Evil enchantress, high priestess, fairy, wicked sorceress … Morgan le Fay has been called many names over the centuries, in a multitude of versions of the Arthurian legend dating back to the Dark Ages when Welsh bards first sang of a brave and noble king.
My fascination with Morgana began some years ago while I was researching my Shalott trilogy for teenagers – a rewriting and reinterpretation of the legend and the haunting poem, The Lady of Shalott by Alfred Lord Tennyson, based on Elaine of Astolat and her fatal attraction to Launcelot. In my novels, Morgana had the power to shapeshift (a talent I really envied!) And, as I researched further and dug deeper into her character, so she took hold of my imagination, and she’s been haunting me ever since!
So who was Morgana really? I had a voice in my head saying, ‘Look at me, Merlin, look at me.’ A young girl desperately trying to impress a master of magic – this was my first hook into her character, and this is how I, Morgana begins.
Previously I’ve written for children and teenagers. In this, my first novel for adults, I allowed my imagination to run riot as I explored every facet of Morgana’s character: from a young girl who was schooled in magic and promised a kingdom to her betrayal by everyone she’s ever loved and trusted. Proud, powerful, passionate – and clever, she wreaks revenge (and breaks her heart) before coming to an understanding of how it’s all gone wrong. In writing her story, I explore her potential for performing magic (and meddling where she has no right to meddle) and had fun imagining her various transformations which are undertaken for noble as well as wicked deeds.
I’d read, and enjoyed Marion Zimmer Bradley’s reinvention of Morgana as a high priestess of Avalon, but ultimately found her interpretation unsatisfying. It seemed to me that her feminist portrayal of the world of Avalon ran parallel to the male-dominated traditional scenarios that Zimmer Bradley rejected. For me, Morgana was so much more complex – and therefore so much more interesting to portray.
I’ve used Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur as a base to work from, but I’ve also woven several other strands into my story, including the fascinating and mysterious Lady and the Unicorn tapestries, seen and admired some years ago at the Musee National du Moyen Age in Paris. I thought I’d have a go at learning the Tarot after coming across an ‘Arthurian Tarot’ deck of cards. Could Morgana have learned to foretell the future through some ancient wooden tablets stolen from Merlin? Devising a Tarot reading for Morgana was interesting and fun – although I had to call on my Tarot teacher, Molly Talbot, to help add authenticity.
I incorporated some stories from Celtic legend in my Shalott trilogy – the legend of Blodeuwedd and Lleu Llaw Giffes in particular. In I, Morgana I’ve also made use of some Druidic practices and I touch on the use of the Ogham alphabet. Fantastical creatures populate my book as I explore several Otherworlds – along with the famous prophecy that ‘one day Arthur will come again to save Britain in her hour of need.’
Is that time coming near? I have some thoughts that maybe it is, but it depends on whether or not Morgana can learn the lessons of the past in time to save the future – our future. And this is a theme that I’ll continue to develop in the sequel to I, Morgana.