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Hawk of May

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Wikipedia article

'Hawk of May' is the first installment in Gillian Bradshaws 'Down The Long Wind' trilogy. Published initially in 1980 by Simon and Schuster, 'Hawk of May' centers around Gwalchmai ap Lot and his adventures during the time of Arthur.

Plot summary

'Hawk of May' is a bildungsroman centered around Gwalchmai ap Lot (Gawain in other literature). Gwalchmai is the middle child of Morgawse and Lot. He lives with his family in the northern Orcade isles located north of modern day Scotland. Gwalchmai struggles to learn the arts of war his brother, Agravain, so easily masters. During his training, a great war is going on to the south in Britain. The Saxons are encroaching upon British soil and the other kings are disorganized by blood feuds and the recent death of Uther Pendragon. In the midst of war there is one man, Arthur, who seems to be winning against both the unruly British kings and the Saxons. While his father, Lot, and Agravain go to war, Gwalchmai is frustrated by his failures and turns to his mother, Morgawse, to teach him to read and write as well as the secrets of dark magic. Where Gwalchmai struggled with war skills, he learned swiftly in the arts his mother taught him and quickly became enthralled by the darkness. He maintains his relationship with the dark until the eve of Samhain where he discovers his youngest brother, Medraut (Mordred ), has also committed to the darkness. Horrified by this revelation, Gwalchmai interrupts Morgawses ritual and flees the promised wrath of Morgawse and Medraut.

After his escape, Gwalchmai begs the help of an ancient kin and deity called Lugh of the Long Hand. He is then transported to the Isle of the Blessed, a mystical land of unknown origin that keeps its inhabitants forever young. Here, Gwalchmai converts to the Light, obtains his sword Caledvwlch, and is then transported to an unknown area in the greater isle of Britain.

During his stay in the Isle of the Blessed, Gwalchmai has aged three years. He is initially captured by the Saxons who believe him to be a British thrall, or servant. Under this cover, Gwalchmai is eventually able to escape the Saxons on the back of a powerful horse from the Isle of the Blessed named Ceincaled. He and Ceincaled flee towards Arthurs domain where they split up and Gwalchmai earns a ride to Camlann with a farmer after helping fix his cart. On their way, however, Gwalchmai is met by some knights - namely Cei, Bedwyr and Agravain. The latter doesnt initially recognize his younger brother until Gwalchmai addresses him by name. After the brothers reunite they go together to Camlann where Gwalchmai finally meets Arthur. Arthur, however, does not accept him. Instead, Gwalchmai is forced to try and try to gain Arthurs trust. He goes with the Family on many battles, helping even to win in some grievous affairs, but Arthur refuses to acknowledge him. Its not until the final chapter where Gwalchmai finally proves himself at par with Arthurs standards and is finally accepted into the Family.


* The hero of this story, Gwalchmai is initially the runt of the litter. He lacks skill in all arts of combat and prefers solitude in his sanctuary, Llyn Gwalch, or horseback riding. Hes insecure and desperately tries to please all branches of his family. After coming to a revelation that he is not a warrior, Gwalchmai becomes embittered and believes he can never turn away after becoming a participant in darkness. His narrations become dark and foreboding up to the point he escapes the darkness. After encountering Lugh and the Land of the Blessed, Gwalchmai finds himself grown three years. Hes more mature now. Loyalty and persistence replace bitterness and anger; Gwalchmai finally finds a place with Agravain and Arthurs Family as a tagalong soldier, and eventually one of Arthurs knights.

* Agravain starts out as a typical bully character who looks down on Gwalchmai for his inability to perform as the other boys do on the practice field. Agravain is a young man eager for battle and impatient towards his brother. Like many other characters, however, Agravain grows and matures and becomes a loyal brother who is willing to stick up for Gwalchmai even when most of the Family are suspicious of him.

* Lot is the father of Gwalchmai and Agravain (and supposedly Medraut) who takes adopts the warrior role when it comes to the militaristic pair of himself and Morgawse. He is known as a great war leader but less as a tactician. He lives for and glorifies battle.

* Morgawse is described as frighteningly beautiful and terrifying when angered. A vengeful sorceress of black magic, Morgawse doesnt seem to have any love for her husband or her children - though she feigns it in order to gain Gwalchmais trust. Manipulative and calculating, Morgawse is the brain behind Lots brawn, but is several times fiercer than Lot in her own way. Dubbed the Queen of Air and Darkness, Morgawse is the cold embodiment of darkness and evil. She ultimately vows her hatred to Arthur above all else.

* Medraut is the younger brother of Gwalchmai. Curious beyond everything else, Medraut looks up to Gwalchmai in the first chapters of Hawk of May and becomes ceaselessly curious when Gwalchmai begins to learn under Morgawse. Medraut eventually becomes a part of Morgawses schemes and is enthralled in darkness to the point that Gwalchmai fears he will never be able to escape it.

* Arthur is known as the bastard son of Uther Pendragon and one of the many warlords who seek Uthers throne. He fights against the Saxons as they encroach upon British lands and is known for his skilled cavalry and prowess in battle. Arthur is constantly angry and suspicious at Gwalchmai throughout the novel, even though he holds up to the rumors of many who say he is a just and fair leader. Other than his unexplained anger towards Gwalchmai, Arthur is indeed honorable and he does his best to take care of his people and his Family.

* Cei is the impatient brother of Arthur and a knight. Like many of his peers, Cei initially distrusts Gwalchmai because he assumes he is using magic. Ceis and Gwalchmais relationship is tense throughout the entire book until Cei is finally convinced Gwalchmai is an honest comrade. Only then does their relationship reach less treacherous grounds. Although brash, Cei is a knight completely loyal to Arthurs Family and he will not let anything endanger it.

* Bedwyr serves as a foil to Cei. He is patient and bookish, preferring wisdom over strength. He is one of the few knights to initially listen to and trust Gwalchmai.

* Lugh of the Longhand is described as a non-deity immortal who lives on the Land of the Blessed. He is the embodiment of light and good in the story and hence appears as the enemy to Morgawse.

* Ceincaled is Gwalchmais powerful steed from Land of the Blessed. A giant of a horse with a pure white coat, Ceincaled was initially a violent and unyielding horse captured by the Saxons, refusing to let anyone ride him save for Gwalchmai. Gwalchmai confesses that, even though he is Ceincaleds rider, Ceincaled is a creature of the Land of the Blessed, and will never be tamed as earthly horses are (Bradshaw, 140.)

* Caledvwlch is the sword Gwalchmai takes with him from the Isle of the Blessed. A powerful sword of surreal origins, the blade can only be held by Gwalchmai and, remarkably, Arthur. Caledfwlch, Caledvwlch being a variation, is the Welsh name for Excalibur.

* Taliesin is the Merlin character of Bradshaws trilogy. Hes a mysterious bard with an other worldly aura and sense of wisdom thats explained in his riddles and music. Not much is known of Taliesin beyond rumors, but Gwalchmai believes he is from or at least has been to Land of the Blessed because of a song Gwalchmai heard him play both in Camlann and in Land of the Blessed.

Central Theme

The central theme of 'Hawk of May' is the idea of good versus evil. This is portrayed in the novel with the contrasting forces of the Light and the Darkness. Magic plays an important role in this as well, because there is good magic (such as the sword Caledvwlch) as well as evil magic (the magic which Morgawse uses). Even though Gwalchmai is tempted by the Darkness, once he meets the deity-like figure Lugh, he promises to work instead for good. This draws in the older tales where it is said that Gwalchmai gains his power from the Sun which leads him to be his strongest in the middle of the day with his power waning at night. Contrasting with Gwalchmai and the Light is his brother, Medraut, who studies dark magic with Morgawse. While Gwalchmai is turning into one of Arthurs greatest warriors and a large contributor to the success of his warband, Medraut will eventually lead to Arthurs downfall. In this respect, Gwalchmai and Medraut act as both foils and physical manifestations of the theme of the novel.


Category:1981 novels

Category:American fantasy novels

Category:Modern Arthurian fiction

Category:Novels set in sub-Roman Britain

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