by Arthur Estes
We all know their stories: Merlin, his prince Arthur and their eternal enemy, Mordred. Or maybe we don’t. Arthur Rex reimages their legends as a story that leaps across time, over continents and deep into outer space for an ultimate confrontation which will decide the fate, for good or evil, of all humankind.
The novel begins as aging Merlin, all too human, sneaks away from his the iron-age hilltop fort of Camelot in search of an enchanted cathedral where his youth can be restored. But the place he seeks has been created as deadly trap by his fellow magus and blood enemy, Mordred, who knows perfectly well of Merlin’s vanity. Merlin, imprisoned beneath the cathedral, eventually manages to escape. But while Merlin is captured Mordred’s army destroys Camelot and kills Arthur. Merlin, with the help of two bumbling survivors, concocts his own trap, destroys Mordred’s army and captures Mordred. But what to do with a creature of implacable evil? Merlin is determined to end the cycle of their endless war. He immobilizes Mordred with a special curse and, in the greatest secrecy, sails alone to the fifth century AD American continent. Merlin entombs Mordred deep in the wilderness and remains on there, confident that he spared the future world from an unrelenting evil.
A thousand years pass. The wilderness continent becomes the crowded, shiny 21st century United States. One spring day an industrial accident releases Mordred from his tomb. His powers return in the open air. Mordred immediately enlist an extraterrestrial army and creates chaos in the modern landscape. Merlin, long retired, marshals his forces for a new war. He discovers his 21st century American Arthur. Together they fight an ancient enemy. But the new Arthur is untrained. Mordred and his army escape to their next goal, a place even more important than the earth, an Eden-like planet at the center of the Milky Way. The planet is guarded by bumbling warriors who, for the first time in many generations, must fight to protect their home and the secrets concealed in its mountains.
There Merlin and Arthur prepare to fight. What Arthur discovers in the high country violently changes everything about their ultimate battle. Their final conflict takes place on a battlefield so distant that Arthur is sure that he will never return from it. But he fights anyway. His life and Merlin’s are at stake, along with the lives of all people on earth.
Arthur Rex draws on many different sources, including, among others, Beowulf, world creation myths, Mallory, Tolkien, H.G. Wells, and even Pratchett to remake an ancient lay for a 21st century audience.
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Arthur Estes is very comfortable with a pseudonym. For one thing, his family name is notoriously difficult to spell and for another, his identical twin brother objects to seeing his name, or something close to it, in public. There’s been enough confusion on that front already.
Estes sampled a number of professions that influenced what and how he writes, including (among others), a stint as a janitor in a TB hospital, a roughneck laborer in a huge paper mill, college student, a counselor in a juvenile prison and a graduate student. Eventually with all his digits and health intact, he settled on teaching, a profession he followed for some time.
The idea for Arthur Rex began with the stories he’d heard about an elderly British gent, a fearless wanderer of a type that disappeared some time ago. The man was incredibly wiry, as would be expected, and explored, by raft, camel, horse, llama and foot great swatches of several continents. What exactly he was searching for he evidently never said. But something was out there. Eventually the Great War caught up with him. One afternoon a stray German artillery shell obliterated his staff car. He survived miraculously, immigrated to the USA and left Estes, his grandson, with a legacy that implied so much.