The biggest inconsistency in various retellings of the Arthur story centre around the mother of Mordred, Arthur's child by incest, and most of the key inconsistencies seem to centre around the women in the tale.

Accepted canon has Morgause (or Morgawse) as the mother of Mordred, and presents Morgause as the illegitimate daughter of Uther Pendragon. In many versions, Morgause goes on to marry King Lot of Lothian and have four other sons: Gawain, Gaheris, Aggravaine and Gareth. Marion Zimmer Bradley however casts Morgause as sister to Igraine (Ygraine), Arthur's mother. Morgause is sometimes credited with poisoning Merlin.

In other retellings Morgan Le Fey is cast as Mordred's mother. My suspicion is that this is generally done to cut down the cast list, but I may be being ungenerous. (Although, it is worth noting that this is most often done in film or TV versions, so maybe I'm not being ungenerous). The best known book in which this casting appears is Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley. Morgan, also known as Morgana le Fey is either presented as Arthur's younger full sister (in which case she is not the mother of Mordred) or as the daughter of Igraine and her first husband Gorlois king of Cornwall. Morgan also steals Excalibur and gives it to her lover Accolon to fight Arthur with.

Guinivere is also subject to inconsistency -- It is often presented that Arthur had two, or even three wives named Guinevere (or Gwenyfahr or other variations). All the legends have her abducted, most commonly by Melwas (Meleas, Melageant etc.) King of the Summer Country, although there is a grey area around whether or not she is actually violated in the course of the abduction. Guinevere's affair with Lancelot is a later addition to the story, possibly Victorian, although possibly much earlier.

The story of the maiden who is Merlin's downfall also varies widely. Her name is given variously as Niniane, Nimue and Viviane, and she is either the Lady of the Lake or one of the Maidens of Avalon. In some legends she locks him alive in the trunk of a tree, in others in a cave. As an aside, in Bradley's version 'Merlin' is a title, rather than a specific person.

The other key inconsistency is around who orders the killing of male children -- consistently all male children between a certain age are set adrift in boats to drown, in an attempt to kill Mordred, however in some versions it is Arthur who orders the atrocity, in some Merlin and in still others Lot.

The modern book most closely aligned to older legend (and my personal favourite retelling) is Mary Stewart's Merlin Series, The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills and the Last Enchantment. A fourth book, The Wicked Day centres on Mordred and the end of the legend, but is less close to older versions of the myth

The parentage of Mordred is a later concept. In Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain, he is the son of Lot of Lothain and Anna, full sister of Arthur and daughter of Igrain and Uther Pendragon. (Geoffrey lists no children for Gorlois.) He is then full brother to Gawain and full nephew to Arthur. Later legend brings us Morgaws and Morgan, with a third sister, sometimes named Elain.*

Morgan le Fay is undoubtedly a euhemerized goddess, likely derived from Medb/Mab, Morrigan, and Modron. She is only called Mordred's mother in later fiction. Her two sisters may be doubles of her, and this is my reasoning: the Celts often had triple gods and goddesses who were also the same god or goddess--not unlike the Christian idea of the Holy Trinity. Brigid is a triple, as is Lugh. It is not unlikely that at some point, a historical woman named Anna was written out, or confused with the tripled goddess.** Morgan is said to have stolen Excalibur, according to Sir Thomas Malory (and hense probably the Lancelot-Vulgate cycle, though there does not exist an English translation for me to check that, and I do not read very much French).

Regarding Guenevere/Gwynhafar, this may be another case of the triple goddess. Gwynhafar may be a confluence of historical queen and Earth Goddess, a personification of the land, like Eriu and Penardun. As such, it is logical that there would be three of them, just like Eriu and her two sisters. As for the violation, that is probably more Persephone myth than historical event.

The affair between Lancelot and Guenevere is not an invention of the Victorians--if anything, they tried to expunge all versions of the tales containing this bit of information. The earliest account of the affair is in Chretien de Troyes' romance Lancelot, or, The Knight of the Cart, which dates to about 1174. He may have been influenced by the Tristan and Iseult tales, as he is said to have written a version which is now lost.

Merlin is a whole other subject, an amalgamation of historic bard Myrddin, legendarly wildman Lailoken, and medieval Antichrist. I won't get into him here, nor Vivian/Nimue.

The problem is with books like The Mists of Avalon, which uses little scholarship and a lot of agenda, ignoring the old texts so as to tell a fun little story that will make them a lot of money. I hate when this happens--it's like watching Disney's Hercules, and having to explain to children how they got it all wrong. A few years ago, my family watched the Merlin miniseries, and I had to explain to my parents how they got the whole thing wrong. Me, I always go to the oldest texts I can--in this case, Welsh and Latin. The medieval romances are true though not factual--fun, with some mythological or psychological truth, but it didn't happen that way.

*Elain is such a common name in these stories, I think it's like calling a man Jack--when you have no name, substitute with "Elain."

**I am not talking about the Triple Goddess of neo-pagan lore, either. That has an emphasis on "maiden-mother-crone" which the Celts didn't have. The triplets were true triplets, but with differing aspects: for Brigid, it was Smithing, Fire, and Poetry.

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