Take a Chance on Me, Pendragon Edition

This filk was composed as my third and final answer to the royal whim of their Majesties Wilhelm and Vienna of the East Kingdom, declaring the music of ABBA to be “period” during their reign. (The first two filks can be found here and here.) It was performed at Black Rose Ball, and immediately after the performance, Wilhelm gifted me with the King’s Cypher for putting serious work into creating “more fun” for the reign.

Take a Chance on Me, Pendragon Edition by Eric Schrager (aka Drake Oranwood)
(To the Tune of “Take a Chance on Me” by ABBA)

There’s a stone and anvil, had a sword inside
I just pulled it free
Take a chance on me
Britain needs a king, you know, cause it’s been a while
Since Uther sired me using Merlin’s guile

Though I’ve got the sword, many say I’m not the lord
For the chivalry
Take a chance on me
Gonna do my very best to unite the clans
If they put me to the test, well, I’ve got clean hands

Take a chance on me
(Hey, I get it, I’m really new at this!)
Take a chance on me

We can go questing, jousting and fighting, a brotherhood together
Maidens need rescue, wrongs will need righting, we can make it better
Look at all these knights!
There’s an order I’m gonna found, see your name on the Table Round?
It’s magic!
As my prophet Merlin sings, we’ll defeat all the petty kings
Till the day is won
I’m Pendragon’s son!

When we march on Rome, I’ll be first in line
Till our island’s free
Take a chance on me
Oh, should we pay tribute now, when they come around?
Lucius doesn’t know me yet, but I want his crown

If his subjects hide when the Emperor’s legions ride
Into Lombardy
Take a chance on me
Did they send a giant to St. Michael’s Mount?
I will take my sword to him, and I’ll make it count

Take a chance on me
(Lucius, you got some ’splainin’ to do!)
Take a chance on me

Now notice that knight’s on his own, but I don’t see him quake as the Romans surround him
Did you catch his name? That’s Launcelot du Lake, and he crushes all around him
Watch us own the field!
Sir Gawain, now that’s my guy! He’s as strong as the sun is high!
It’s magic!
There’s the Emperor, lying dead! Well, he faced me, but lost his head!
It was in the stars
Now the Empire’s ours!

So to one and all, take up arms and heed my call
To the chivalry
Take a chance on me
Will you serve me? Let me know, you know where I’m found
At my side is Gwynevere, never lets me down

Wanna be a knight? Prove your strength and serve the right
Camelot is free
Take a chance on me
Maybe Merlin said to me that someday I’ll fall,
But what help is prophecy, in the feasting hall?
(Take a chance, take a chance, take a chance on me)

Ba ba ba ba baa, ba ba ba ba baa
All of chivalry
Take a chance on me
Will you do your very best, so the world can see?
Gonna put you to the test, take a chance on me
(Take a chance, take a chance, take a chance on me)

Ba ba ba ba baa, ba ba ba ba baa ba-ba
All of chivalry
Take a chance on me
Will you do your very best, so the world can see?
Gonna put you to the test, take a chance on me


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Notes

After rapidly throwing together “Eastern Queen” during dayboard at Bjorn’s Ceilidh, I realized just how much fun it could be creating and sharing a filk with the blessing of royalty. The same day, I had the inspiration for “Carpe Diem”. The problem with being the first bard to answer this royal whim (and realizing I wanted to do more while the opportunity lasted), of course, was the inclination to go bigger next time. I took a little more time and care with “Carpe Diem” to create a filk that hopefully would honor the experience of those who are called to service, and was quite pleased with the results. But that also suggested to me that I would want to compose one more filk (in case I should need it at K&Q Bardic) which would of course have to be bigger still.

When I contemplated an ABBA filk I could perform in competition, “The Winner Takes It All” immediately sprang to mind, and I immediately discarded it, since it wasn’t appropriate coming from a competitor. (Good choice: it ended up being filked twice this reign, and performed at Crown Tourney, and by the outgoing King’s Bard, Juliana Byrd, at K&Q Bardic Credit.) My next thought was “Take a Chance on Me”, which seemed delightful as a competitor’s piece, but also risky bordering on arrogant, if I actually wrote a song inviting one of the royals to choose me as champion. But the song was a wonderful choice–I just needed to tell a different story with it. And that was when it hit me: We had an unbelt (a fighter who had never been knighted) as Crown Prince. King Arthur, and the Sword in the Stone, would be a delightful story to tell with that song, with that metacontext.

I must give credit where it is due: My wife, Jessa, has indispensible instincts. She had been the one who first noticed the royal whim page, and suggested that I needed to rework “Dancing Queen” to begin with. When I suggested doing an Arthur origin story with “Take a Chance on Me”, she pointed out that for K&Q Bardic, I could do better than just use warmed-over retellings of the story, such as Disney’s The Sword in the Stone, as my source material. If I wanted to tell a period story, I should actually do some research and work from a period source.

So I finally read the primary source for nearly every telling of the King Arthur cycle that came after it: Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, specifically the 1962 modern-English translation by Keith Baines. While I was really only interested in the early chapters for the purposes of this filk, I ended up reading the entire book from cover to cover (with, I must admit, the exception of “Tristram of Lyonesse”, which was simply too long and digressive from what I considered the main threads of the story to sustain my interest). While I do not plan to be a King Arthur specialist, there are definitely stories there I may wish to delve into another day.

Ultimately, I determined that the first two verses of my song could be adapted nicely from Malory’s first two sections or books, which tell the story of Arthur’s birth and rise to power in Britain, and then his war with Emperor Lucius for control of the Roman Empire. These two chapters set up Camelot and Arthur’s Round Table as the destination of choice for any aspiring knight for the rest of the story cycle. Also, having had some exposure to one of Malory’s sources, the Alliterative Morte d’Arthur (thank you, Toki Redbeard and Grim the Skald!), I knew that including the war against Rome, which is rarely referenced in popular modern versions of the story, would show dedication to research that serious lovers of Arthur lore would appreciate.

Equally important, I was actually going to do a bit of storytelling with this filk, and good storytelling (even when being done for laughs) should have a development arc. These chapters have one: Arthur goes from an uncertain novice, kept afloat largely by Merlin’s support and belief in his destiny, to the pre-eminent monarch of the known world, and the progenitor of a new order of chivalry that will be, literally, the stuff of legends. And Malory’s Arthur, especially in these early chapters, is a serious badass. Not only does he lead armies to victory, he kills a giant single-handed, and kills Emperor Lucius in solo combat. Most modern tellings either start after this point, end before it, or skip it entirely, and Arthur suffers in comparison to his mightiest knights, particularly Launcelot. (A rare exception is the 1981 film Excalibur, which fleshes Arthur out, shows his extraordinary courage, and never loses focus on him as the heart of the story.)

This focus gave me space to tell a fun story about an unproven heir apparent, and his transformation into a legendary king. (I was glad that in the end, I performed the piece not at K&Q Bardic, but at Black Rose Ball, with their Highnesses present, which gave that arc a layer of relevance and amusement that the court enjoyed, regardless of their familiarity with the source material.) Of course, the Arthur cycle is going to end tragically, and alluding to that in the third verse by name-checking Guinevere and suggesting that Merlin has prophesied the fall of Camelot (which he does in Malory) gives a sense of where this chapter fits into the larger tale, and a touch of gallows humor.

Some of my favorite touches are doing what I judge a good filk should do–reusing words and phrases from the source song in new ways that serve the new story–such as “do (one’s) very best / put (one) to the test”, and especially the refrain “it’s magic!” Magic of course abounds in the original tales, and a couple of magical elements that I haven’t seen in later versions of the story (such as the Round Table showing, in its own good time, the name of intended knight to whom a seat belongs in letters of gold, and Gawain’s mysterious supernatural strength, which waxes to triple until noon, then wanes as the sun lowers) were elements I was excited to be able to include, however briefly.

I knew that three ABBA filks in one reign was an awful lot. (My Laurel, Zsof, warned me that I needed to stop after this last one, and I wholeheartedly agreed–I was greatly relieved that when I showed it to her, she really liked it.) I wanted to take this slightly ridiculous endeavor and apply some genuine SCA bardcraft to it, and show that anything worth doing was doing well. I don’t create filks all that often as a bard (though performing them from time to time is a lot of fun), but I am quite proud of this last effort. I believe I stuck the landing and gave it “the full Drake”, as a friend once called it. And given I had no idea I was about to be given Wilhelm’s Cypher for this Ahab-like obsessive quest, I’m especially glad that I closed out this cycle on a high note.

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