would be quick in starting.

I haven't read the complete series. Only "The Winter King". As I see it though, setting Lancelot up in a less then perfect light leaves it open for his character to change. I look forward to being validated...or not. ;)

Great insights Nikki about Le Morte Darthur. I've not read it completely but will flip through it tonight to see if I can catch some Lancelot bits.

It seems most of us that are talking have read all of "The Winter King". Should we open this thread to talking about the entire book?





message 10: by Nicky (new)

Nicky (shanaqui) | 146 comments I've read the whole trilogy, so I'm spoileriffic. If anyone wants me to keep my mouth shut, just holler. Haha.

I studied Le Morte Darthur in Medieval Lit, so it kinda figures I'd know this stuff. Ha.


message 11: by Bob (new)

Bob | 37 comments Mod
Relating to other non-Cornwell books is A-ok! Please don't illuminate on the second and third books however. I would be so sad. Let's put comments for those in their own thread. :P

You should start a Le Morte thread! That certainly is worthy and would be great to hear from those that have studied it.




message 12: by SarahC (last edited Jan 14, 2009 02:18PM) (new)

SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 188 comments Mod
Hi all, well I am only reading along as we agreed, one part at a time, so I would rather not have the spoilers.

If I am the only one who is doing this in the discussion, I will bow out and let the discussion go to those who have read the entire book or series.

I dont want to be the one who declares that though, so please post if you are reading along part by part, so we'll know who is in the discussion.

Dee, Bob, everyone, which tales would you say reflect the Christian vs. Pagan conflict that you mentioned above? Would you say that element was brought in through the French tales, for example, or some other origin? I know it has been relied on to flavor the tales in recent years, but I dont know much about how that was brought into the earlier Arthurian tales.

I guess my question is which of the early versions show that the most do you think? That is a very interesting aspect.

I can add a Malory Le Morte D'Arthur folder for discussion, so take a look there also.


message 13: by Nicky (new)

Nicky (shanaqui) | 146 comments Sarah -- It definitely has some basis in Le Morte Darthur (Darthur, not D'Arthur, if you want it how Mallory wrote it; I do, having studied it, but...). I have Geoffrey of Monmouth, Chretien de Troyes and La Mort de la Roi Artu lined up to read, so we'll see how it goes from there.

Mainly, in Le Morte Darthur, it comes through the women who are sorceresses. Morgan Le Fay being the most obvious, but there are several queens who have magical powers and have to be tamed by the prowess of the knights to maintain social order. There's some bother about a knight who refuses to be a Christian in one of the Tristram tales (my copy isn't here or I'd pinpoint it for you), but for the most part there isn't a great requirement to be a Christian in the earlier tales. It becomes important in The Noble Tale of the Sangrail, where Galahad's complete purity overshadows even Lancelot's perfect honour as a knight, but that's not so much Christian vs. pagan as Christianity entering the tale.


message 14: by Arthur (new)

Arthur | 8 comments I did not wish to miss the subtle build up of the story while in a discussion and have only read the first part. But when this post opened frankly I would say spoilers do spoil my day, a good idealist with real views helps a story out of horrific squares.

The story is divided by five parts. Today we may not be accustomed to but specifically the story which does not mention much of Arthur except some family history in this first part. It tends to suggest Merlin as a franchised wizard that has taken leave of his senses and is himself somewhere-where-unknown and on an adventure of his own. Maybe he is with Arthur, maybe he isn’t. The life of Merlin has left intrigued people of his realm to tell story after story of him and Arthur.

Arthur’s father and family and kingdom and members of Merlin’s realm are chosen characters who tell this first part which is meant to be powerful and moving. Each of the people is interesting. The odd occurrences that lead up to the exciting final of part one leaves questions about how accurate such a story could have been. Like why did Nimue act the way she does to protect Merlin’s chamber in his absence?


message 15: by Nicky (new)

Nicky (shanaqui) | 146 comments I'm sorry, Arthur, I don't actually understand what you're saying from the way you've phrased it. If there's concern about spoilers, I haven't actually yet said anything that spoils the plot, aside from a little about Lancelot's character.

"Today we may not be accustomed to but specifically the story which does not mention much of Arthur except some family history in this first part."

I'm not sure what you mean by that?

I wouldn't say the story is exactly accurate, but it's closer to reality than some of the high fantasy King Arthurs I've read. Of course it's dramatised -- even Derfel admits that he's rearranging the story to sound good -- but there's a sense of real people, real dirt, etc, etc.


message 16: by Dee (new)

Dee Marie (dee_marie) | 61 comments Hi Sarah,

Generally speaking...the time frame for the Arthurian Legends is steeped in the clash between traditional Christian beliefs and the Celtic (Druid) pagans. As those who believed in the “old ways” were a constant thorn in the side of the infestation of Christians, and Christianity, into Britain.

As I mentioned before, I do like Cornwell’s writing, he does and outstanding job in his depiction of the struggle between the old and new religious order.

The birth of Mordred was very well done...although I still have issues with Uther being Mordred’s father...that is just wrong, wrong, wrong :]

I also like his introduction of “magic” in a non-magical way. Next to Merlin, Nimue has always been one of my favorite characters (and at various times, my muse). I like his treatment of Nimue.

What do you like about this first chapter? What grabs you? What makes you say aloud...”what was he thinking?”


message 17: by Dee (new)

Dee Marie (dee_marie) | 61 comments <--I have no problem with talking about the book a "section" at a time.


message 18: by Nicky (new)

Nicky (shanaqui) | 146 comments I like that you say "infestation"! Not a fan of Christians, are we?

I love the Nimue in Cornwell's trilogy. I especially like her at first, not as much later on.

Mordred gets reassigned all over the place depending on who is writing, really. Besides, Uther isn't his father in this trilogy; he's his grandfather.


message 19: by Dee (last edited Jan 14, 2009 05:31PM) (new)

Dee Marie (dee_marie) | 61 comments Oh I am a huge fan of Christians!
I am also a huge fan of Druids!

I have studied the period and the Druids vs Christians plays a big part of the tales, as well as a big part of Britain history :]

Oh, yes, As to Mordred being Uther's son...we are both correct...as Uther's favorite son, Mordred was cut down, and Mordred's widow gave birth to Uther's only heir, a son named Mordred.

So, in Cornwell's retelling of the legends, both Uther's son and grandson were named Mordred :]


message 20: by Dee (new)

Dee Marie (dee_marie) | 61 comments Arthur Asks Like why did Nimue act the way she does to protect Merlin’s chamber in his absence?

That is one of my favorite parts of the first section. My feelings are...Nimue is loyal beyond a cause. Merlin's belongings, Merlin's "home"...to Nimue...all that belongs to Merlin...is Merlin.


message 21: by SarahC (new)

SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 188 comments Mod
In a freakish accident I just lost my reply I was working on, so now it is condensed.

What do I like about part one?

I like the references to setting, descriptions of a Romanized Britain. Every once in a while you run into a guy in a toga.

I like that Arthur is in Armorica as the story begins. He and sister Anna are hanging out in Lancelot's territory. That is a twist to the story that I can see working as we go along.

Uther's sword is melted and poured in the lake. Sword in lake, got it. Does anyone know where this really comes from? It provides beautiful imagery to me, but does anyone know the origins?

A mention of the Pagan/Christian issue -- I tend to like tales of the legends that aren't heavy in that subject. We will see how I like this one, but, for example, Rosalind Miles' Guinevere was dense in it, but Mary Stewart had just the right amount for me. The Arthurian legend has so many other elements, I tend to trail off into other things other than the Pagan vs. Christian.

As for Nimue, I think the first incident with Gundleus was an exposition of her strength and willingness to challenge men. She wanted to make fools of them.


message 22: by Dee (new)

Dee Marie (dee_marie) | 61 comments Nimue...She is woman, hear her roar :]


message 23: by SarahC (new)

SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 188 comments Mod
I know Nimue is one of the characters you focus on in your writing. I havent read your novel, but how would you describe her in a nutshell... as Dee sees her? She is another character that has drifted in and out of the main scene in Arthuriana.


message 24: by SarahC (new)

SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 188 comments Mod
Sorry, I was addressing my comment to Dee, of course.


message 25: by Dee (new)

Dee Marie (dee_marie) | 61 comments {I know that Bob [rightfully so:], does not want us to go into other novels, so I promise to make this brief}

My novel is unique, in that it deals with the early years of Merlin and Sir Lot and their rise to power. As such, Nimue drifts in and out of Merlin's life. Merlin recognizes Nimue’s mystic abilities, her power over him, as well as his draw to her. She is his soul mate!

I personally see Nimue as a very strong character in the traditional legends. She has often received a bad-warp...as the thief of Merlin's magic. I instead, see her as the thief of Merlin's heart. Merlin is infatuated with Nimue. She is his equal in all things.

I like how Cornwell gives Nimue strength. For in the traditional stories, when Merlin fades...it is Nimue who takes Merlin’s place as Arthur’s advisor.


message 26: by SarahC (new)

SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 188 comments Mod
Sorry, I wasnt trying to drift either, just exploring characters, that's why I wanted to ask your view on Nimue. From what I read about your novel, I knew you would have explored the character to some extent in general. Thanks for reminding me not to drift!

Well, I am looking forward to reading her next development in WK. And so far, it is a tightly woven story, keeping my interest steadilly.

Anyone else's thoughts on Nimue? Derfel? BC's Arthur?

(Looking ahead, we will discuss Part Two beginning tonight if everyone is ready? Bob or I will post a new folder)



message 27: by Dee (new)

Dee Marie (dee_marie) | 61 comments Hey Sarah,

I was not reminding you not to drift…I was reminding myself not to venture off-course...as I have a tendency to do that...especially when asked anything concerning SOA :]

Actually, your question was very pertinent to “The Winter King,” as Nimue is one of the main characters, the driving force. It is important to understand her as a character to be able to understand Cornwell’s take on his retelling of his version of the Arthurian Legends.

I also like his main character (MC), Derfel, and his transition from young boy to warrior and finally his path from pagan to monk.

Introducing Norwenna, the Christian mother of Mordred, is also an interesting concept. As she is a devote Christian and is set down in the middle of a pagan environment. Pitting her believes against those of Nimue and Morgan. Allowing the reader to experience both the Christian and the Pagan way of thinking.


message 28: by Dee (new)

Dee Marie (dee_marie) | 61 comments You made some excellent points Anna. Although Cornwell's paints a very bloody account of the times (it was a bloody time of history, shrug). He also, as you so brilliantly stated, treats woman as the driving force within his story.

One question to everyone…are we exploring all of “part one” or just the first chapter?

If we are exploring all of “part one” I am chomping at the bit to discuss what happens to Mordred’s mother and consequentially what happens to Nimue. But, I do not want to get too far ahead of what everyone is reading.

As to Morgan...at least she is Arthur's sister...so I suppose that is not too far off base :]


message 29: by Bob (new)

Bob | 37 comments Mod
Dee- I wanted to iron that out. "part one" or "first chapter"? Originally I thought by chapters but I think reading a part within a weeks time is reasonable. For those who can't hit that they can jump in when they are done as this thread can have life long after we have all read the parts. Also the thread already says "Part One" so lets roll with it unless there are objections.

Nimue protecting Merlin's chamber is certainly a standout scene. Obviously she wasn't protecting what was within the chamber but what it represented. Merlin's power. Nimue in her conversations w/ Derfel show us she understands that religion/magic are creations of man. A bat in a cage has very little power, a screeching bat emerging from the head of a half naked entranced sorceress covered in blood...that's got some power!!


message 30: by Dee (new)

Dee Marie (dee_marie) | 61 comments I would be curious as to everyone's opinions of the murder of Norwenna, the replacement of one son for another (how the life of a king overrides the life of a commomer), and the rape of Nimue.

I know that the death of Norwenna really took me by surprise and turned me inside out for a bit.


message 31: by SarahC (last edited Jan 15, 2009 08:48AM) (new)

SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 188 comments Mod
Just a quick comment to accompany what Bob said just above--- sorry about the confusion --

Part One: A Child in Winter -- discuss the entire part

Part Two: The Princess Bride -- begin discussing tonight

and so on.....

my St. Martin's paperback edition has the novel divided/named like this -- if any of editions don't seem to follow this, speak up and we'll try to designate more clearly -- because I think there ARE a few editions so they may be different?




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