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Literature / I Am Mordred

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I Am Mordred is a 1999 fantasy novel by Nancy Springer set in Arthurian Legend. The focus is set on the title character instead of King Arthur et al., showing the usual story from his point of view.

After Mordred is born from King Arthur's tryst with his half-sister Morgause, Merlin prophesies that he will grow up to kill his father. Because of this, King Arthur tries to avert the prophecy by having all newborn baby boys put out to sea where they will die. Mordred, of course, miraculously survives when he's found by a fisherman. Raised by the man and his wife, Mordred at first knows nothing about his parentage. Years later though, the sorceress Nyneve comes and delivers him to his birth mother, Queen Morgause, where Mordred learns the terrible prophecy made about him...

I Am Mordred provides examples of:

  • Adaptational Heroism: In this telling, Mordred does all he can to resist the prophecy made about him. Though he has understandably mixed feelings about his father King Arthur since the latter tried to kill him, Mordred likes him nonetheless and hates the prophecy.
  • Adaptational Villainy: Merlin here is a cruel wizard with no redeeming traits we see, pushing King Arthur to kill his son when he's prophesied Mordred will be his downfall.
  • Antagonistic Offspring: Mordred to King Arthur, despite resisting it every step of the way.
  • Artistic License – History: The druidic Celts didn't allow the king to simply have sex with anyone he pleased. Given this is historical fantasy though, some departures are expected.
  • Blind Musician: The harper, who it turns out also knows magic (and his raven may be a familiar).
  • Child by Rape: Sir Torre is one, as a result of Pellinore raping a milkmaid.
  • Death by Childbirth: Mordred discovers that his foster mother died this way.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Mordred thinks any bloody act a king commits to defend his throne is justified. Most people, he notes, wouldn't believe a woman can justly use deadly force to defend herself from rape, thus meaning Nyneve would be a murderer for doing this. Mordred is deemed a coward for not aiding his brothers to murder a helpless man in vengeance for killing their father. The idea of women being at an equal level with men is ludicrous to Mordred. Later when he reflects on his brothers killing their mother and her lover after they catch them together, Mordred thinks it's right as well.
  • Dirty Coward: Mordred is repeatedly accused of this for not fighting every knight who challenges him.
  • Familiar: Gull and the hawk are Nyneve's.
  • Fantasy Contraception: Nyneve says as a sorceress that she controls when, and if, she'll have a baby. She regrets preventing it after losing her lover though.
  • Forced Transformation: Merlin was transformed into a hawk by Nyneve, then caged. He kills her when he's freed.
  • From the Latin "Intro Ducere": The name "Mordred" actually comes from Latin for "moderate", not "courageous counselor".
  • Healing Hands: This is an ability of King Arthur's, and people come from across the kingdom to receive healing from him (based on a real belief in the Middle Ages). He can't heal Mordred or Guinevere though, saying it's a punishment for his past sins.
  • Heroic Bastard: Mordred, who's born due to an extramarital tryst between Arthur and Morgause, was a very good person to start with in spite of the prophecy about him that he'll kill his father. He tries everything possible to stop it coming true.
  • Matricide: Gawain and Garet kill their mother along with her lover when they catch them in bed together.
  • Merlin and Nimue: Nyneve (Nimue's original name) trapped Merlin in the form of a hawk to get rid of him. Unlike most examples though, Merlin is portrayed as cruel and richly deserving it. He wanted to force Nyneve into having a relationship with him, and so doing this felt like her only way to escape.
  • Moses in the Bulrushes: Mordred is found by a fisherman when he's cast adrift to die at sea in a coracle.
  • Mutual Kill: Mordred and Arthur go out this way.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Herod: Arthur tries to avert the prophecy that his son will kill him by, as King Herod did in The Bible, having all newborn boys killed. This doesn't work-his son survives (a fisherman rescues him from the boat they're on put out to sea), and does indeed grow up to do this, despite trying not to.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: After Mordred frees the hawk, it kills Nyneve (and thus Gull, who's her familiar), since it's really Merlin transformed.
  • Offing the Offspring: Arthur tries to do this after Mordred is born at Merlin's urging, so he won't be killed by him in the future.
  • Our Souls Are Different: Mordred eventually decides to cope with his prophesied fate by removing his soul from his body. He plans to give his soul to Arthur for safe-keeping, but it is stolen by a raven sent by Merlin. The soulless Mordred is unable to feel emotion (which was Mordred's purpose for the procedure, he was tired of the pain) and has no sense of morality. It is this soulless Mordred that kills Arthur, while Mordred's soul becomes trapped in the raven (in fact raven!Mordred is the book's narrator). It is possible that raven Mordred has some connection to his body still as parts of the book are told from the perspective of the soulless Mordred. Also, apparently putting a human soul in a raven makes said raven immortal and sentient.
  • Patricide: Mordred kills Arthur, his father, in the end.
  • Psychic Link: When Nyneve dies so does Gull and her hawk, since they're her familiars.
  • Royal Bastard: Mordred is the bastard son of King Arthur and his half-sister, Morgause, and was born from their extramarital tryst. He was prophesied to kill his father, yet Mordred goes out of his way to prevent it from happening.
  • The Soulless: After giving up his soul, Mordred no longer feels anything matters. He also lacks any inhibition toward turning against Arthur. The dogs also fear him after this.
  • Stranger in a Familiar Land: Mordred returns to where he was raised, but finds much has changed and his foster father views him as a strange lord.
  • Surprise Incest: Arthur didn't know Morgause was his half-sister when he had sex with her.
  • Telepathy: It turns out that Mordred can hear Merlin in the form of a hawk this way.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: Morgan le Fay believes this, and explicitly warns Mordred that no matter what, he'll never be able to avert the prophecy about him. He tries anyway. In the end, he fails.