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M for Merlin

Helen Cooper: Chrétien deTroyes

25 November 1999
Perceval: The Story of the Grail 
by Chrétien deTroyes, translated by Burton Raffel.
Yale, 307 pp., £22.50, March 1999, 0 300 07586 3
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... and quickly Saddled his hunting horse . . . In these lines we are introduced to the hero of Chrétien deTroyes’s last romance, written late in the 12th century. He is a youth brought up in the forest, without any knowledge of his high lineage, knighthood, the basic rules of polite behaviour, or his own ...

Fill it with fish

Helen Cooper: The trail of the Grail

6 June 2002
Parzival and the Stone from Heaven: A Grail Romance Retold for Our Time 
by Lindsay Clarke.
HarperCollins, 239 pp., £14.99, September 2001, 0 00 710813 3
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Merlin and the Grail: ‘Joseph of Arimathea’, ‘Merlin’, ‘Perceval’ The Trilogy of Arthurian Romances Attributed to Robert de Boron 
translated by Nigel Bryant.
Boydell and Brewer, 172 pp., £30, May 2001, 0 85991 616 2
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Le Livre du Graal. Tome I: ‘Joseph D’Arimathie’, ‘Merlin’, ‘Les Premiers Faits du Roi Arthur’ 
edited by Daniel Poirion and Philippe Walter.
Gallimard, 1993 pp., £50.95, April 2001, 2 07 011342 6
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... what does one do with the Grail once one has found it?’ This sounds almost as much the definitive question as the Grail was the definitive quest, but Jowett’s objection is more radically misconceived than any answer could be. The Grail is the ultimate object of ...
3 February 2000
The Crusades: Islamic Perspectives 
by Carole Hillenbrand.
Edinburgh, 648 pp., £80, July 1999, 0 7486 0905 9
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... In his preface to The Crusades, Yasir Suleiman, professor of Arabic at Edinburgh University, observes that ‘the author has as her primary aim the scholarly objective of balancing the skewed picture of the Crusades in Western scholarship.’ I’m not sure what he means by this ...

Aliens

Peter Burke

18 March 1982
The Monstrous Races in Medieval Art and Thought 
by John Friedman.
Harvard, 268 pp., £14, July 1981, 0 674 58652 2
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Apparitions in Late Medieval and Renaissance Spain 
by William Christian.
Princeton, 349 pp., £16.80, September 1981, 9780691053264
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... dogs’ heads, who wear a covering of wild beasts’ skins, whose speech is barking … Ktesias describes a tribe of men called Sciopods (Umbrella-Feet), because in the hotter weather they lie on their backs on the ground and protect themselves with the shadow of their feet.’ Pliny went on to describe the appearance and ...

Wholly Given Over to Thee

Anne Barton: Literary romance

2 December 2004
The English Romance in Time: Transforming Motifs from Geoffrey of Monmouth to the Death of Shakespeare 
by Helen Cooper.
Oxford, 560 pp., £65, June 2004, 0 19 924886 9
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... Peele’s Elizabethan play The Old Wives’ Tale, a character called Jack interrogates the ‘wandering knight’ Eumenides: ‘Are you not the man, sir (deny it if you can, sir) that came from a strange place in the land of Catita, where Jackanapes flies with his tail in his mouth, to ...

Worse than Pagans

Tom Shippey: The Church v. the Fairies

1 December 2016
Elf Queens and Holy Friars: Fairy Beliefs and the Medieval Church 
by Richard Firth Green.
Pennsylvania, 285 pp., £36, August 2016, 978 0 8122 4843 2
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... At the start​ of ‘The Wife of Bath’s Tale’, Chaucer has the Wife declare that her tale is set long ago, in the days of King Arthur. Back then the land was ‘fulfild of fayerye’, and the elf queen danced with her company in the green meadows. But that’s all over now. The elves and fairies have been driven out by the friars, who have blanketed the country with prayers and blessings ...

Writing French in English

Helen Cooper: Chaucer’s Language

7 October 2010
TheFamiliar Enemy: Chaucer, Language and Nation in the Hundred Years War 
by Ardis Butterfield.
Oxford, 444 pp., £60, December 2009, 978 0 19 957486 5
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... dialect. On the streets and in the shops, I could usually get by in French; but some of the older generation spoke only German plus the local dialect, and some the dialect alone. The town’s one Protestant church held two services on a Sunday, one in French and one in German. For its annual celebration of confirmation, a day given the same prominence as ...

Medieval Fictions

Stuart Airlie

21 February 1985
Chivalry 
by Maurice Keen.
Yale, 303 pp., £12.95, April 1984, 0 300 03150 5
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The Rise of Romance 
by Eugène Vinaver.
Boydell, 158 pp., £12, February 1984, 0 85991 158 6
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War in the Middle Ages 
by Philippe Contamine, translated by Michael Jones.
Blackwell, 387 pp., £17.50, June 1984, 0 631 13142 6
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War and Government in the Middle Ages 
edited by John Gillingham and J.C. Holt.
Boydell, 198 pp., £25, July 1984, 0 85115 404 2
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Prussian Society and the German Orde
by Michael Burleigh.
Cambridge, 217 pp., £22.50, May 1984, 9780521261043
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... by the work of Georges Duby, of the great clash of knights at Bouvines (1214), one of the few decisive set-piece battles of the Middle Ages. Such artists, like their Romantic predecessors, find in the culture of Medieval knighthood what they want or need to find. Historians can behave like this too, as the example of ...

The ashtrays worry me

Emilie Bickerton: Eric Rohmer

19 March 2015
Eric Rohmer: Biographie 
by Antoine de Baecque and Noël Herpe.
Stock, 605 pp., €29, January 2014, 978 2 234 07561 0
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Friponnes de porcelaine 
by Eric Rohmer.
Stock, 304 pp., €20, January 2014, 978 2 234 07631 0
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... he practised daily in the double life he lived for more than seventy years. In his film-making he demanded exhaustive preparation and absolute precision: he recorded countless sunsets disappearing into the sea in the hope of capturing one elusive green ray; he planted flowers so that a ...

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