The White Raven

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

THE WHITE RAVEN retells the legend of the ill-fated lovers Tristan and Isolde, here called by the Celtic names of Drustan and Esseilte, and of the king whom they betrayed, Marc’h of Kernow (Mark of Cornwall). Diana L. Paxson’s version of the story differs in that she introduces as narrator a fourth principal character, Branwen, the “White Raven,” who is the daughter of the Morholt, Champion of Eriu (Ireland), and a British woman whom he has captured, bedded, and cast off. At her mother’s death, Branwen is taken in by the Morholt’s sister, the Queen of Eriu, and reared with Princess Esseilte, to whom Branwen’s life is dedicated.

The traditional story involved an adulterous affair, resulting both in Drustan’s betrayal of his feudal master and in Esseilte’s betrayal of her lord. With the addition of the Morholt and Branwen to the story, the moral choices become more complex. Because Drustan has killed her beloved uncle, the Morholt, Esseilte is sworn to seek revenge on him, the man she loves; furthermore, Branwen must choose between aiding Esseilte, her friend and mistress, and serving King Marc’h, who unknowingly has taken her, rather than Esseilte, as his true wife and queen.

Like Marion Zimmer Bradley, to whom THE WHITE RAVEN is dedicated, Paxson makes a legend more significant by placing it in the context of history. Because her characters move in the world of religious and political intrigue, they are more than the troubled lovers of tradition; their personal choices determine the future of their peoples.