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's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
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Arthurian Romances
by Chrétien de Troyes
from Penguin Classics
for 10th-Adult
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Battle of Maldon together with The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth
by J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Peter Grybauskas
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$30.00
Bulfinch's Medieval Mythology
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$10.00
Canterbury Tales
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$5.99
Chronicles
by Jean Froissart
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$18.00
Deirdre
by David Guard; illustrated by Gretchen Guard
2nd edition from Celestial Arts
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$3.00 (1 in stock)
Elfin Knight
by Edmund Spenser & Toby Sumpter
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$20.00
Faerie Queene
Penguin Classics
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$22.00
Faerie Queene Book 1
by Edmund Spenser, edited with an introduction by Carol V. Kaske
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Allegory/Epic Poetry for 10th-Adult
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$15.00
Faerie Queene Book 2
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Allegory/Epic Poetry for 10th-Adult
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$14.00
Faerie Queene Book 3 & 4
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Allegory/Epic Poetry for 10th-Adult
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$16.00
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by Edmund Spenser
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Allegory/Epic Poetry for 10th-Adult
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Allegory/Epic Poetry for 10th-Adult
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Famous Legends Adapted for Children
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2022 Reprint from Living Book Press
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$7.99
Fierce Wars and Faithful Loves
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Gilgamesh (retold)
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Glittering Plain
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$6.00 (1 in stock)
High Deeds of Finn Mac Cool
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History of the Kings of Britain
Penguin Classics
by Geoffrey of Monmouth
from Penguin Classics
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Howard Pyle King Arthur Series
by Howard Pyle
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Illustrated Bulfinch's Mythology: Age of Fable
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by Thomas Bulfinch, illustrated by Giovanni Caselli
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John Burnet of Barns
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1946 Reprint from Thomas Nelson and Sons Ltd
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King Arthur and His Noble Knights
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King Arthur and the Round Table
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King of Elfland's Daughter
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King of Ireland's Son
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Signet Classics
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Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun
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Legends of the North
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Mabinogion
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Merry Adventures of Robin Hood
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Paradise Lost
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Parzival and Titurel
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Robin Hood
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Robin Hood and the Men of the Greenwood
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Romance of King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table (abridged)
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Romance of Tristan and Iseult
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Romance of Tristan and Iseult
by Joseph Bedier (reteller), translated by Hilaire Belloc and Paul Rosenfeld, introduction by Padraic Colum, illustrated by Serge Ivanoff
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Saga of the Volsungs
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Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
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Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
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by Anonymous, translated by W. S. Merwin
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Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
by Anonymous, translated by Burton Raffel
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Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
by Anonymous, translated by Brian Stone
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Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
by Anonymous, translated by Marie Borroff
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Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
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Sir Gawain and the Green Knight / Pearl / Sir Orfeo
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Sir Gawain and the Green Knight / Pearl / Sir Orfeo
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Song of Hiawatha
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, illustrated by Frederic Remington
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Song of Roland
Penguin Classics
by Dorothy Sayers, translator
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Medieval Poetic Epic for 10th-Adult
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Song of the Cid
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Dual Language from Penguin Classics
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Stories of Robin Hood & His Merry Men
"In Days of Old" series
by Henry Gilbert, illustrated by Walter Crane
from T.C. & E.C. Jack
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$12.00 (1 in stock)
Story of King Arthur and His Knights
Howard Pyle's King Arthur series book 1.
by Howard Pyle
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Fairy Tales, Fables, and Legends for 7th-10tth grade
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$14.95
Story of Kullervo
by J.R.R. Tolkien
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Story of Kullervo
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Story of Sir Launcelot and His Companions
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Story of the Champions of the Round Table
Howard Pyle's King Arthur series book 2
by Howard Pyle
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Story of the Grail and the Passing of Arthur
Howard Pyle's King Arthur series book 4
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Fairy Tales, Fables, and Legends for 7th-10th grade
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$9.50
Tale of the Cid: and Other Stories of Knights and Chivalry
by Andrew Lang
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Tales of Robin Hood Told For Children
Magna Children's Classics
by Rose Yeatman Woolf, illustrated by Howard Davie
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Voyagers, The
by Padraic Colum, illustrated by Wilfred Jones
from Smidgen Press
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1926 Newbery Honor Book
Wagner's Ring of the Nibelung I: The Rhinegold
by Robert Lawrence, illustrated by Alexandre Serebriakoff
from Grosset & Dunlap
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by Robert Lawrence, illustrated by Alexandre Serebriakoff
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Wagner's Ring of the Nibelung IV: Twilight of the Gods
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Warrior Princess
by Edmund Spenser, edited and annotated by Roy Maynard
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$20.00