Who Is Nimue, The Lady Of The Lake In Netflix’s 'Cursed'?

Photo: Netflix
Who Is Nimue, The Lady Of The Lake In Netflix’s 'Cursed'?
Entertainment And News

The Netflix series, Cursed, is being billed as a "retelling" of the so-called Arthurian Legend — which, of course, tells the story of the mythical King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. While there's some validity to the assessment that that Cursed is part of the Arthurian legend, in reality, there's so much more to the so-called "Lady of the Lake" than just what we see in the television series.

Who is Nimue, The Lady Of The Lake in Netflix's Cursed

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Nimue is portrayed in the series by Katherine Langford. 

24-year-old Katherine Langford portrays Nimue in Cursed. Langford, who's a native of Australia, should look familiar to Netflix binge-watchers, as she starred in the first two seasons of the hit series 13 Reasons Why, where she played Hannah Baker and for which she was nominated for a Golden Globe Award. She also starred as Leah in Love, Simon

Nimue has Celtic origins. 

In the Arthurian legend, all sorts of pagan symbology — such as fey folk and wizards, including the most infamous wizard of all, Merlin — take center stage. However, some British historians believe that Nimue has her roots in Celtic paganism — namely, in the form of a goddess named Gwagged Annwn. In fact, there are many "ladies of the lake" in Arthurian legend, including the most infamous one, Morgana Le Fay (not to be confused with the Harry Potter character of the same name). 

There are two versions of the "Lady of the Lake" story featuring Nimue. 

Nimue is sometimes known by her more "English-friendly" name, Vivian. But the true nature of her personality is, really, dependent on who's telling the story. If you believe the 13th century French Vulgate telling of the King Arthurian legend as featured in the Estoire de Merlin, she is in love with a wizard named Merlin, so she seals him in a tower, and forever gives her love to him.

However, if you believe in Alfred Lord Tennyson's telling of the story, Nimue is more evil, Merlin's entrapment is "voluntary," and the love flows from Merlin to Nimue — not the other way around. For what it's worth, the Netflix series seems to borrow from a little of both legends — Nimue is certainly enchanted by Merlin, but they're depicted as more contemporaries in magic than they are as lovers. This is perhaps because the series is based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller (who did 300 and Sin City) rather than traditional Arthurian legends. 

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In later depictions, Nimue is a foster mother to Sir Lancelot.

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The most infamous Knight of the Round Table is Sir Lancelot. In a later depiction of Nimue, she becomes a foster mother to Lancelot and gives him advice on how to become a proper knight. "A knight should have two hearts, one as hard and impenetrable as diamond, and the other as soft and pliable as hot wax,” Nimue said.

Nimue was one of the earliest feminist characters. 

Nimue had magic powers, which were usually reserved for men. Women who had magic powers were considered witches and historically burned at the stake. (In the show, her mom is even killed for being "magical.") Tennyson's depiction of her in Idylls of the King is thought by literary critics to be an allegory for Victorian society, with Nimue serving as "proof" that women who are "wild and untamed" can wreak nothing but havoc on the world around them. 

In art, she's often depicted as emerging from a lake to hand the sword Excalibur to King Arthur. 

In Thomas Malory's Le Morte D'Arthur, Nimue emerges from the lake to hand the sword known as Excalibur to King Arthur. In many Arthurian legends, Arthur pulls Excalibur from a stone to prove he is, indeed, the rightful king. (In the show Cursed, Nimue makes a reference to this legend by attempting to pull Excalibur from stone to fight off wolves in the first episode. In the actual Cursed graphic novel, she dies with the Sword of Power in her hands after being shot by an arrow, then submerges herself with the sword into the lake to prevent Uther Pendragon, the church, and the Ice King from getting it.) 

Did Nimue even exist?

While, certainly, both the tale of Nimue and the legend of King Arthur as a whole are both fascinating stories — and King Arthur reportedly lived during the 5th and 6th centuries in Great Britain — there's no actual evidence that either one existed.

According to Langford, though, this makes for great TV. "When we think of the Arthurian legends we think of Arthur, Merlin, the Knights of the Round Table. But we don’t really know a lot about the other characters in that legend. Specifically this powerful, iconic character of the Lady of the Lake — she is so prolific and yet we have very little to no information about her," she said.

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Bernadette Giacomazzo is an editor, writer, publicist, and photographer whose work has appeared in Teen Vogue, People, Us Weekly, The Source, XXL, HipHopDX, The Los Angeles Times, The New York Post, BET.com, and more.