I thought that I would post about Bulfinch’s Legends Of Charlemagne, but I found these tales mind-numbingly boring in their continuous repetition of themes, in their total lack of suspense-building, and in the large number of characters introduced but never developed or individualized beyond fulfilling their particular roles of “good knight” or “traitor” or “good damsel” or “bad witchy woman” et cetera. And it’s in that old style in which everything is TOLD, and not SHOWN. I was doubly disappointed because I DID enjoy the stand-alone story of the Chanson de Roland which I read some years ago.
I did find helpful and entertaining the explanatory notes written by Richard Martin. For instance, he writes that the big philosophical question troubling the thoughts of the idealized knights peopling these legends is… “Does one fight for Charlemagne or for Love?” That actually sums up quite a lot about what little internal-struggle is going on inside the minds of the characters of these tales.
Martin also astutely observes that women, in these stories, are not so much damsels in distress as they are either: 1) lures to danger, or 2) threats to loyalty. Loyalty– or to put it Medieval-like, fealty— was the engine that drove the successful multi-layered States of the Middle Ages. Serfs were loyal to their Knights, Knights to their Lords, Lords to their Overlords, and Overlords to their Kings. A threat to loyalty was, with little exaggeration, a threat to civilization. In other words… women, to the medieval mind, were just plain dangerous any which way you approached them.