This magical account of King Arthur’s last night on earth, rediscovered in a collection of T. H. White’s papers at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin, spent twenty-six weeks on the New York Times bestseller list following its publication in 1977. While preparing for his final, fatal battle with his bastard son, Mordred, Arthur returns to the Animal Council with Merlyn, where the deliberations center on ways to abolish war. More self-revealing than any other of White’s books, Merlyn shows his mind at work as he agonized over whether to join the fight against Nazi Germany while penning the epic that would become The Once and Future King. The Book of Merlyn has been cited as a major influence by such illustrious writers as Kazuo Ishiguro, J. K. Rowling, Helen Macdonald, Neil Gaiman, and Lev Grossman.
“Arriving from beyond the curve of time and apparently from the grave, The Book of Merlyn stirs its own pages, saying, wait: you didn’t get the whole story. . . . It gives us a final glimpse of those two immortal characters, Wart and Merlyn, up close, slo-mo, with a considered and affectionate scrutiny. The book is an elegiac posting from a master storyteller of the twentieth century. Its reissue in our next century is just as welcome as when it first arrived forty years ago. . . . Certainly the moral questions about the military use of force perplex the world still. . . . The efficacy of treaties, the trading of insults among the potentates of the day, the testing of weapons, the weaponizing of trade—these strategies are still front and center. Rather terrifyingly so. We do well to revisit what that old schoolteacher of children, Merlyn, has been trying to point out to us about power and responsibility.”
—Gregory Maguire, from the foreword
Before the technology of print, every book was unique. Two manuscripts of the "same" text could package and transmit that text very differently, depending on the choices made by scribes, compilers, translators, annotators, and decorators. Is it appropriate, Elizabeth Bryan asks, for us to read these books as products of a single author's consciousness? And if not, how do we read them?
In Collaborative Meaning in Medieval Scribal Culture, Bryan compares examples from the British Library Cotton Otho C.xiii manuscript of La3amon's Brut, the early thirteenth-century verse history that translated King Arthur into English for the first time. She discovers cultural attitudes that valued communal aspects of manuscript texts--for example, a view of the physical book as connecting all who read or even held it to each other.
The study is divided into two parts. Part one presents Early Middle English concepts of "enjoining" texts and explores the theoretical and methodological challenges they pose to present-day readers of scribally-produced texts. Part two conducts a detailed study of the multiple interpretations built into the manuscript text. Illustrations of manuscript pages accompany analysis, and the reader is invited to engage in interpreting the manuscript text. Collaborative Meaning in Medieval Scribal Culture will be of interest to students and specialists in medieval chronicle histories, Middle English, Arthurian literature, and literary and textual theory.
Elizabeth J. Bryan is Associate Professor of English, Brown University.
The curious paradox of romance is that, throughout its history, this genre has been dismissed as trivial and unintellectual, yet people have never ceased to flock to it with enthusiasm and even fervor. In contemporary contexts, we devour popular romance and fantasy novels like The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and Game of Thrones, reference them in conversations, and create online communities to expound, passionately and intelligently, upon their characters and worlds. But romance is “unrealistic,” critics say, doing readers a disservice by not accurately representing human experiences. It is considered by some to be a distraction from real literature, a distraction from real life, and little more.
Yet is it possible that romance is expressing a truth—and a truth unrecognized by realist genres? The Arthurian literature of the Middle Ages, Karen Sullivan argues, consistently ventriloquizes in its pages the criticisms that were being made of romance at the time, and implicitly defends itself against those criticisms. The Danger of Romance shows that the conviction that ordinary reality is the only reality is itself an assumption, and one that can blind those who hold it to the extraordinary phenomena that exist around them. It demonstrates that that which is rare, ephemeral, and inexplicable is no less real than that which is commonplace, long-lasting, and easily accounted for. If romance continues to appeal to audiences today, whether in its Arthurian prototype or in its more recent incarnations, it is because it confirms the perception—or even the hope—of a beauty and truth in the world that realist genres deny.
From Topic to Tale was first published in 1987. Minnesota Archive Editions uses digital technology to make long-unavailable books once again accessible, and are published unaltered from the original University of Minnesota Press editions.
The transition from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance has been discussed since the 1940s as a shift from a Latinate culture to one based on a vernacular language, and, since the 1960s, as a shift from orality to literacy. From Topic to Tale focuses on this multifaceted transition, but it poses the problem in different terms: it shows how a rhetorical tradition was transformed into a textual one, and ends ultimately in a discussion of the relationship between discourse and society.
The rise of French vernacular literacy in the twelfth century coincided with the emergence of logic as a powerful instrument of the human mind. With logic come a new concern for narrative coherence and form, a concern exemplified by the work of Chretien de Troyes. Many brilliant poetic achievements crystallized in the narrative art of Chretien, establishing an enduring tradition of literary technique for all of Europe. Eugene Vance explores the intellectual context of Chretien's vernacular literacy, and in particular, the interaction between the three "arts of language" (grammar, logic, and rhetoric) compromising the trivium. Until Vance, few critics have studied the contribution of logic to Chretiens poetics, nor have they assessed the ethical bond between rationalism and the new heroic code of romance.
Vance takes Chretien de Troyes' great romance, Yvain ou le chevalier au lion,as the centerpiece of the Twelfth-Century Renaissance. It is also central to his own thesis, which shows how Chretien forged a bold new vision of humans as social beings situated between beasts and angels and promulgated the symbolic powers of language, money, and heraldic art to regulate the effects of human desire. Vance's reading of the Yvain contributes not only to the intellectual history of the Middle Ages, but also to the continuing dialogue between contemporary critical theory and medieval culture.
Eugene Vance is professor of French and comparative literature at Emory University and principal editor of a University of Nebraska series, Regents Studies in Medieval Culture. Wlad Godzich is director of the Center for Humanistic Studies at the University of Minnesota and co-editor of the series Theory and History of Literature.
Composed in Old French between about 1220 and 1240, the Lancelot-Grail Cycle is a group of five prose romances centered on the love affair between Lancelot and Guenevere. It consists of an immense central core, the Lancelot Proper, introduced by The History of the Holy Grail and The Story of Merlin and concluded by The Quest for the Holy Grail and The Death of Arthur.
This volume brings together thirteen essays by noted scholars from the first symposium ever devoted exclusively to the Lancelot-Grail Cycle. Exploring the cycle's evolution across the literatures of medieval France, Italy, Spain, Catalonia, and England, the authors take a variety of approaches that highlight a broad range of cultural, social, historical, and political concerns and offer a comparative and interdisciplinary vision of this great romance.
Examines the political and literary uses of the Trojan legend in the medieval period.
England in the late fourteenth century witnessed a large-scale social revolt, a lingering and seemingly hopeless war with France, and fierce factional conflicts in royal politics and London civic government--struggles in which all parties sought to justify their actions by claiming historical precedent. How the Trojan legend figured in these claims--and in competing assertions of authorial legitimacy, nationhood, and rule in the later Middle Ages--is the complex nexus of history, myth, literature, and identity that Sylvia Federico explores in this ambitious book.
During the late medieval period, many European political and social groups took great pains to associate themselves with the ancient city; the claim on Troy, Federico asserts, was crucial to nationhood and was always a political act. Her book examines the poetry and prose of several late medieval authors, focusing particularly on how Chaucer's use of the Trojan legend helped to set the terms by which the Ricardian and Lancastrian periods were distinguished, and further helped to establish English literary history as a noble precedent in its own right. Federico's book affords remarkable insight into the workings of the medieval historical imagination.
Sylvia Federico has taught at Washington State University and the University of Leeds. She currently lives in Maine.
Popular Arthurian Traditions
Sally K. Slocum University of Wisconsin Press, 1992 Library of Congress PR408.A7P67 1992 | Dewey Decimal 809.93351
From medieval history and romance through various twentieth-century renderings, this collection of essays considers themes, characters, and events of the legend and the meanings they impart. Sir Thomas Malory, Chrétien de Troyes, Mark Twain, Thomas Berger, Marion Zimmer Bradley, C. J. Cherryh, and other prose writers are discussed as are comic books and other genres. Film interpretations, photographic illustrations, and musical expressions receive analytical attention, as do poetic, religious, and mythic uses of the Arthurian world.
Chretien de Troyes was France's great medieval poet—inventor of the genre of courtly romance and popularizer of the Arthurian legend. The forty-four surviving manuscripts of his work (ten of them illuminated) pose a number of questions about who used these books and in what way. In Sealed in Parchment, Sandra Hindman scrutinizes both text and images to reveal what the manuscripts can tell us about medieval society and politics.
This volume offers the complete text of a poem which, although an acknowledged masterpiece of medieval literature, makes abnormal demands upon the reader by reason of its subtle exploitation both of a difficult dialect of Middle English and of the special idiom of alliterative verse. There is no short cut through the difficulties, but this edition is designed to enable the modern reader to reach a sensitive first-hand understanding of the text as the only basis for valid literary judgement.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a late fourteenth-century Middle English alliterative romance outlining an adventure of Sir Gawain, a knight of King Arthur’s Round Table. In this poem, Sir Gawain accepts a challenge from a mysterious green warrior. In a struggle to uphold his oath along this quest, Gawain demonstrates chivalry, loyalty, and honor. This new verse translation of the most popular and enduring fourteenth century romance to survive to the present offers students an accessible way of approaching the literature of medieval England without losing the flavor of the original writing. The language of Sir Gawain presents considerable problems to present-day readers as it is written in the West Midlands dialect before English became standardized. With a foreword by David Donoghue, the close verse translation includes facing pages of the original fourteenth-century text and its modern translation.
The classic tale of adventure, romance, and chivalry--now a major motion picture starring Dev Patel!
The adventures and challenges of Sir Gawain, King Arthur’s nephew and a knight at the Round Table, including his duel with the mysterious Green Knight, are among the oldest and best known of Arthurian stories. Here the distinguished author and poet John Gardner has captured the humor, elegance, and richness of the original Middle English in flowing modern verse translations of this literary masterpiece. Besides the tale of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, this edition includes two allegorical poems, “Purity” and “Patience”; the beautiful dream allegory “Pearl”; and the miracle story “Saint Erkenwald,” all attributed to the same anonymous poet, a contemporary of Chaucer and an artist of the first rank.
“Mr. Gardner has translated into modern English and edited a text of these five poems that could hardly be improved. . . . The entire work is preceded by a very fine and complete general introduction and a critical commentary on each poem.”—Library Journal
Toward a Theater of the Oppressed is an engaging study of the dramaturgy of contemporary British playwright John Arden and the political implications of his work. Arden made his debut on the London stage in the wake of a powerful new wave of young, "angry" drama in England during the late 1950s. Javed Malick argues that in contrast to contemporaries like John Osborne, Harold Pinter, and Arnold Wesker, Arden offered a radically different approach to drama and theater, employing a long-neglected writing style that derived from pre-bourgeois popular traditions.
Malick situates Arden's dramaturgy in the wider context of the radical alternative tradition in Western drama, drawing connections to Brecht, Piscator, the radical playwrights of the 1960s. He then explores the formal structure, ideological implications, and historical significance of Arden's work, treating his stage plays as one dramaturgically coherent opus- from the early Waters of Babylon to his and Margaretta D'Arcy's ambitious trilogy, The Island of the Mighty. Finally, he discusses the last phase of Arden and D'Arcy's political and artistic development, which led them to turn their backs on the professional theater circuit. He argues that Arden's rejection of the institutional stage was the logical outcome of his persistent search for alternative forms of political theater. Toward a Theater of the Oppressed will be invaluable reading for those interested in modern drama, political theater, and popular performance, as well as students of contemporary British drama.
Javed Malick is Reader in English, Khalsa College, University of Delhi, India.