Arthur (was Re: Help wanted: arthurian novels)

Robyn Starkey rohina at shaw.ca
Fri Sep 26 20:21:34 EDT 2003


>If there is no readily-available evidence for an oral tradition, might it
>be because we don't have all that many singers/songmakers from 900Ad
>surviving to perform their stuff for us, and precious few recording
>Walkmans were around at the time?  Men die and their voices fall silent;
>books can be read after the writer's death, and literary evidence is a
>great deal easier to come by than "this is how my grandfather told me the
>battle happened" spoken by an old man in Alfred's court.  Just because,
>unlike the Romans, the British people didn't write stuff down with an
>author's name attached, this doesn't mean they didn't compose things or
>tell each other stories -- familiar stories, often, because as with modern
>fantasy the audience would want "something just the same but just a bit
>different".

I think there IS a lot of evidence for an oral poetic tradition - it just 
isn't in Arthurian works, which tend to be emphatic in their references to 
books and literature. Minnow gave the example of Beowulf, which is full of 
references to oral performances, and there are others. I'm not a reception 
theorist, but I know lots of people who have done research to show that a 
number of works bear the remnants of having originated as spoken or sung 
works. My point about the Arthur poems is that they often run strongly 
counter to this tradition. Dante talks about the lovers who fell into 
adultery over the pages of the *book* of Lancelot; Malory talks about the 
book he got his information from. That's why it's notable.

>Actually, having read some of the modern retellings, I doubt the authors
>have read Malory either, even in a modern translation with all the jousting
>cut out because it is somewhat dull, like old copies of Wisden or the
>begets in the Bible.  :-)  Based on his work at third or fourth remove,
>perhaps.

Wisden is a scarily apt comparison, especially given the way people have 
made tables of how good the various knights are, and their tournament 
stats. Some people find it equally fascinating.

Robyn 
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