Four stories of doughty knights of King Arthur’s court sallying forth in their quests for fame and glory, yet each themselves overwhelmed in different ways by the power of Love.
Source : Arthurian Romances, translated into prose by W. W. Comfort, published by J M Dent & Sons, London, 1914, as part of the Everyman’s Library series.
Thoughts : Lengthy and detailed stories (each the size of a novella) full of chivalrous knights, beautiful maidens, and magical devices. The language is more flowery and courtly than earlier knights’ tales. Thou canst scarcely believe thine own ears and eyes!
The first story, Erec et Enide, is a more detailed version of Geraint and Enid from the Mabinogion. Their great love leads Erec to become so enraptured with Enid that he abandons all knightly pursuits, preferring to spend every moment in her fair company. Erec overhears Enid lamenting others’ comments about his lack of valour, and misunderstands her reasons, and sets them both out on a journey alone while forbidding Enid to ever speak to him. His poor treatment of Enid is more obviously balanced in this version by evidence of his secret continuing love for her, and he is punishing himself just as much. Her undying love for him eventually is proven to him and all ends happily.
The next, Cliges, tells of the romance between Cliges, the dispossessed heir to Constantinople, and Fenice, the wife of the usurping Emperor Alis. Many references directly to the similar story of Tristan and Yseut, although Fenice is determined not to be compared to Yseut and sacrifice her own honour by giving herself to two lovers, and so slips a potion into Alis’ wine each night to make him think he is making love to her during his sleep. Eventually the couple trick the Emperor by Fenice taking another drug that simulates death, and suffers dreadful treatment by physicians trying to prove she is shamming. Just as it looked to be taking a tragic Romeo and Juliet turn, things change from bad to good to bad to good ….
The third story, Yvain, who is also known as the Knight with the Lion, shows love abandoned after Yvain leaves his wife to join Arthur’s court and totally forgetting his pledge to return within the year. Many exciting adventures ensue, with dragons, lions, giants, magical thunderstorms, ogres and demons before all is reconciled. This was the best constructed of the stories with the events flowing logically and dramatically to the conclusion.
The last story describes Sir Lancelot setting out to rescue his lover, Queen Guinevere, who has been abducted by the evil Meleagant, who “never wearied of villainy, treason and felony”. The adultery between knight and queen takes a back seat to the rivalry and hatred between Lancelot and Meleagant, and the shame which Lancelot carries, firstly very publicly in everyone’s eyes for being carried in a cart (the equivalent of being humiliated in the village stocks) when he initially tries to catch up with the abductors, and secondly in Guinevere’s eyes for the lack of love she implies from the brief hesitation he showed before boarding the cart.
Every attack in all stories must start with a joust, with plenty of lances shattered, swords drawn, and shields and helmets smote.
“For grief on lips is of no account unless it also touch the heart” Erec et Enide, p. 76
“I know not which is more my enemy: life, which detains me, or death, which will not slay me” Lancelot, p. 324
And all the scenes where the lion keeps company with Yvain.
Digressions/diversions: This took much longer to read as I seemed to get distracted by almost anything this week. But this is not a reflection on the stories themselves which are very enjoyable despite a trifle long-winded. Perhaps more understandable if I were in the throes of summer frolics like my Northern Hemisphere colleagues, but as I type the winter winds are howling and the thermometer is set to drop to -5 Celsius tonight. Should be perfect reading weather, no?
Personal rating: 7/10
Kimmy’s rating: A very high rating for Yvain’s lion companion, as brave and loyal as any Knight of the Round Table.
In the years 1160-1169:
from The Book of Key Facts (Paddington Press, 1978)
- 1160. Benjamin of Tudela (Spain) travels to China (beats Marco Polo by a hundred years!)
- 1161. Chinese use fireworks to help crush a rebellion in Nanking.
- 1161. During a dispute over clerical privileges, King Henry II of England appoints his friend Thomas Becket to Archbishop of Canterbury, but Thomas sides with the Church.
- 1163. Building of Notre Dame Cathedral begins.
- 1163. Tula, the capital of Toltec civilization in Mexico, is destroyed by Chichimec peoples.
- 1167 Oxford University founded.
My other recent reads include:
The Princess Bride by William Golding. An absolutely dreadful book, the first time I have found a book has been decidedly worse than the excellent movie, especially the annoying and lengthy asides by Golding and his demeaning and insulting comments aimed at his own wife and son.
The Robots of Dawn by Isaac Asimov, another excellent scifi/whodunnit in the Robot series where the scifi is an essential part of the plot but not beyond the reach of the average reader, audacious beliefs which turn social morality inside out, and a truly brilliant conclusion that solves the crime and pushes the scifi thread further into a bigger view of the future of humanity,
and The Arsenal Stadium Mystery, a curiosity piece from the 1930s and part of the British Library’s Crime Classics set, featuring the actual players of the Arsenal football team at the time. Not too hard to guess the guilty party, although Inspector Slade makes an occasional flash of remarkable deductive brilliance which is a little difficult to swallow.