There were many heroes in Celtic history before the time of Arthur, and a few afterwards, as well. Sadly, they all fell forgotten by the wayside, eclipsed by the brightness that was the last great court of the Celts, the reign of King Arthur. There was many a grand tale to come from this time period, including those of the Knights of the Round Table, Merlin, and perhaps the most famous of all, the love triad of Arthur, Guinevere, and Lancelot.
According to Joy, “Arthur was the last and greatest of their leaders, imposing his authority and uniting Britain’s defences so effectively that peace and good government survived for a generation after his time.” However, this struggle eventually turned the Isle of Britain into a number of separate nations, which still endure today, and turned it into a nightmare of linguistics.
Joy is not interested in the common, well-known tales, though. She has dug deeper, to find the faint traces of those ‘High Kings’ which Arthur’s reign seems to have almost completely shrouded in obscurity. This was not an easy task, for the history of the Celts has long been a verbal tradition and much of it has been scattered and forgotten, due to the outcome of Britain’s struggles and strife. No war-torn country is safe from drastic upheavals, and the language changing helped to further bury and destroy the great tales surrounding the Celts.
However, some of these verbal records did survive, some whole, others as hints and fragments. And Joy has done a wonderful job in tracking them down and preserving them so that we may read about those other ‘High Kings,’ the ones who were not quite so memorable as Arthur, but who were still great in their day.
Included in this beautiful book are ten fascinating and historical tales, all of which have been illustrated by the paintings of George Sharp. In addition, David Larkin (art designer for the book), has included many Celtic decorative patterns, maps, and reproductions of the gorgeous bronze and gold artifacts to enhance the prose. Each page turned is a doorway opened to something new and beautiful.
The second tale is one which I really enjoyed, “The Two Queens of Locrin.” This tale happens to follow a brief description of the “Marriage Customs and Status of Women.” Things were a lot different back then, I can tell you. Women were treated as equals, on all fronts, showing that perhaps the ancient Celts were ahead of their time in their thinking. In this tale, Locrin, the son of Brutus of Troy, creates his own downfall due to affairs of the heart. Casting aside one woman for another can create dire problems, even if one’s station is high.
I also highly enjoyed the tale of “Bladud, the Blemished Prince.” It is a tale of greed and impetuousness, and what can come of trying to trick the Fey Folk. Poor Bladud learns his lesson, and then some, even though he is at least spared his life.
The High Kings is a return to the time when the Celts were mighty. A time when the gods had an interest in the world, and when magic was still believed in, when the fey folk walked the earth alongside giants. Joy’s words paint vivid scenes in each and every tale, allowing the richness and excesses of the Celts to be seen and enjoyed to their fullest once again.
(Bantam Books, 1983)