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The Arthurian Saga: The Eagle

Attached here, my patient and long-suffering readers will find first-draft samples of the first couple of chapters/chunks of The Eagle, the final episode in the Arthurian saga that I've been writing now since 1975. Admittedly, I wasn't working on the piece full-time back then, because I had a living to make and a family to raise, but the understanding of the explanation of the sword-in-the-stone mystery came to me in 1975, and that's when this all started. I wrote then, in what I laughingly thought of as my "spare time" for the next fourteen years, until I had three complete novels in my collection and was nowhere near the end of the story. The first book was published by Viking in Canada in 1992, and since then, including this newest book, I have produced eight large tomes . . . nine, if you count The Sorcerer as two books, rather than two volumes. But there are eight novels in all, where I live, and whatever way I look at it, I've been completely involved in writing them and thinking about them for thirty years. And now they're done . . . or will be, as soon as I've finished editing this last one. Viking/Penguin is still on track for having the book on the shelves by Christmas this year, and the cover art is already designed and in place . . . and I love it. I think you will, too. Anyway, two samples of the first draft text are here for your perusal. I hope you'll like them.


Viva Voce

...from the Author:

I write poetry as a form of pleasurable mental discipline, but I do not consider myself to be a poet in the literary sense. I've never been a candidate for the ranks of the consumptive legions who have coughed away their lives in dingy garrets, gaunt-faced and haggard from the angst of struggling to express their haunted visions in mere words. I write verse - archaic, anachronistic, outmoded and rhyming verse - because it pleases me, and I have long since learned to live with the stunned (and pained) expressions of the literati who perceive, and deplore, this flaw in me. I can be philosophical about their distaste - as in, "Hey, I write it for fun. There's no law says you have to read it, but if you choose to do so, please don't feel constrained, or qualified, to criticise."

One quirk I do admit to, however, and it is this: rhyming verse and narrative verse is an outmoded poetic form, strict and rigid in its construction according to the rules of rhythm, prosody and scansion. Prosody and scansion look like alien words nowadays, seldom seen and never mentioned in polite company, but I learnt them in school, not that long ago. They deal with the rhythmic synthesis of verse and rhyme, and they are as exact as two thousand years of growth and tradition in the English language can make them. The quirk I refer to is one that annoys me intensely, and I don't know if the fault lies at my own door or at the door of the current, younger generation who have been educated without prosody and scansion. Such people refer to rhyming verse - and always scathingly - as doggerel. That offends me and I have to bite my tongue before replying to any mention of it, reminding myself that the ignorance is not theirs, but must be laid at the door of their benighted teachers.

Writing verse is hard work, and the better the verse, the more intense the effort to produce it. Its construction requires a thorough, working knowledge of grammar, punctuation, spelling and poetic structure...skills that are seldom or little taught in modern schools. Verse writing also requires discipline and a vocabulary of more than five hundred words. When it is successful, the result is delightful and pleasing. Good, strong, fluent verse is invariably pleasurable to read and to listen to when it is read or recited. Doggerel, on the other hand is bad verse, plain and simple. It is plodding, weak, rhythmically unsound, sloppy, predictable and usually embarrassing. Look it up, it's in the dictionary. Not all verse is doggerel, but doggerel is always, by definition, very bad verse. That means you, personally, might choose to reconsider using the term lightly, because when you do, you'll be offering grievous insult to the writer.

Having said all that, it only remains for me to admit that this section of the site is a blatant exercise in self-indulgence, and yet it is dedicated to one particular man, a gentleman called Hugh Ferry who lives nowadays in Glasgow, Scotland, and has no idea that I regard him as highly as I ever have anyone.

Hugh Ferry was the most riveting teacher I ever had, and I discovered him in Grade Ten [the Fourth Form was the Scottish equivalent] when he stormed in to our classroom on my particular Day of Revelation and demanded to know which of us did not like poetry. We were a class of forty fifteen-year-old boys, and none of us did, which was only natural in that time and place. But Hugh Ferry proceeded to convert me, at least, to the opposing viewpoint - an astounding metamorphosis - in the space of one short lesson.

Hugh Ferry made poetry vibrant! He conjured with it and churned it into life and then threw us all, headlong, into the maelstrom he created, so that we could never again look at the printed poem with boredom or disinterest. He drew his teaching from the oral tradition of the Celts, so that we, his students, rode and fought with Sir Walter Scott's knights, Marmion and Lochinvar, and fled from the witches with Robert Burns's Tam O' Shanter; we felt the sea's surge with Sir Patrick Spens and the Ancient Mariner, and our throats swelled with thirst waiting for the Relief of Lucknowe. And with each poem, Hugh Ferry fed us dates; the dates of the poet's birth and death; publication dates of the poems; the dates of the events described in the poem; and even dates, like those in 1066 And All That, created simply to make the poems memorable. And they were, and are memorable. I remember most of them today. Their literary qualities might have fallen into disrepute since the days of my youth, but their immediacy and their power have never left me.

And so the poems I write are shaped in that tradition. The oral tradition. They are written for the voices of readers, not for the eyes of literary critics. A few of them are included here, for your perusal and, I hope, your enjoyment. Should you wish to comment on any or all of them, or on poetry in general, go ahead, but don't expect me to throw myself headlong into changing what's already here.


The Arthurian Saga: Clothar the Frank/The Lance Thrower

"With Clothar the Frank (The Lance Thrower in the USA), Whyte reaches the creation of the most shining court in history...and of the men and women who helped Arthur Pendragon throw back the forces of barbarism to create a place where the strong would defend the weak and the concept of chivalry was born."

The power and majesty of Rome is no more. Military units that patrolled the known world have been called home to prop up a dying empire. Outer provinces that once thrived under the rule of law are now open to attack. Clothar, the son of a Frankish lordling, has been sent to one of the few schools left in Europe where logic and philosophy are taught along with battle techniques. In this cruel new world where the veneer of civilization is being held together by the sword rather than the law, Clothar grows to manhood and vows to uphold the concepts of justice and righteousness and help his people to live in peace.

That vow is tested when his family is destroyed by a heinous act of betrayal, and revenge is all he can think of. It is a noble cause but one that would most certainly mean his death, and his mentor convinces Clothar to embark on another path. If he cannot save his own people from the barbarians, he can go to the aid of another who has the men and arms to do just that... There is a new High King in Britain, a young man called Arthur Pendragon, who supposedly intends to replace barbarism with law in his own realm and therefore represents the last great hope for all that is good and noble. Clothar readily swears fealty to Arthur and together they set out to build a dream that they acknowledge might be too perfect to last. Both of them will fall in love with a woman who shares their dream...and whose love for them might destroy all.

Tales change in the telling down the centuries. But any reader will surely know of this heroic young man as certainly as they know Arthur, King of the Britons. Clothar, Arthur's most beloved champion, who was known then simply as the Lance Thrower, is now known by a much more modern name. We call him Lancelot.



Jack in the News!
  • The Globe and Mail 1/2/2105
    Author Jack Whyte on why he wrote his new book, the best advice he’s received and more
  • Edmonton Journal 12/5/2014
    Book review: Engrossing Jack Whyte trilogy culminates in battle
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