When you are talking about Sir Mordred, the first thing that comes to mind is the Brittany Matter. For those unfamiliar with this term, it indicates the collections of legends, myths and tales born in the lands of Albion and Brittany, which have as main characters King Arthur and Knights of the Round Table.
You will wonder why, at this moment, I want to deepen the figure of Sir Mordred instead of that of King Arthur, considered by many to be much more edifying.
The truth is quickly told: I found myself listening to an old Blind Guardian song after a long time.
You remember Mordred's Song?
Here. After listening to the song, I decided to put my hand to some lyrics on the figure of Sir Mordred to better understand the character and one thing immediately jumped to my eye: this knight was, in effect, obliged to be the bad. A villain at any cost.
But let's go in order and let's start from the moment when Sir Mordred was just a "poor" knight.
Origins of the character of Sir Mordred
Born under the Sun, the unborn child will seek the foundation of honor and will be strengthened by its righteousness.
Before being the villain of the stories related to the Arthurian myth, Mordred was a hero.
His character, following the continuous modifications and the numerous upheavals that these myths have had over the centuries, has undergone profound changes. In fact, in the beginning, Sir Mordred was not the fruit of the incestuous love between King Arthur and his sister Morgause, but the son of the same sister with King Lot of the Orkney Islands.
Arriving at the king's court, he was entrusted with the task of managing the kingdom of Arthur, while he was away from the throne and engaged in the military campaign against the Roman emperor Lucius Tiberius. It was during the regency that, as reported in the Historia Regum Britanniae di Embossed Monmouth, Mordred became the villain that history remembers.
The legend transcribed in this chronicle tells how, following Arthur's departure, Sir Mordred first imprisoned and then married Queen Geneva. Finally, he came to usurp the throne of his king who, as you can imagine, did not take it well. The clash between the two culminated in the Battle of Camlann, where they both found death.
It is interesting to consider this battle. The first written testimonies in which this clash is mentioned are the Annales Cambriae. It is a text written around 970 in which the names of Merlin, Arthur and Mordred himself are reported. In this chronicle, however, we find the names of Arthur and Mordred among the valiant knights who fell in battle. Therefore, it is not specified in any way that they were opposed to each other during the clash. Certainly one cannot ignore the low reliability of the text itself, as it has undergone various changes over the years, including the addition of names and events that occurred about five centuries earlier. Nonetheless, we want to believe that these characters actually existed.
But why did Sir Mordred become the bad guy?
Born under the moon, the unborn child will come across temptation and seek power in the dark places of the heart.
As often happens when a story passes from hand to hand over the centuries, the events can be changed substantially. Each new author has added something of their own to the story. Narrative needs change, characters are mythologized and others are forcibly made negative.
Sir Mordred, like a new Oedipus or Brutus, wishes his father's death. In him Sir Thomas Mallory decided to concentrate all the worst feelings and the most vile actions, at least according to the way of thinking and living of the time. Mallory's work consisted in the collection, reconstruction and reworking of all the texts (British and French) on the life of King Arthur and the knights of the Round Table. This effort culminated in the publication of The death of Arthur, fundamental text from which everyone subsequently drew inspiration to talk about the character.
Consumed by feelings of envy and hatred, he blames himself for the murderer of some knights of the king's court: Sir Lamorak is killed for a family feud and Sir Dinadan because, during a joust, he had the audacity to unseat Mordred.
After these atrocities, the knight becomes a traitor to his friends and to his homeland, making public the love affair between Geneva and Lancelot and thus forcing the King to exile his champion. The story also leads to the outbreak of a civil war. During the clashes between Arthur and Lancelot in the land of Brittany, Sir Mordred ascends the throne as regent and attempts to marry Guinevere, but she escapes him and takes refuge in the Tower of London. Following Arthur's return to his homeland, the two collide and die at each other's hand.
The fundamental point of all this speech is that, basically, Sir Mordred can only be bad. From birth, he is called to oppose the constructive strength of his father / uncle Arthur.
In him the possibility of resorting to free will is completely lacking.
His actions are predetermined and he can do nothing to oppose them. Even in the last act of its history, the Battle of Camlann, he is aware of his defeat well before the start of the fight. He has never had any choice but to be the bad guy and I, personally, can't really consider him guilty of his own actions. On the other hand, Fate does not seem to have granted him any possibility of redemption.
A "Sir Morderd" as an antagonist in your stories?
Why should you use a "Sir Mordred" in your stories?
If you have got to read the article on Mechanical Caponata, you will no doubt have noticed how, even this character, can represent a sort of specific and interesting enemy for certain campaigns.
The article refers to the figure of Richard III, hunchbacked and deformed, but gifted with an extraordinary acumen. Sir Mordred is a strong, shrewd knight, skilled in weaving dark plots and betrayals, sometimes even a master of magic. Yet, right away, his character as a figure should be shown damned by fate, as we said earlier. If I had to use an English term to define it, I'd use the word "doomed".
This being destined for failure gives him a kind of aura of sadness and bitterness that cloaks his every action. What he does too often goes against his true morality but, being moved by Destiny, he is obliged to be a slave to it.
The real enemy of a campaign against the “Mordred” on duty should, therefore, be the immanence of Fate, dark and evil, which opposes the characters. To act as an intermediary between them is the fate there is, precisely, the knight. As you outline the psychology of the character you should, therefore, always keep in mind the dualism of "I would like to do differently but I can't" and "I could do differently but I don't know if I want to".
This will give your antagonist a multifaceted and interesting personality that you can exploit during the campaign: initially, he could be an ally of the characters and then, in the end, be forced to betray them because of the plots established by Fate.
Sir Mordred's character has always had a strong hold in the collective imagination.
An example above all is the Divine Poet, fascinated by this figure to the point of relegating him to Cocytus as a model of a traitor to the homeland.
[...] not those whose chest and shadow were brokenHell, Canto XXXII. Dante Alighieri
with it a blow to the man d'Artù [...]
The presence of the knight in the Divine Comedy focuses on how this character was already known in XNUMXth century Italy.
But it was not only Dante who was impressed. Also Alfred Tennyson, in his poem Idylls of the king, gave space to the figure of this knight in two of the twelve poems of which he composed the book.
It even appears in the de book series The Black Tower Stephen King but, in this regard, the word to my colleague who will speak to you in a few weeks.
On a personal level, I have always preferred his figure to that of Lancelot because he shows, in all respects, what the knights really were: people in armor who sacked and killed. Besides Mordred, only three other riders were able to stay in my heart: Galahad, Parsifal e Borsch.
But that's another story.