I have had the immense privilege of knowing Don Gow (aka Don Francis) since the late '80's and his insight on Arthurian legends would put most college professors to shame. Don's books and stories are excellent and currently available for sale here.
Your book Lancelot – Knight of the Heart is yet another retelling of the Arthurian legend. What is it that, in your mind, makes this a story to be told again and again?
Well, it always ends up coming back to the Arthurian legend for me. I first read TH White’s Once and Future King a little over twenty years ago, I think, and was thoroughly charmed by it, and especially by White’s characterization of Lancelot. I went back and read Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur and then I dug deeper into the Old French romances, and the more I read, the more entranced I became. For a lot of writers over the last few decades, writing about Arthur and his knights have been an exercise in stripping away the romance, and there’s a validity to that, I suppose. Certainly if Arthur existed in the 6th century in Britain, he would have been some kind of mud-caked Romanesque figure with a handful of former Legionaries wearing leather Roman armor and so on. He wouldn’t have been the medieval figure we tend to think of, and Lancelot wouldn’t have been resplendent in gleaming silver plate mail.
But they SHOULD have been. And that’s the world I want to recapture in my work – the one that enchanted me. Certainly there are deeper psychological and political elements to be unearthed that the early romances glossed over or ignored, but I don’t think we need to strip away all the magic to find the human realities in these characters. At least I hope we don’t.
If I’ve done what I set out to do (and the jury is very much out on that) then I’ve presented a Lancelot who is a more credible and tangible character than the stereotypes that preceded me. He isn’t the paragon presented by the French romancers, but neither is he the debased lecher or arrogant figure presented in so many modern interpretations. And Knight of the Heart is only the beginning of his adventures. I’ve tried to include some of the more interesting elements that haven’t appeared in English language versions of his story before – the second Guinevere, for example, who appears in the French Vulgate material but not in Malory – and that may help to set this version apart as well.
So there are more books to come?
Well, the plan is for Knight of the Heart, which has a strong focus on the beginnings of his relationship with Guinevere, to be the first in a trilogy. The sequel, Lancelot – Knight of the Table, will center on his friendships with Arthur and his circle as he is more fully embraced by their company. The conclusion will have to do with his relationship with God and how it changes even as his relationships with humans deteriorate and collapse.
Spirituality, then, is one of your themes?
Definitely. Faith is extremely important to me, although its exact form varies. In short, I believe God and I believe in the power of Good, if only because I know very well that there is Evil, and I have to believe in its counter. The central question of Faith, for me, is "Why do bad things happen to good people, and where is God when all those things are happening?" and that question has a tendency to boil to the surface in a great deal of my work. It’s a question that remains viable every day, and if you don’t believe me, pick up the newspaper. And my characters have to struggle with finding an answer to that question, just as I do, just as my readers do.
You also have a thriller available?
Yes, it’s called Advent, and that one is about a police chaplain who is suffering through a crisis in faith when he gets pulled into the hunt for a serial killer. I’m afraid it falls just into the "gray area" between mainstream and Christian fiction, however. It’s probably a little too religious in temperate for many secular readers, but the sex and violence and profanity are probably outside the lines for a Christian fiction market. That doesn’t especially bother me, though – I like my work to straddle across genre lines in any case.
Tell me about your influences.
Well, as I said, I like to cross genre lines, so I have fairly eclectic tastes in my influences. Richard Matheson and Stephen King are my horror daddies, and I Am Legend is probably my favorite novel of all time. Ed McBain, John Connolly, and Denis Lehane for mysteries. Obviously Malory and TH White for the Arthurian stuff, with a special mention for Phyllis Ann Karr, whose Arthurian Companion is just an invaluable resource. I read a lot of nonfiction, especially history, so Robert Utley and his Indian Wars work has been very helpful. Oh, and Jim Marrs when I’m feeling paranoid and conspiratorial. And Batman. Always Batman.
Yes, as a matter of fact one of my upcoming projects will be making use of a lot of that material. I like to describe it as "If John Ford decided to make a horror film, it would be something like this…" The book is called Hostile and it takes place in Northern Dakota Territory in 1876 on a cavalry fort manned by a skeleton crew because the bulk of the garrison has been pressed into duty to march on the Sioux. The few remaining denizens of the fort have to contend with something a good deal more hostile than the Plains tribes themselves – a cannibalistic creature called a wendigo. And it’s hungry.
One of your projects?
Well, there’s been a great deal of upheaval in my life over the past couple of years, and there are several literary irons in the fire that I haven’t yet been able to complete, so they are all in progress at the moment. One is Hostile, one is the second volume in the Lancelot trilogy, one is a semi-sequel to Advent featuring the same lead characters but this time with a story about government conspiracies called Capitol Offenses, and one is a comedic fantasy that I’ve been kicking around with a friend of mine. So stay tuned!