There must be thousands of takes on the Arthurian legend by now, from Thomas Mallory to Rosemary Sutcliff; TV’s Arthur of the Britons to Merlin; Camelot 3000, The Kid Who Would Be King, books, graphic novels, musicals, movies, plays, poems…the list goes on and on.
Sophie Keetch’s Morgan is My Name is one of the latest contributions to this rich array of retellings, and one of the subset that focuses on the character of Morgaine/Morgan le Fay – or, as she fiercely insists in this new telling, Morgan.
Far from the Arthurian stereotype of evil, manipulative sorceress, we meet Morgan as an intelligent, strong-willed child who adores her father. This Morgan – third daughter of Lady Igraine and Gorlois, Duke of Cornwall – was born in a storm. (That unruly weather seems to animate her soul, and she is very much a child of the sea and of Cornwall.)
Things begin to unravel for Morgan and her family when her father marches out to war, and one night seems to return to spend the night with Igraine. Morgan sees him, wreathed in the mist of Merlin’s magic, and never realises until much later that this was not her father but Uther Pendragon, disguised so that he can claim Igraine. Her father is dead.
Uther soon takes over Tintagel, their castle home, and Morgan resists him with all her childish might. As she grows to womanhood, she falls injudiciously in love, discovers she has powers of healing, and is sent to a nunnery where she studies and expands her knowledge of the healing arts.
So while magic very much exists in this version of the legend, and is very important, it’s used sparingly. Instead, we see Morgan growing up restricted in her choices by and at the mercy of the untrustworthy men who control her life, despite her clear intelligence and independent spirit. Hope eventually comes in the shape of her half-brother, Arthur.
Keetch turns her back on the tropes of Morgan as a witch and seductress, showing us instead the forces that shape a young woman of learning, compassion and deep feeling. This is a creative feminist retelling of Morgan’s origins, and the Arthurian legend from her point of view. Morgan, her mother and sisters, and her friends from the nunnery are vividly drawn, along with their struggles to survive a difficult reality ruled by conceited, powerful men.
Morgan is My Name concludes the early part of Morgan’s life, but is ripe with potential to explore her role in a different interpretation of the legend. I’m looking forward to Keetch’s future books in this universe.