“Legends of Valor” by Time-Life Books (The Enchanted World 05)

"Legends of Valor" by Time-Life Books (The Enchanted World 05)

"Written by Brendan Lehane, Legends of Valor centers primarily on Cúchulainn and the world of the Ulster Cycle, and later on King Arthur and the Matter of Britain. Other heroes briefly mentioned are Perseus, Sigurd, and Roland from Greek myth, Volsunga saga, and the Matter of France/Song of Roland, respectively.

In detailing the life of Cuchulain, Lehane writes that in the early world, tribes needed champions to protect them and lead them in battle. The king could not risk his life, so in his place a hero fought and were the jewels in a king's crown. It emphasizes that heroes were often born to gods and mortal Queens—it was not given to peasants to sire or spawn heroes. Such men were warriors and were expected to be fierce and savage. Their lives were short, bound to vows of vengeance and the "cruel demands of honor". The life of Irish hero Cuchulain is retold, and with it, how while there were other men of the Red Branch, he proved himself the greatest champion of Conchobar mac Nessa, King of Ulster. Cuchulain, the son of Lugh fought bravely for his king and became a warrior without peer, although he was killed by Maeve who tricked him into breaking his various vows or geis. After Cuculain's death, Ireland was plunged into chaos, though later, as the Fenian cycle told, order was restored. Leading men milder and more civilized, but just as valiant, High King Cormac Mac Art and his Fianna protected Ireland from invasion. Even there conflicting vows could spell doom as when Grianne betrayed her husband the king by sleeping with his champion Diarmuid.

The rest of the story centers on the "Brotherhood of the Round Table". Heroes still lived but they were different from their forebears, most notably in the moralizing effects of chivalry. A knight was expected to be kind to women, to show mercy to defeated foes, and to refuse no plea for help. Horses also gave men greater mobility. Under the salvific influence of Christianity, Arthur and his men were the finest heroes in all Christendom and beyond. Despite the Christian kingdom of Camelot being at peace, such men were needed as giants, dragons, and witches made Britain a place of wonder and danger. Some magical beings, such as the Lady of the Lake, proved friends. However, those who would harm the innocent were kept at bay due to Arthur's Knights, chief among them Lancelot, the Lady's son. Lancelot's love for Guinevere, Arthur's Queen, would bring down Camelot which was already grievously exhausted by the Grail Quest. In searching for the Holy Grail, the Knights of the Round Table did prove themselves the very best heroes of all times but the loss of so many good men in the quest crippled Camelot and left it vulnerable to decay from within. Arthur's bastard son Mordred, in the end, destroyed the perfect world his father tried to create, though it is promised that one day, Arthur will return."