CLOSED October 20th. Sign up for our newsletter to learn more!
 

Legend & Romance

Most of the heroes of legend actually existed, but not as they appear in the stories written about them. It's likely Arthur Pendragon was a minor Welsh chieftain partly responsible for ousting the Romans, not the king of a united Britain with his own personal wizard. Robin of Lockesly probably rebelled against Norman rule on behalf of the native Saxons, but he was hardly the stave-swinging, arrow-splitting jovial bandit of popular myth. And the French warrior Roland did ride with Charlemagne, but most likely didn't kill armored soldiers with the haft of his spear when his sword was broken.

And there are dozens more, many less-well-known but no less heroic, whose exploits grew until only the most superlative language sufficed to explain and record them. Heroes like the Cid, who led his Spaniards to drive out the usurping Moors; or Sigurd, who outwitted dragons and killed werewolves to keep his magic ring of invisibility; or Pwyll, who eventually became friends with Arawn, Lord of the Underworld, after the two traded places for a year and a day. Or Sir Gawain, or Cu Chulainn, or Egil Skallagrimsson, or Beowulf, or Vainamoinen.

If these heroes were so great, you may say, why do their deeds need to be blown out of all proportion? can't we just remember what they actually did, and honor them for that? Which is what modern literature does all the time, one might add—it demystifies our heroes, so that we do admire some things about them while also being (at times, painfully) aware of their shortcomings and failures. This democratization of heroes is at least partly due to a general abandonment of standards, and partly to a desire to keep everyone average and "relatable" (whatever that means).

Past ages understood far better the need for heroes that are smarter, stronger and more virtuous than the rest of us. If we just followed each others' examples we'd end up with each others' flaws and weaknesses, which is pretty much what has happened in our average society with its average heroes (or worse, its anti-heroes). With actual heroes to follow, there is a standard to progress toward, examples to inspire and guide us along a genuinely noble path even in our prosaic and ignoble world.

The word romance conjures images of smooching sweethearts and garden trysts, but it was initially used to describe the recorded stories about these legendary heroes—their quests, battles, suffering and love affairs. It referred to the Romance languages, particularly French, in which most of them were written, though its application is broader and includes the stories themselves. Fortunately many of them have survived and exist now in English translation that nevertheless manages to capture the glory, terror, violence and beauty of the original texts. While many opt for moralistic tales that blatantly show readers the best approach to any situation, we prefer these visceral tales that rather demonstrate right and wrong through the behavior of heroes both real and imagined.

Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur.Read more of his reviews here.

Did you find this review helpful?
34 Items found Print
Canterbury Tales
by Geoffrey Chaucer (edited by Peter Beidler)
from Bantam Books
for 10th-Adult
in Medieval Literature (Location: CLT-MED)
Elfin Knight
by Edmund Spenser & Toby Sumpter
from Canon Press
for 9th-Adult
in Renaissance & Reformation Literature (Location: CLT-REN)
Faerie Queene
Penguin Classics
by Edmund Spenser
from Penguin Classics
Allegory/Epic Poetry for 10th-Adult
in Renaissance & Reformation Literature (Location: CLT-REN)
Fierce Wars and Faithful Loves
by Roy Maynard & Edmund Spenser
from Canon Press
Allegory/Epic Poetry for 10th-Adult
in Renaissance & Reformation Literature (Location: CLT-REN)
History of the Kings of Britain
Penguin Classics
by Geoffrey of Monmouth
from Penguin Classics
Historical Fairy Tale for 10th-12th grade
in Medieval Literature (Location: CLT-MED)
Hood
The Raven King Book 1
by Stephen R. Lawhead
First Edition from Thomas Nelson Publishers
for 8th-12th grade
in 20th & 21st Century Literature (Location: CLT-20C)
Howard Pyle King Arthur Series
by Howard Pyle
from Dover Publications
Fairy Tales, Fables, and Legends for 7th-10th grade
in Adventure Stories (Location: A04-01A)
King of Ireland's Son
by Padraic Colum
from Yesterday's Classics
for 3rd-7th grade
Le Morte d'Arthur
Signet Classics
by Sir Thomas Mallory
from Signet Classics
for 9th-Adult
in Medieval Literature (Location: CLT-MED)
Le Morte d'Arthur
by Sir Thomas Malory
from Modern Library
for 10th-Adult
in Medieval Literature (Location: CLT-MED)
Mabinogion
by Anonymous, Jeffrey Gantz
from Penguin Classics
for 10th-Adult
in Medieval Literature (Location: CLT-MED)
Merry Adventures of Robin Hood
Signet Classics
by Howard Pyle
from Signet Classics
Fairy Tales, Fables, and Legends for 7th-9th grade
in 19th Century Literature (Location: CLT-19C)
Merry Adventures of Robin Hood
by Howard Pyle
from Dover Publications
Fairy Tales, Fables, and Legends for 7th-9th grade
in Adventure Stories (Location: A04-01A)
Merry Adventures of Robin Hood
Sterling Classics
by Howard Pyle & Scott McKowen
Unabridged from Sterling Publishing Co.
Fairy Tales, Fables, and Legends for 7th-9th grade
in Sterling Classics (Location: A04-04A)
Once and Future King
by T. H. White
from ACE Publishing
for 7th-Adult
in 20th & 21st Century Literature (Location: CLT-20C)
Robin Hood
by Paul Creswick
Reissue from Atheneum
for 6th-10th grade
in Adventure Stories (Location: A04-01A)
Romance of King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table
by Sir Thomas Mallory
from Weathervane Books
for 7th-12th grade
in Adventure Stories (Location: A04-01A)
Romance of Tristan and Iseult
by Hilaire Belloc
from Dover Publications
for 10th-Adult
in Medieval Literature (Location: CLT-MED)
Saga of the Volsungs
by Anonymous, Jesse L. Byock
from Penguin Classics
for 10th-Adult
in Medieval Literature (Location: CLT-MED)
Scarlet
The King Raven Trilogy Book 2
by Stephen R. Lawhead
from Thomas Nelson Publishers
for 9th-Adult
in 20th & 21st Century Literature (Location: CLT-20C)
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
by Anonymous, J. R. R. Tolkien (Translator)
from Ballantine Books
Medieval Fairy Tale/Poetry for 8th-Adult
in Fantasy Fiction (Location: A07-02A)
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
by Anonymous (translation by Jessie Weston)
2nd edition from Dover Publications
for 10th-Adult
in Medieval Literature (Location: CLT-MED)
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
by Anonymous (translation by W. S. Merwin)
from Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
for 10th-Adult
in Medieval Literature (Location: CLT-MED)
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
by Anonymous (translation by Burton Raffel)
Reprint from Signet Classics
for 9th-Adult
in Medieval Literature (Location: CLT-MED)
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
by Anonymous (translation by Brian Stone)
from Penguin Classics
for 8th-Adult
in Medieval Literature (Location: CLT-MED)
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
by Anonymous (translation by Bernard O'Donoghue)
Reissue from Penguin Classics
for 10th-Adult
in Medieval Literature (Location: CLT-MED)
Song of Roland
Penguin Classics
by Dorothy Sayers, translator
from Penguin Classics
Medieval Poetic Epic for 10th-Adult
in Medieval Literature (Location: CLT-MED)
Song of the Cid
by Anonymous
Dual Language from Penguin Classics
for 10th-Adult
in Medieval Literature (Location: CLT-MED)
Story of King Arthur and His Knights
Howard Pyle's King Arthur series book 1.
by Howard Pyle
from Dover Publications
Fairy Tales, Fables, and Legends for 7th-10tth grade
in Adventure Stories (Location: A04-01A)
Story of Sir Launcelot and His Companions
Howard Pyle's King Arthur series book 3.
by Howard Pyle
from Dover Publications
Fairy Tales, Fables, and Legends for 7th-10th grade
in Adventure Stories (Location: A04-01A)
Story of the Champions of the Round Table
Howard Pyle's King Arthur series book 2.
by Howard Pyle
from Dover Publications
Fairy Tales, Fables, and Legends for 7th-10th grade
in Adventure Stories (Location: A04-01A)
Story of the Grail and the Passing of Arthur
Howard Pyle's King Arthur series book 4.
by Howard Pyle
from Dover Publications
Fairy Tales, Fables, and Legends for 7th-10th grade
in Adventure Stories (Location: A04-01A)
Tale of the Cid: and Other Stories of Knights and Chivalry
by Andrew Lang
from Dover Publications
for 6th-Adult
Tuck
The King Raven Trilogy Book 3
by Stephen R. Lawhead
Reprint from Thomas Nelson Publishers
for 9th-Adult
in 20th & 21st Century Literature (Location: CLT-20C)