I finished reading Persia Woolley’s Child of the Northern Spring, but the review of that probably won’t be up for another week because I also finished writing the Arthurian retelling I’ve been working on for nearly seven years. So, mostly I’ll be working on typing that up instead of flipping through Child of the Northern Spring. But first, I want to comment on something I found odd in the book and acknowledge that I may owe Marion Zimmer Bradley an apology (just a small one).
Folks will remember from my Mists of Avalon review that I had major issues with the character of Kevin. Mainly because I thought he was a major jerk who got off easy but also because I found the name choice to be a little… odd. And jarring. And I soundly mocked that name in my review.
Well, Persia Woolley also has a character named Kevin in her Guinevere Trilogy. He is also crippled (born that way instead of injured like Bradley’s Kevin). And while less jarring in Woolley’s book than in Bradley’s (Woolley uses the more modern spellings of the characters as opposed to Bradley who used the older ones and Woolley’s Kevin is actually Irish while I don’t think it’s ever said for Bradley’s), the whole thing got me thinking that maybe there was a character in the Arthurian Mythos named Kevin whom I wasn’t aware of.
Mists of Avalon was published in 1982. Child of the Northern Spring was published in 1987. Woolley says in an interview that she was disappointed that her trilogy was published so close to Mists that it caused her books to not only be overshadowed, but printed as sci-fi/fantasy or woman’s romance when it was intended to be historical fiction. So, from that and the fact that the books were published within five years of each other, I can’t imagine that Woolley drew much of anything from Mists of Avalon for the first book (There’s a note in the preface of the second about drawing from Mists in regards to Morgan Le Fay’s character). Maybe, maybe I could see the publisher asking that the character be renamed to jump on the success of Bradley’s book, but that’s just far-fetched speculation on my part drawn from my jaded cynicism of the publishing industry after what happened with the Twilight ‘phenomenon’.
So, Kevin. Before mocking that choice of name in my Mists of Avalon review, I checked to make sure that there was no minor Arthurian character named Kevin whom I had simply never heard of. I searched the internet (Christopher Bruce’s Arthurian Name Dictionary, Early British Kingdoms and general Googling). I searched my books (The New Encyclopedia of Arthurian Legends, The Oxford Guide to Arthurian Legends, The Encyclopedia of Arthurian Legends and the Arthurian Companion). I searched for Kevin, Caoimhín, Caoimhghín, Cóemgein and Coemgenus. Nothing. That was when I decided it was safe to puzzle over (with mocking overtones) why Bradley had gone with that name when a- it was really out of place with how she was naming the rest of her characters and b- had no ties to any form of the original legend.
Seeing the name appear again in a book which was published so soon after Mists of Avalon got me wondering again. And after double checking, I still can’t find anyone in the Arthurian myth with any name resembling Kevin. I even shifted gears and searched to see if there was any Kevin in Irish Mythology who had been transplanted to Britain. The best I could come up with was St. Kevin of Glendalough who, as far as I can tell, never travelled to Britain (unlike St. Patrick) and was very much a Christian unlike the Kevins in Bradley and Woolley’s books, who are both pagans. So, that seems unlikely.
I’m thinking I may learn more about this character as I read either Mary Stewart’s Merlin Trilogy or Rosemary Sutcliff’s Sword at Sunset. My best guess is that the character was introduced in one of the modern retellings that are so often hailed as greats or inspiration by authors writing from Mists of Avalon and onwards. If not, then it will simply remain a mystery—like who first wrote Morgan Le Fay as Mordred’s mother instead of Morgause. One that I look forward to answering as I read and expand my Master List.