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May 4, 2023

Top Ten Fantasy Royals - Coronation Special

Top Ten Fantasy Royals - Coronation Special
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As King Charles III is crowned in the first coronation in most people's living memory, we take this opportunity to look at our top 10 fantasy royals. We trawl the world for the best examples - and even venture into outer space. Do you agree with our list? And what bone do we have to pick with Stephen Colbert? :) Have a listen and let us know if we've missed your favourite fantasy royal.

[Music] Hello everybody and welcome to Mythmakers. Mythmakers is the podcast for fantasy fans and fantasy creatives brought to you by the Oxford Centre for Fantasy. Now there's something big happening this weekend which is the coronation of King Charles III. Only last year were we celebrating the longest reigning British monarch when Queen Elizabeth reached her platinum jubilee. But as obviously the whole year has brought a raft of changes and Prince Charles is now King Charles and is going to go through the ancient ceremony of coronation. Now when you actually look around the world there's quite a lot of wonder that we've still got royal families. I noticed that Stephen Colbert, even though he loves the Lord of the Rings, doesn't like royal families which seems a bit strange seeing the last book is called Return of the King, Stephen. Anyway, I thought we would have a fun time looking at the top 10 fantasy royals out there. For whatever you think of your politics, you can put them aside because in a fantasy world, we can enjoy a good monarch. So I'm going to go in reverse order. I think I should start with the caveat that I'm not going to include fairy stories as we would be awash in Prince Charming's and Wicked Queens. So I'm going to stick to those perennials who are outside fairyland. So going in reverse order at number 10. Well, coming in at number 10 for me is the king who rocked our world most recently and changed perceptions in Hollywood as to who should star in a fantasy film. Who am I talking about? Charla, or of course, the Black Panther. The character had existed in the Marvel Comics series since 1966 and was dreamt up by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, but didn't really hit worldwide fame until the 2018 film starring the much missed Chadwick Boseman. I admit I wasn't a huge fan of the plot when I saw it because I sort of twigged that this was really a little bit too close to Lion King and Hamlet in structure, but I suppose the real pleasure and originality in that film rested in other aspects. I love the evocation of an independent African kingdom, Wakanda, with some serious kick-ass women and an amazing design. Bozeman himself was gentle and brave, great qualities for a king. And I also have a soft spot for Shuri, played by Letitia Wright, his genius younger sister. So I'm allowing her on this list as a princess of Wakanda. However, most of all, I and the millions who went to see it, we adored the fact that finally a film dominated by an excellent black cast had blasted its way to be crowned top of the box office and has changed our society as a result, leading to of course a second film. So that's the power of fantasy right there, allowing us to imagine the world in new ways. So what about at number nine slot? Well, Royalty can also be found in outer space. At number nine on the list is Duke Leto Atreides. I did have a debate with my husband if a duke was allowed in, but we decided that it's the equivalent of a royal title as clearly he rules planets as well as his house and it's a hereditary system. So after all, the British royal princes are also dukes, so there is a precedent for royal duchies. He appeared first in Frank Herbert's Dune series and also on screen adaptations of the same story. Oscar Isaac is the most recent actor to take that role in 2021. And in this film, he is portrayed as a caring family man who tries to be a good and just leader and ultimately sacrifices all to protect those he loves. So of course, I think there is a sense of it's not exactly a democratic society, is it? So he has his flaws. He's also a tragic figure in the mold of the ancient Greek heroes as is signaled by his name and the iconography of his house. He is a sort of modern King Priam, father and king of Troy. So we will let him stand in for all the heroes of the Greek tradition that could also otherwise have been on the list. Who is my number eight? So, so far we've done a couple of kings or king substitutes. Moving back to the more familiar role title of princess, I'm staying in space. My first most remarkable cinema experience, I think, was seeing Star Wars in 1977. It's now called Star Wars Part 4, A New Hope. It might be hard for those of you who are born in a digital age to imagine the experience of seeing these massive starships sailing overhead onto the screen. Don't tell me that they were little models with clever lighting. I don't want to know. For me, they were the first time that I've seen live action manage to sort of translate itself completely onto the silver screen. And I really felt as though it could have been filmed in outer space. And it was very real for me for the duration of the film and afterwards. The storytelling was excellent in so many ways with good use of humor to undercut it getting too self-important. And so at my number eight is the Princess Leia. From the original posters, you would have thought that she was the sexy damsel in the tower to be saved by the brave Prince Skywalker. Oh yeah, but what does she do when she first meets her rescuers? She tells them they're too short and complains about the lack of planning in their rescue. So from the outset, she is a political mover and shaker. She's really the one who's plugged into what's going on in that trio. She knows the politics that Luke doesn't understand and that Han Solo despises. She is a serious adult leader and not a pretty piece of arm candy. Though I think there was a serious dip in the series when she was used just like that and set up like a sex slave for Jabba the Hutt in the third film. Okay, teenage boys might've enjoyed the fantasy, but for us teen girls, it was a total letdown. At least she gets to strangle that particular bad guy and goes back to her white robe. So a good note here for a RIP to Carrie Fisher. She, you were a trailblazer, Carrie, well done. So at number seven, turning from princesses, I'm going to go to a prince. Please allow room on this list for the baddest bad guy of them all. No, that's not Voldemort or Sauron, but Lucifer, the Prince of Darkness. And I'm talking here about his fictional appearances as opposed to how he appears in world religions. You could argue that he appears first in Marlow's Faust, which is 1604. There he is the tempter Mephistopheles, that's a bit hard to say, rather than the scene stealing main character. So, I'm going to look at something where he is the main character. The most famous incarnation of this idea is Milton Satan from back in 1667. Here's the archetype there of the brooding anti-hero. And here's a little bit of Milton to brighten up your day. "Satan says, 'Which way I fly is hell. Myself am hell, and in the lowest deep, a lower deep. Still threatening to devour me opens wide, to which the hell I suffer seems a heaven.'" the antiheroes of Marvel and DC, even a hero like Batman, have taken a page out of this book, Milton's book. His infernal energy threatens to destabilise the conventional religious messages of paradise lost, tempting us to root for the bad guy just a little. And that's why William Blake, the 19th century poet, said, "The reason Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of angels and God, and at liberty when of devils and hell, is because he was a true poet and of the devil's party without knowing it. So what's happened since the time of Blake? Others have borrowed this energy for their own fallen angels. He glimmers in Frankenstein's creature, the gentleman vampires of Bram Stoker and successors such as Darth Vader as Anakin Skywalker. They all owe much to that fallen angel story art. Most recently, and enjoyably, he's appeared in more comedic takes, such as the concept dreamt up by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett in Good Omens, and the TV series Lucifer, which ran from 2016 to 2021, starring Tom Ellis, which is based on the DC comic character. That's the one I really enjoyed. I particularly enjoyed the musical episode because Tom Ellis is a great singer as well. So I loved it when it almost became a musical. There you are. That's an idea. Lucifer the musical. Someone must have done that, surely. Who is my number six? Well, number six, I'm going to take a royal from another tradition, that of Japan. It has one of the world's oldest systems of monarchy, so it's not surprising to find princes and princesses cropping up in Japanese culture. I've picked an unconventional royal for this one, Princess Mononoke, which is a film from the animation powerhouse Studio Ghibli and was made in 1997. San is not a conventional lady. She was raised by wolves and represents the forest fighting back. She is a warrior and forced to be reckoned with. Her journey is that of a hater of mankind finding love for one amongst them. That's the prince Ashistaka. They eventually fight together to break a curse and bring healing to their communities. She's even less conventional than Mulan, having more in spirit to do with Mowgli. I mean Mowgli from the original Jungle Book version, not the Disney one. Because Mowgli was able to unleash the forces of the wild. So it's well to remember that not all fantasy royals live in castles. And how about number five? Well, it would not be fair to let this list be dominated by film versions of royals. So I thought I would bring in a Dutch classic by Paul Beigel, The King of the Copper Mountain, written or published in 1964. It's a lovely children's storybook, which takes the form of connected tales told by different animal characters who are trying to keep the eponymous king alive while his doctor goes in search of a cure for his heart condition. Why is it worthy of a place on this list? Well, the king here offers a different kind of leadership. He's loving, patient, welcoming to creatures as diverse as bees and dragon. It's also good to see a character of age so positively represented. It really is extremely charming and highly recommended if you're looking for a non-militaristic king to share with your children. It reminds me also of the little gem of an animation, The King's Beard, which my kids used to love. Written, well it was made into, I don't know if it was made, it came out in 2002. It's written by Tony Collingwood, where as the title suggests, the monarch's facial hair is a problem for the quester to solve. It's unconventional and fun, really offbeat. It had my children singing the title song for years. Let's remember that not all fantasy kings and queens have to be sword fighting heroes. There are other kinds of courage and bravery. Number four. Well, we are remaining in unconventional territory for our fourth pick. The Princess Bride. S. Morgan Stern's or William Goldman's 1973 novel, as well as the 1987 film, adapted by William Goldman. I suspect many of us can quote lines from this cult film, but what about the princess herself? Buttercup is the heart of the story and not at all royal. She's only a princess bride because Prince Humperdink wants to marry her, and she only agrees because she believes her true love is dead. In some ways, she is, I suppose, that kind of princess. She's beautiful, she needs a lot of saving, but that is the point. The story takes the archetypes and then makes them so ridiculous that you have fun with them, spoofing the thing which the story loves, which is a fairy tale romance. Of course, the story itself is a story within a story. The reading of it is hilarious as the commentator realises he had remembered only the good parts and left out all the commentary and politics. I really do recommend going away and reading the book, by the way. It's a whole new experience. So Buttercup - and here comes a plot spoiler, doesn't actually become a royal. She rides off into the sunset with Wesley, and there's a "we hope" so even here the happy ending is a bit undercut, but she is a wonderful fantasy, almost princess. Now we arrive at our top three. This list would be instantly rejected if it did not find a place for King Arthur, that most enduring of fantasy kings. From the early medieval versions of this mythic king via Mallory, the Victorians such as Tennyson, to T.H. White's once and future king, and even the bromance version of the BBC's Merlin. Arthur keeps coming back. If you want a discussion of the Arthur legend, we've done a previous Mythmakers on this, so do look it up. It was on May 30th in Season 2. So, do you have a favourite Arthur? Arthur himself is usually the royal hub around which the other stories revolve, but I did enjoy his appearance in the BBC's Merlin because you saw a growing friendship between what was conceived as a young Merlin and it's full of banter and adventure. There's also the young Arthur who's known at that time as Wart in the T.H. White story. It's another way of approaching Arthur which makes him very relatable, taking his training from an eccentric wizard who is growing backwards, like Benjamin Button. That's a wonderful concept in the T.H. White story, that Merlin lives his life backwards. This is no schoolroom experience for Wart, Arthur, because he's being transformed into birds and fish to understand the world around him. He represents an ideal of chivalry in a time that never really existed, but is alive and well in fantasy lands. So fantasy monarchs would not be the same without him. So we're now down to the last two places. I had a debate with myself about first and second place and decided to rank them in the end by what I thought was the epitome of kingship once upon a time and what I now think might be best. As a child, I loved the idea of going through a wardrobe into a world where, of course, I would be a king or a queen. Enter Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy Pevensey. Once a king or queen of Narnia, always a king or queen of Narnia. They are given their titles by the son of the Emperor over the Seas, Aslan. So he is the supreme king in C.S. Lewis's world. And what a king he is. A mane and fur to stroke, a roar that echoes across the land, a breath that can undo spells. To be with him is like playing with a thunderstorm or playing with a kitten. Lucy could never decide. Now, I might wonder why one of the very competent beasts couldn't have actually sat on the thrones at Caer Paravel these days. But when I was reading fantasy as an eight year old who would play dressing up as prince and princesses, it felt exactly right. I imagine this is the kind of thing Lewis was reflecting on, including the idea that we are privileged as sons of Adam and daughters of Eve, made in God's image. But still, it's a powerful make-believe and one that's very hard to beat, especially for children. And like any good fantasy, it includes its own end. You come back through the wardrobe from your time as a king or queen and you resume ordinary life. But you try and keep your Narnian experience alive in your heart so that you act with the values you learned there. And that is is like in a capsule, what it's like to do imaginative play as a child. You go through the wardrobe. You can be whatever you like, whoever you like, but you come back home, hopefully, better for that experience. Now, I suppose we need a drumroll here, don't we? Who gets the number one slot? Well, there's no surprises at the Oxford Centre for Fantasy, which is dedicated to Tolkien, that we should pick one of his kings and queens. He's really not blinkered about corruption amongst his kings and queens. I mean, after all, the ring race were once lords and kings. If you read The Unfinished Tales, for example, the Kings of Numenor, there's quite a long piece about some less than perfect kings, shall we say. He does give us one near perfect king, and that's Aragorn. I think he is the renaissance ideal of a monarch. He's learned, cultured, able to fight, he's fair and just. I think though that he makes this spot for me because he also has a sense of humor and doesn't grow too big for his boots. He names his house Telconta, that's the equivalent of the house of Windsor, the house of Telconta, which means strider in Quenya, the name by which he was known somewhat slightingly in the North. qualities were very well brought out by Viggo Mortensen in his portrayal of this hero king in Peter Jackson's trilogy. And I'm sure many of us will know that Viggo made up his own tunes and sang them to Tolkien's words in honour of that character, something those who have the extended edition will well remember. But I think perhaps above all, Aragorn shows his qualities of friendship or fellowship and this lays outside the films, you have to read the books for this. In the appendices we read that it is Mary and Pippin who lie beside him on his deathbed on little beds of their own. So he remembered the little folk even to the end of his glorious days. Maybe that is the ultimate fantasy that there would be such a perfect leader. Knowing real life characters are more likely to be flawed. I think we should probably stick with democracy and constitutional monarchies like King Charles III, rather than hope to find Aragorns to rule us all. I've probably missed off your favourite king or queen, so do let me know in your comments who I should have included. But for now, thank you very much for listening. Thanks for listening to Myth Makers Podcast, brought to you by the Oxford Centre for Fantasy. Visit to join in the fun. Find out about our online courses, in-person stays in Oxford, plus visit our shop for great gifts. Tell a friend and subscribe, wherever you find your favourite podcasts worldwide. (upbeat music) (upbeat music) [BLANK_AUDIO]