Literary developments

In those days carts were used as pillories are now; where each large town now has three thousand or more carts, in those times they had but one. Like our pillories, that cart was for all criminals alike, for all traitors and murderers, for all those who had lost trials by combat, and for all those who had stolen another’s possessions by larceny or snatched them by force on the highways. The guilty person was taken and made to mount in the cart and was led through every street; he had lost all his feudal rights and was never again heard at court, nor invited or honoured there. Since in those days carts were so dreadful, the saying first arose: ‘Whenever you see a cart and cross its path, make the sign of the cross and remember God, so that evil will not befall you.’


The dwarf immediately continued on his way, without slowing down even an instant for the knight, who hesitated but two steps before climbing in. He would regret this moment of hesitation and be accursed and shamed for it; he would come to consider himself ill-used. But Reason, who does not follow Love’s command, told him to beware of getting in, and admonished and counselled him not to do anything for which he might incur disgrace or reproach. Reason, who dared tell him this, spoke from the lips, not from the heart; but Love, who held sway within his heart, urged and commanded him to climb into the cart at once. Because Love ordered and wished it, he jumped in; since Love ruled his action, the disgrace did not matter.

  • The Knight of the Cart, by Chretien de Troyes, trans. William Kibler

Having finished Le Morte D’Arthur, I’ve continued my Arthurian reading by picking up a collection of Chretien de Troyes, the man who more or less invented the medieval romance.

It’s interesting to note how considering Troyes and Malory puts the lie to certain views that a lot of biblical scholars (particularly of the New Testament sort) have held about literary development: particularly, that the more sophisticated a literary treatment of a particular tale or theological notion is, the more likely it was composed at a later date. Mark’s gospel is the shortest and crudest of the four, and so it was likely composed first, etc.

Malory’s work in Le Morte D’Arthur is often crude, more impressive for its encyclopedic thoroughness than anything else. Tales are recounted in a terse, bare-bones manner with little finesse. Troyes’ work, on the other hand, has a greater degree of literary sophistication, weaving several stories into little proto-novellas that take a great degree of interest in the psychological lives of its characters. And yet Troyes antedates Malory by two centuries or so, providing the origin of Lancelot.

Anyway, with NaNoWriMo less than three months away, I have a vague plan to revisit the medieval/sci-fi mashup I tried to write last year, in the hopes that my reading has made me a better match for the material.

About Josh W

Scribbler and doodler
This entry was posted in Assigned Reading, fragments of culture and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Literary developments

  1. I greatly enjoyed de Troyes’s Yvain the Knight of the Lion. A collection of his chivalric tales is somewhere in my apartment, and you make we want to open that volume again. I heartily agree that de Troyes is far superior to Malory. After book nine, I found Malory very repetitive, and so I stopped reading Le Morte D’Arthur at that point.

    Good luck on finishing your novel!

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