Title: Arthurian Romances
Author: Chrétien de Troyes
Translated by: William W. Kibler and Carleton W. Carroll
Published by: Penguin Books (1991)
Pages: 521 (paperback)
My Take: As an Arthurian fan, it was only a matter of time before I got around to reading these five stories written in the 12th century. My only regret is not having read them sooner, as these were excellent and enjoyable in every way. The five stories follow different knights on their adventures and encounters with love, although many names are recurring across the various tales. It is clear as you read these stories that they heavily influenced Malory when it came time for him to write Le Morte D’Arthur in the 14th century.
Of the five, there were two that I was most excited to read: “The Knight of the Cart” and “The Story of the Grail”. The first of those stories followed Lancelot on his many excellent adventures. His decision, early in the story, to ride along in a cart is a shameful act and there are several instances throughout the tale where that decision is thrown back in his face. This is the first tale, according to the book, to mention the adulterous relationship between Lancelot and Guinevere so that infamous love triangle can trace its roots back to 12th century France. Even the reader who is only slightly interested in Arthurian literature should be able to read and enjoy this story by Chrétain de Troyes and it certainly would be considered the greatest of the five by many readers.
My own personal favorite, though, chronicled the Grail. It followed two knights on two very different paths: Percival and Gawain. After four stories hearing about how highly esteemed Gawain was, it was great to follow him on some of his adventures. But the real star of the story, the one whom we follow early on, is Percival who begins as an innocent who has never seen a knight before and immediately becomes enamored with the idea of being a knight. Sadly, this story was never finished and so it never reaches its grand conclusion. In fact, it seems to be a fairly long way away from an ending. Yet for what it contains, it is a great and enjoyable tale and the longest of the stories in the collection.
Overall this was an excellent read and certainly something that belongs in every Arthurian fan’s collection. The fingerprints of de Troyes are on many of the stories we know and are familiar with today, and many of the knights mentioned throughout will be familiar names to the reader.