A writer writes: King Alfred and Soul Lost

My dedication page for Soul Lost will be longer than the book itself!  I must add my good friend, Michelle Webster, whose book, The Christmas of Miracles (available through amazon.com), just went live on Kindle.  Employing shameless flattery, she has insisted that I follow through with my first novel and see it published (She says I am a great writer, and I need to bite the bullet and get out there.  Don’t you love your impartial friends?).  I know that she is right (about the biting the bullet part, not the great writer part), but that first step is really hard.  (How many parentheticals can a person fit in one paragraph?)

On to Soul Lost and Alfred the Great…

Let’s start with, yes, Alfred was a real person, king of the Wessex kingdom in Britain from 871-899 CE, and yes, he had a wife from Mercia named Elswith.

King Alfred and Queen Elswith with daughter, Aethelflad, dispensing wisdom.

Soul Lost is a romantic, historical, time travel, fantasy novel in which Prince Alfred time travels from 9th century England to 21st century America to retrieve Isabel, his soul mate and the only one who can help him fulfill his destiny as Alfred the Great.  The inspiration for this book came from a single line in Asser’s, Life of King Alfred (893 CE):

  Then the aforesaid revered king, Alfred, but at that time occupying a subordinate station, asked and obtained in marriage a noble Mercian lady…

This is nearly all we know of King Alfred’s wife, except that they had many children, five of whom lived to adulthood, and after Alfred died she spent the rest of her life with nuns in an abbey.  This lack of information really fired my imagination.

What can we call “facts?” We know that Alfred was born in 849 CE to King Ethelwulf and Queen Osbera of Wessex, the youngest of four brothers.  We know that he was devoted to literacy and learning, and that at 5 years old he won a book that his mother offered to the son who learned to read and understand it first. We know that he traveled to Rome with his father the king after his mother died, and that Pope Benedict III anointed him as his spiritual son.   We also know that on the way home, Alfred’s father picked up a bride, 12-year old Judith, whose father was eager to extend his reach from France into Britain. Alfred’s brother, Ethelbald, ruled in his father’s absence and was none too happy to give the reins back to Ethelwulf and his new, pre-teen stepmother.  Father and son amassed armies, fought battles, and finally agreed to split the country in two.  It was kind of a waste really because when Ethelwulf died, Ethelbald got it all anyway.

We are also told the tantalizing tidbit that Alfred was unhappy about his fascination with things carnal–yes, I mean sex–so he spent lots of time with monks to avoid the temptations of nubile, willing young ladies.  Sounds to me like he was a fairly typical teenage boy until the Pope got hold of him.  All this information made it easy to use literary license and make the jump that Alfred was obnoxious and self-righteous, which necessitated the introduction of a wise, loving wife to turn him into the man of the people and beloved monarch of legend.  Don’t you just love it?  Attractive, intelligent, virile and sexually frustrated–can you ask for a better hero?

This Alfred–not sexy!

Statue at Alfred University–much better!

The question for me as writer was “Why should my readers care if Alfred found love?  What difference does it make if he became Alfred the Great or not?”  Actually, it makes a lot of difference.

Alfred’s reign falls during the time usually referred to as the Dark Ages, a time which was not entirely as bleak as history would have us believe, but pretty rough nonetheless.  Alfred is certainly a bright spot in the “darkness” for the following reasons:

  1. Alfred insisted on writing in English instead of Latin.  Thanks to him books were translated into English making them more accessible to those common people who actually could read.  It’s also fair to say that if William hadn’t found English well-established when he arrived, we would all be speaking the French of the Norman Conquest.
  2. He realized that the Danes were massacring them by attacking from the sea, and so he started what has become the most admired navy in the world.
  3. He began the process of uniting the various small kingdoms of Britannia into one powerful kingdom of England.  He was not the one who completed the task, but he did bring together Wessex, Mercia and Wales leading up to the complete unification that occurred under his son, Edward.
  4. Alfred commissioned the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle which is the best source of historical information we have about England between the Roman occupation and the Norman Conquest.  It not only gives historical accounts, but also includes some literary works and reveals much about the early development of the English language.  If you are thinking ‘So what?’ remember that this includes the time of the far more famous king, Arthur.  It also includes information on the Germanic peoples and others that England interacted with during this time.
  5. He established the first English public schools.
  6. He solidified Christianity in England and ruled based on Christian principles (the good ones–humility, kindness, respect, love, loyalty).  Whether or not you consider this a good thing, it is undeniable that it has had a huge impact on history.

Have I won you over?  Alfred was a great guy and a beloved, capable king.  I’m not the only one who admires him:

Alfred statue in Wincester, the seat of his government.

Statue of Alfred in his birthplace of Wantage, England.

Once I began to imagine how a woman with 21st century sensibilities would influence a 9th century husband it all came together.  So many of his ideas were ahead of their time that a time travel element didn’t seem so far-fetched.  I’ll let you know when I get it up and running on Kindle so you can have a look if you are interested.

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