“Mordred, Bastard Son”–the retelling of a legend

Clegg, Douglas. “Mordred, Bastard Son”, Alyson, 2006.

The Retelling of a Legend

Amos Lassen

I have always found the legend of King Arthur to be fascinating stuff and I try to read everything about it that I can. Douglas Clegg presents some new ideas in “Mordred, Bastard Son”. The book is not only very interesting but looks at the legend in a new way and the Arthurian stories have always been a pleasure to read. The idea of looking at Mordred as something more than a villain and as gay shows a whole new way of looking AT Arthurian England and Clegg really does the story justice.

The plot is filled with running narratives which ramble for pages and then suddenly stop and many pages are spent on Mordred’s chastity. Nevertheless, the book is interesting. Clegg’s revival of Mordred by beginning with the story of his mother, Morgan le Fay who is fleeing Arthur who wants to kill her before the baby is born. It had been foretold that Morgan’s baby would bring the downfall of Arthur’s kingdom. Yet Mordred is born and spends his life struggling against his homoerotic desires. He loves his friend Lukat who cannot return that love. Merlin the Magician is Mordred’s teacher and he demands that Mordred not have sex until he has mastered the art of sorcery. The core of the story is Mordred’s agony in postponing sex so that he can learn. We do get to the point when Mordred finally does have gay sex and it is a very good and sexy passage.

Throughout the book we renew acquaintances with characters that we have met in other books about Camelot and we meet some new characters as well. And finally the book begins to pick up speed.

As Mordred learned of the elements, the forest and magic, he becomes attracted to his best friend and tells him that they are men who love other men. As a teenager, Mordred was consumed with adolescent primal sexual urges but he realizes that knowledge is more important and represses his desires. What he did not know, once he gave in to his carnal desire, was that the man he lusted after was to become his betrayer. He is deceived into believing that he can live as a gay man and remain unaffected by the outside world. He is constantly betrayed and as he reaches manhood, he must deal with his own crimes of passion and his yearning to be at peace in the world.

Clegg gives us a compelling story which is to be part of a trilogy. His reinvention of the sexuality of Mordred is a novel twist. He is now not a betrayer but a seductive and passionate hero living in a world that has no law and is violent and superstitious. Mordred remains bound to the ancient rites of midsummer but he must do what he has been predestined to do.

We read as Mordred changes from a young prince who realizes that he must pay a debt to live to an adult who tries to find a place in the world. As gay we are often enchanted with classical myths and we enjoy reading about gay heroes finding their place in the course of history. Clegg has managed to center Mordred as a hero who enjoys same-sex love and it is hard now to imagine the Arthurian legend being told any other way. We can find similarities in our own lives in the Mordred story as Clegg brings to vibrant life the legend—he did not rewrite the story, he just told it from a different point of view and it is exciting. “Mordred” does not let us forget that life as we know it is a mystery that we are not always able to understand. Love and the loss of love is part of all of our lives whether we are gayer straight just as we all wonder why we are here. Clegg uses these themes powerfully with both sorrow and humor. The only problem with the book is that two more are to follow and I have to wait to read them. Clegg wrapped me in his story from the first sentence and now I am all wrapped up waiting for the next two volumes.

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