01 June, 2006

Minor characters' perspectives

I recently noticed this on Petrona's blog (Maxine Clarke). Her daughter’s English assignment was to retell a well-known myth, legend, fable or fairy story from the point of view of a minor character. (How come I never remember getting anything as interesting as that when I was at school?). Contributions included:

- Penelope fending off the suitors while waiting for Odysseus, told by the tapestry (it was suggested that this might be a little repetitive)
- Lord of the Rings told by the Balrog (quite a short one, that, I should think. “Got summoned. Fought wizard. Fell off bridge. Fought wizard again. Fell off mountain. The End.”)
- The Pied Piper of Hamelin, told from the point of view of a rat

I can think of:

- Cinderella told by the fairy godmother
- Beowulf told by Grendel's mother
- King Arthur told by Mordred
- King Arthur told by Excalibur

It occurs to me that it could be quite fun to apply this to historical events. Such as:

- the Black Death as told by the plague bacilli
- Elizabeth I as told by Kat Ashley
- the reigns of Edward IV and Richard III, including the Princes in the Tower mystery, as told by Elizabeth Woodville
- the Scottish War of Independence as told by Sir James Douglas (aka the Black Douglas)
- Boudica’s revolt as told by Catus Decianus (the rapacious procurator)

What myths, legends or historical events would you like to see retold by a minor character?

19 comments:

Rick said...

Surely Mordred is not a minor character in the Arthurian saga!

In a way, nor is Excalibur, though I suppose its account would be not be very textured: "Hacked. Hewed. Hacked again. Wiped off. Put back in scabbard ... Thrown into lake."

I would certainly like to hear what Kat Ashley had to say about Bess!

Some important stories don't even get told much from major characters' perspectives. I remarked to a friend not long ago that there is no semipopular book about Henry VII. None of the usual gang - Alison Weir, Antonia Fraser, Mary Luke, et al., has ever written about him, so far as I know.

I know he had a reputation as not much of a fun guy, but jeez. You'd think that the first royal Tudor, linking the world of the Wars of the Roses with that of the Tudor Renaissance, would rate a book!

(interesting logon text: jdgvmen)

Carla said...

Depends how you look at it, I guess. I don't remember seeing the story told from Mordred's perspective (though I've only read a tiny fraction of the many Arthurian novels so somebody has probably done it. If anyone knows of a book from Mordred's perspective, can you let me know?)

Excalibur's story might continue thusly "Thrown into lake....Wait for promised return....Wait some more...[Ten centuries later]....Still waiting...Am I getting rusty yet?....Do they still use swords any more?....Am I past it, a useless symbol of a vanished age?....Still waiting...."

Agreed re Henry VII. I nearly put him on the list too, as along with Elizabeth W he always seems to be either ignored or gets a bad press. I have a suspicion he may be seen as Right But Repulsive and thus not as attractive as Wrong But Wromantic Richard III. But I imagine he has quite an interesting tale to tell and it could be made quite romantic - the exile returning to claim his throne from the usurper. Maybe someone did it that way before the 70s-ish sea change that made Richard III the hero and relegated Henry VII to The Villain Who Won (More's The Pity).

crabbycows said...

I once read a Christmas tale written from the donkey's POV, when East of the Web Uncut was still open.

Funny as hell.

#1.

Bernita said...

War of the Roses by Robin of Redesdale.

Have always wondered about the pov of the Bean stalker instead of Jack's and that fi-fi-fo-fummer hummer.
Yes, that was silly.

Gabriele C. said...

My historical Fantasy short story Dangerous Heritage is written from Mordred's POV. :)

It's one I consider making into a novellette or novella, it begs for some more words. But not right now.

Henry the Lion's conflict with Frederick Barbarossa seen from the POV of Henry's wife Mathilda (daughter of Henry II of England). I have a feeling a novel about him is going to become a side-product of Kings and Rebels anyway. ;)

Susan Higginbotham said...

I'd like to see the reigns of Richard III and Henry VII told by Elizabeth of York (though she's not exactly a minor character). I've seen novels about her, but I can't think of one where she's the narrator.

Or maybe Richard III by one of his out-of-wedlock children.

Crabbycows, have you read a novel called Shakespeare's Dog? Shakespeare's early adult life told by, yes, his dog. Very funny, as I recall.

Elizabeth Chadwick said...

Henry VII is at the end of my longlist of people to write about because he gets such short shrift. I remember an excellent TV drama about him when I was in my late teens, but no one ever mentions it the way they do Keith Michelle's performance as Henry VIII which was of approximately the same era.

Hmmm... Minor characters viewpoints.
William the Conqueror's 3 horses at the Battle of Hastings
Empress Matilda's crown
William Earl of Salisbury, King John's half brother (on my shortlist)
Florence, King John's washerwoman.
Coeur de Lion's underwear.
The Turin shroud.
Julian Barnes did the vp of the woodworms on Noah's ark as a chapter of A History of the World in 10.5 Chapters - brilliant!

Rick said...

No, I've never heard of the Arthurian saga told from Mordred's point of view, and I won't hold my breath waiting for one. But I've actually seen speculation about the War of the Ring from Sauron's perspective.

I don't "get" the whole Ricardian phenomenon. It seems like the Richard III society struck a sort of a gold mine. It's an episode of history that most of us know only from hazy recollection of the Shakespeare play, so people are open to revisionism, and by digging into the minutia Dickon's defenders have the edge on everyone else.

Sarah said...

Re: Mordred: There's Mary Stewart's The Wicked Day, though I don't think Mordred is the narrator... it is told from his viewpoint, though. Also Nancy Springer's I Am Mordred and Elizabeth Wein's The Winter Prince, both young adult novels where Mordred tells the story.

There's a US Civil War novel told from the viewpoint of Lee's horse. (So anyone thinking about it - sorry, it's already been done.) Can't say I'm terribly eager to read it, though.

Susan Higginbotham said...

I wonder if there's been a book written from the viewpoint of Grant's horse? Seems only fair, but I suppose Traveler is better known.

Alex Bordessa said...

Sarah's beaten me to it on the list of books from Mordred's view :-)

Carla said...

Everyone - What an inventive collection of ideas!

Gabriele - Thanks, I've found the link on your website and look forward to reading that. It seems Mathilda was another 'wife and daughter to Henry'.

Susan - I've seen one where Elizabeth of York was the central character, though not the narrator, and remember it as being quite good.

Elizabeth - I'll look forward to reading your take on Henry VII one day

Rick - I'm not quite sure how or why it happened when it did but it looks to me like a backlash against the Shakespeare portrayal and/or a fashion for revisionist history. Established historical views seem to 'flip' to the opposite pole sometimes, like magnetic reversals. When I was at school the textbooks taught that the Romans brought civilisation to Britain and took it away with them when they left, whereas now you have Francis Pryor arguing the exact opposite in archaeology (and Manda Scott likewise in fiction).

Carla said...

Sarah, Alex - many thanks for the list of Mordred books. I remember Mary Stewart's Crystal Cave from many years ago and didn't know she had also told the story from Mordred's side. I imagine The Wicked Day of the title refers to the battle of Camlann?

Maxine said...

Carla, you sure have a very healthy commenting fraternity on your blog!
I think Mordred is a minor character in the sense of not appearing much, though obviously very influential in terms of events and motivations.

I once read a book told from Elizabeth of York's point of view -- by that woman who (like me) is keen on Richard 111. Forget her name of course, Rosemary someone with a double-barrelled surname?

Robert the Bruce by the spider?
Robin Hood by Will Scarlett or other minor merry man?
Henry VII by Perkin Warbeck?

Sarah said...

Carla - I missed your question earlier, but you're right, the "wicked day" refers to Camlann. I read Stewart's Arthurian series as a teenager and remember really enjoying it.

Anonymous said...

THE KING'S GREY MARE by Rosemary Hawley Jarman is told from Elizabeth Woodville's POV. Quite a good novel, too, by the way.

Carla said...

Maxine - hello, and thanks for dropping by. I like the idea of Robert the Bruce by the spider, though the spider got a limited view of the story - perhaps a flash fiction piece or very short story?

Perkin Warbeck's viewpoint would be interesting, though you'd have to decide whether he was or was not Richard Duke of York. The novel I was thinking of that was from Elizabeth of York's viewpoint featured Perkin Warbeck as an important secondary character, but it left the question of his identity open. Which was both frustrating and fascinating. I still can't remember title or author, though it wasn't Rosemary something.

Anonymous - hello, and thanks for your comment. I'll look out for that one. I'd like to see it from ELizabeth Woodville's side for once.

NonAnon said...

One of my favorite stories has already been retold: the story of Tristan and Isolde from the viewpoint of King Mark's friend in "The King in the Tree" by Steven Millhauser. I still think the story told from King Mark's perspective would be a good one.

Carla said...

Nonanon - hello, and thanks for dropping by. Another good idea there - isn't it curious how one cuckolded husband (King Arthur) is traditionally the hero, whereas another (King Mark) traditionally gets a bad press?