Uncaged welcomes Joseph J. Swope
Welcome to Uncaged! Your newest book, Dark Age Monarch will release in June. Can you tell readers more about the book?
Dark Age Monarch is a retelling of the Arthurian legend from a perspective that blends tradition with history. The typical picture of King Arthur is derived from the Romance literature of the Middle Ages. But if Arthur did indeed exist, he most likely lived much earlier, in the early 5th and 6th Century after the Roman exodus from Britain.
Dark Age Monarch takes place in that more historically accurate setting but offers possible origins to what later became part of the Arthurian tradition, such as the great castle of Camelot and jousting armored knights practicing chivalry across the land. Most of the familiar characters of Arthur’s Court appear in the novel, but perhaps not in the same way readers have seen them depicted elsewhere.
What is the most difficult scene for you to write? What is the easiest?
If King Arthur truly existed, he faced a constant threat of invasion from his enemies. The 9th Century monk, Nennius, for example, documented 12 battles Arthur fought against his enemies. That list did not include the Battle of Camlann, which marked the end of Arthur’s reign. Of course, all those battles were fought with swords, lances, and arrows as weapons. Providing a creative angle so that each battle is somewhat unique – and not too gruesomely violent – proved a challenge.
Some of the easiest scenes to write involved those with Morgan Le Fay. She is the primary fantastic element of the story, an immortal non-human queen dedicated to preserving the heritage of the Britons She is both commanding and witheringly sarcastic, a being who cannot comprehend why humanity cannot settle their differences in any way other than war. Whenever she appears, she takes over the scene.
Do you have a favorite character you’ve written? Has there been a character that’s been hard to write about?
My favorite character to depict in Dark Age Monarch is the knight Lamorak. In traditional Arthurian tradition, Lamorak is somewhat of a secondary character. In my rendition, Lamorak is an escaped African-American slave committed to defending the oppressed. He becomes a natural allly of Arthur and a fearsome warrior in the field.
The character that presented the most challenge was probably Gwenhywfar. Even in traditional Arthurian literature, Arthur’s queen is an ambivalent character, sometimes depicted as tragic and flawed character, and by other authors as scheming and evil. I ultimately settled on a figure closer to the former than the latter.
How do you come up with the title to your books?
With my previous books, the titles came pretty readily. Pleasant Valley Lost, for example, documented the loss of my childhood home – a dairy farm dating back to the 1770s – to a federal dam project. The title purposely echoed the name of Milton’s great poem, Paradise Lost.
Dark Age Monarch presented a different challenge altogether. There have been so many books, movies, and TV programs with an Arthurian theme that any number of titles have already been claimed. I went through about five titles until I found one that was unique and captured the spirit of the book.
Read the rest of the interview in the issue below
Joseph J. Swope is an award-winning author, public relations professional, and photographer. Swope has studied Arthurian legends for most of his adult life and taught a university course on the subject. Dark Age Monarch: The Reign of King Arthur is his fifth book. Symbolic of his diverse interests (or very short attention span), each of his works represents a different genre.
Swope’s other books include Pleasant Valley Lost, which documents the loss of his family’s historic dairy farm to a federal dam project; The Gift, a children’s book illustrated by Swope’s daughter, Chandra, focused on diabetes awareness; Disturbed, a ghost story set in the haunted Coal Region of Northeast Pennsylvania; and Where Magic and Science Collide, a fantasy/science fiction novel.
Swope has worked nearly 40 years in both corporate and non-profit settings. He lives in Reading, Pennsylvania, and has seven children.
Arthurian tradition has followed two distinct paths. Medieval Romance depicts the spectacular capital of Camelot and a land of armored knights, jousts, and fantastical adventures. More recent researchers have focused on identifying the real King Arthur, if such a person existed, in the early days of the Dark Ages. Dark Age Monarch: The Reign of King Arthur blends the two strands together in an inventive re-telling that maintains elements of the traditional tale but set in a historical perspective – with a bit of magic thrown into the mix.
Following the Roman exodus in the early 5th Century, Britain was fractured into petty fiefdoms that left the island vulnerable to foreign invaders. At a point where it appeared the Angles and Saxons would erase the British heritage, Arthur emerged as both a King and the Leader of Battles. His reign unified the land and preserved the Britons’ way of life long enough to be remembered throughout history.
The three soon arrived in Silchester, with Owain leading the way. They worked their way through the streets until they arrived at the clearing before Saint Mary the Virgin Church. There, a raucous disturbance had erupted as a result of the disappearance of the sword. Word had spread through the city quickly, and a great panic had ensued at this apparent act of treachery.
Ector took one look at the scene, glanced at the sword he was now holding, and slapped his forehead with his free hand as he shook his head. He only now sensed the importance of the events unfolding before him.
What has that Merlin gotten me into? he wondered.
Upon seeing the three travelers, the guards and part of the crowd came toward Ector and his sons. Ector put up his hand at the crowd to quell their discontent.
“My son took this sword accidentally, not realizing its importance,” Ector said. “He will put it back now.”
“Put it back?” the one guard screamed. “How did he pull it out in the first place? Only the true King of Britain can pull the sword from the anvil, not some farm boy serving as a squire.”
If he did not do so until then, Ector surely recognized the dilemma he now faced.
How could Owain have claimed the sword, unless . . .
Ector pushed the thought from his mind.
“I do not know the circumstances,” Ector said. “But he will return the sword to its proper place now.”
Ector handed the sword to Owain, who walked deliberately to the anvil, and in one quick thrust, returned the weapon to its holder. The crowd immediately pushed him away, as one person after another of various standing tried to pull the sword from where it was placed. It did not budge. After a few minutes, the guards pushed the gathering crowd back and restored order to the scene. Finally, one guard stared at Owain again.
“If you pulled the sword out before,” he growled, “I assume you can do it again.”
Owain looked at the guard, unfazed by his gruff demeanor.
“If you’d like,” he said confidently.
“If I’d like?” the guard scoffed. “I would very much like to see what tomfoolery you have concocted.”
Owain walked up to the sword again, and using the same practiced movements done in a way imperceptible to onlookers, he pulled the sword from the anvil once more.
Ector, viewing the scene in shock, fell to his knees.
“Merlin,” he said to himself, “what have you done? You never prepared me for this!”
The crowd grew greater and greater and included some of those invited to the upcoming tournament. Owain was again directed to put the sword back into the anvil. Now, nobles from various lands across Britain attempted to extract the weapon, to no avail. Under closer scrutiny, they ordered Owain to remove the sword once more, and he did so. The mood turned darker as rumblings through the crowd questioned how a stable boy could do what none of the British kings appeared capable.
Read the rest of the excerpt in the issue of Uncaged Book Reviews below.