Help wanted: arthurian novels

minnow at belfry.org.uk minnow at belfry.org.uk
Tue Sep 23 08:18:20 EDT 2003


Elise (as I finally discovered by searching through archives) wrote:

>>My excuse for petering out before finishing the trilogy the first time
>>around is - I'm not that mad for Arthur.  Also, it has Lancelot as a
>>character, and my understanding is that Lancelot was a late addition in
>>the folkloric tradition, and I'm picky like that.  But I don't think that
>>should stop any other reader.

and Robyn replied:

>Interesting definition of "late". Lancelot is a central figure in the
>romances of Chretien de Troyes (c1170). Since Malory was based in part in
>Chretien, and most retellings are based on Malory, it seems a little odd to
>decide Lancelot isn't canonical.

I don't see this as a "definition of late", simply as a comment on the
Arthurian canon and its relation to *folklore*.  A written account is
always likely to appear later than the oral version of a folk-tale -- would
you not agree?  In this case, at least one part of the written "Arthurian"
canon appears to have been previously told about someone (Cuchulain) who
was theoretically extant at least a thousand years earlier than the written
version.  (Well, he's first century, and the manuscript I'm thinking of
that tells essentially the same story about a different hero is dated as
having been written in or about 1375, but what's a mere couple of hundred
years between friends, or even three hundred, let's settle for a round
millenium difference... )

Arthur, like Robin Hood, has accrued about him a body of legend, from a
variety of sources.  Some, such as the Beheading Game, the hunt for the
Magic Pig, and the man who expiates a rape by discovering "what it is that
women really want", are believed to go back in English (or rather British,
since the English arrived after the stories existed) oral tradition a long
way before the mid to late twelfth century, or even the putative "time of
King Arthur" five or more hundred years before that.

Let's face it, the whole notion of a bunch of knights in plate-armour and
with all the trappings of heraldry galloping a wallop around the place in
the seventh century is pretty anachronistic; and Lancelot is always and
ever a *knight*, jousting and having his romantic affair and going stark
wood in a wood for Lerve, all very courtly-love-see-Troubadours (who were
twelfth century, or perhaps a little earlier but not much, and influenced
Chretien de Troyes considerably); where does he really fit into the British
*folklore*?

If you look up Lancelot ( the entry is "Launcelot of the Lake") in
Drabble's (1985) *Oxford Companion to English Literature* you will find "He
is a relatively late development in the English Arthurian tradition, not
appearing at length before the 14th cent., although the story of his love
for Guinevere is the subject of Chretien de Troyes' "Lancelot" (c 1170s)"
-- perhaps Drabble thinks Chretien de Troyes wasn't really an *English*
writer?  (Thinks: maybe Drabble has a point.  Troyes, Suffolk?  Troyes, nr.
Birmingham?  Nah; not in my gazeteer...)  Harvey's earlier edition (1937
second edition) of the same work starts the entry "Launcelot of the Lake,
appears only late in the series of English Arthurian romances, though he is
the subject of a great French prose-work..."  So one can see why Elise
might get the idea that "late" and "Launcelot" are linked, if she consulted
the standard sources for information on English (as opposed to French)
literature.

It is my personal opinion that Elise has some justification for her view.
I do not say, as she does not, that this view must be shared by everyone, I
do say that it has at least some validity, in that Lancelot's is so very
much a story in the Troubadour tradition, whereas eg Gawain's various
adventures (apart from those entirely related to his dislike of Lancelot)
are clearly rooted in an earlier source than that, which might properly be
called folklore.

obDWJ, she doesn't use Lancelot in *Hexwood*.  She has Bedevere, Bors,
Arthur, Merlin, Morgan Le Fay, a good selection of the Old Gang, but not
Lancelot.  He simply wouldn't fit, would he?

Minnow


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