Medieval Romances

Medieval Romances, edited by Roger Sherman Loomis and Laura Hibbard Loomis, is a good selection of writings from French and English sources of the Middle ages. There are eight separate stories in the collection. Of these, three were especially interesting to me. Perceval, translated by R. S. Loomis, is rollicking comedy and reads often like a medieval version of Adam Sandler’s movie The Waterboy. Perceval lives with his overprotective mother who keeps her son ignorant of knighthood lest he leave home like his father before him. The Youth of Alexander the Great, translated by R. S. Loomis, is a brief, but humorous medieval pastiche of apocryphal accounts of the great conqueror’s early life. Aucassin and Nicolete, translated by Andrew Lang, is a beautiful love story in both prose and poetry, which I had never before read.

Havelok the Dane and The Book of Balin I had read before. Both are wonderful stories, and are well presented here. The story of Balin stands well on its own, but really ought to be read in the full context of Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur.

As to the remaining three stories, all are good stories and ought to be in a collection such as this. However, for those interested, all three can be found in better form elsewhere. For the story of Tristan and Isolt, here translated in prose form by Jessie L. Weston, readers may wish to read the excellent verse rendition by Joseph B├ędier, translated by Hilaire Belloc. Sir Orfeo, here translated in prose by L. H. Loomis, is available in a verse translation by J. R. R. Tolkien. Finally, though there are many translations of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, here translated in prose by M. R. Ridley, I always prefer a verse translation and recommend either the J. R. R. Tolkien translation or the Penguin Classics translation by Brian Stone.

Overall this book is a great overview and introduction to medieval romances, and each of the stories comes with a nice, brief introduction. I recommend this book for any interested in wading into medieval literature or adding to their knowledge.

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