Prince Valiant

Posted on September 30, 2019


Prince Valiant, as many of you know, is a character in the comics of the same name, Prince Valiant, which appears every Sunday in my local newspaper, The Tuscaloosa News, and I’m sure many hundreds across the nation. Prince Valiant’s life is a study in surviving a never-ending series of catastrophes that occur with astounding regularity, each a death-dealing moment brought on by evil people, natural catastrophes, and life in the fast-lane for one of the most popular comics of the past century.

I turn to the Prince after reading Snoopy, Blondie, and Hagar the Horrible, all on the first page of my funnies. Then to the Prince on the back page to see how he is coping with the latest evil trying to confound and destroy him, which will never happen since he is a noble, heroic knight of old who triumphs over all catastrophes and evil. He is one of the Knights of King Arthur’s Round Table, and we all know that those Christian warriors always triumphed over evil.

In fact, in everything I have ever read about good mystery novels, the heroes and heroes are always being swept up into some situation one step away from death, doom, and disaster, the three D’s I suppose of all good plots that will keep the reader flying through your novel. You can read my new one, The Andean Cross, available now at your favorite online book dealer, like I promise it will keep you hopping, like Prince Valiant on one of his quests driving it along.

The creator of Prince Valiant in 1937, Hal Foster, just transferred the formula to the comics and the Prince is approaching his ninetieth birthday, still fighting and slaying villains of all stripes. He’s now married to the lovely Queen Aleta, has grown children who share his adventures, but he never seems to age although he did begin life as a five-year-old.

The action takes place roughly sometime between the fourth and sixth centuries A.D. when the Roman Empire was crumbling and a king like Arthur was trying to maintain some sense of order and civilization within their kingdoms and preserve Christianity as he and his immediate predecessors had learned it from the Romans. These early Britons were Celts, and invaders, like Angles and Saxons, and later Vikings, were mostly pagans.

With this as background, Prince Valiant rides onto the stage as a knight in shining armor and takes on evil. It comes at him with almost stopwatch predictability. Just when he slays a witch or some other Satanic monster, and heads back home to Aleta and the children, a storm runs his vessel aground on some unfriendly coast like Africa and he’s captured by a desert proto sheikh who throws Valiant into prison filled with deadly snakes. Tune in next week for how Valiant deals with this latest setback.

I love to read Prince Valiant, for he always comes out intact, if not occasionally cut and bruised in battles wielding his magical Singing Sword versus the uglies. The outcome is as predictable as Marshall Dillon dealing with the bad guys in Gunsmoke. You youngsters can look that up or watch a few reruns on television.

We like heroes. They even have flaws like all of us. Valiant’s hero Sir Launcelot has as thing for King Arthur’s Queen Guinevere and this leads to some complications involving not so much sex (although it is there) as honor and duty and propriety. Read the story of Joseph in the Book of Genesis (Chapters 37-50) to see how Joseph dealt with a somewhat similar problem, a beautiful woman throwing herself on him, expressing an unmistakable sexual desire to have him. I would have crumbled to such overtures as a teenager.

The question that invariably arises when reading about one of my favorite heroes is, of course, is there any truth to these fantastic tales? We can assume that most of them came out of the rich and colorful imagination of Hal Foster, but was there a King Arthur? He is one of the greatest heroes in English mythology or history, or occupies a bit of both, just like El Cid in the history of Spain.

When visiting Glastonbury Tor years ago while wandering about England myself, we were shown the “graves of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere.” I stowed this away in my mental file. “Visited where Arthur and Guinevere were buried. Is this true?”

True or not, fact or fiction, legends and myths have a way of telling us about ourselves, or, perhaps, even better, what we thought we could have been. Once we get past the past, then we can be immensely more sanguine about the present, and joyful about the future. We can swing whatever our Singing Sword is and allow the promises and gifts of Jesus, far sweeter and longer lasting than those of King Arthur, guide us along in our next quest, remembering of course there will be monsters and devils along the way.

Published as “Legends, myths tell us about ourselves,” in The Tuscaloosa News, Sunday Sept. 29, 2019

Posted in: Life in America