Arthurian Romances – Chretien de Troyes

717198894ee0c6f593464765541434f414f4141Can I get a Hallelujah? I’ve been working on this book for almost two years, and I’m done! I’m not really sure why it took me this long to get through this book. (I was only able to get through about half a story before something else would distract me and leave the book languishing on my nightstand for another few months before I’d pick it up again.) I went through a period starting in late high school and lasting for a year or two out of college where I read anything Arthur related I could get my hands on, and a number of those books were in translation, or relatively archaic (Le Morte d’Arthur), and I blazed through them in speeds barely slower than my normal reading. Heck, I got through the History of the Kings of Britain in sequential lunch breaks in one of my earliest (most-loathed) post college jobs. I suspect had I read this book in that time period, it would have gone faster. In fact, I know I’ve read “The Knight with the Lion” before, and I don’t remember it being as painful to read as it seemed to be this time around. So, I can’t decide if I’m suffering from a brain wasting disease that is slowly sapping my desire to deal with the classics, or I just have a lot more on my mind, and therefore require longer periods of time to digest slightly heavier reading. Interesting question to ponder on a rainy day.

I do enjoy reading these older stories written when chivalry was still alive and well. I think we all have a pretty good idea in our heads of what chivalry is, thoroughly adjusted for our modern sensibilities, and reading these stories actually written during that time-frame is certainly a readjustment to that thinking.

I also got a kick out of Chretien’s descriptions of fashions and armors and such. There are moments when you get the feeling you’re reading medieval Cosmo.

The other interesting thing about these stories is that Chretien is responsible for creating a large portion of what’s now considered Arthurian canon. I don’t remember if he was the first to write about Sir Lancelot in general, but he was apparently the first to write about his affair with Guinevere. I enjoyed reading “The Knight in the Cart”, which is Lancelot’s story, as I could clearly see from where Marion Zimmer Bradley drew that part of the story in The Mists of Avalon. (In fact, I’m now tempted to go see what other stories I have stored away I could pull out for comparison. Le Morte d’Arthur should be interesting, at least.)

The story freshest in my mind (mostly because it’s the last in the book) is the “Story of the Grail”, and it was actually my favorite. I liked the characters better, probably because the Knight and his Lady part of the story didn’t feature as prominently as it did in the others. I was genuinely irritated when it broke off in mid-sentence (probably due to death of the author) just when it seemed to be getting good. My one irritation with the story was the constant switching between Perceval and Gawain, but I’m going to assume I’m missing some finer point of medieval story telling structure, and try to let it go.

I suppose, if asked to recommend this book, I’d just suggest that you evaluate your tolerance for a slog before picking this up. There are beautiful stories in this book, but you need to be prepared to work to get to the meat of these stories.

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