Not Your Standard Chivalric Tale

There must be a conspiracy against chivalric literature; otherwise, such excellent stories would be read more often.  In particular, the general public holds the belief that these stories offer unrealistic portrayals of human nature and the same scenarios over and over again.  (Perhaps that derives from people reading Thomas Mallory’s Le Morte D’Arthur all the way through.)  Yes, knights are a brave lot and hungry for honor, but knights do not have to be brave and hungry for glory in the same manner.  Yvain: The Knight of the Lion by Chrétien de Troyes shows how chivalric stories are not the uninventive tall tales people believe them to be.

Sir Bors

Chrétien de Troyes has a deft touch when it comes to characterization.  Our hero Sir Yvain is not only brave and chivalrous, but negligent, imprudent, and whimsical.  One cannot help but be struck by the ludicrousness of Sir Yvain falling in love with the widow of the knight he slays in single combat.  As she mourns at her husband’s grave, Yvain lies hidden and admires her beauty even as he laments the grief he produced in her.  But, she cannot have felt for her husband that much: in less than a week, her confidante, Lunette, convinces the lady to marry Yvain, who acknowledges himself as her husband’s slayer, within a week!  After the arrival of King Arthur’s court, Sir Gawain convinces Sir Yvain to neglect his lands and marriage for more than the year which his wife permitted him to be away.  This leads to the couple’s estrangement, and Yvain going mad.  The rest of the tale tells us of Sir Yvain’s adventures and attempts to win back the love of his wife.

Sir Yvain

That gives one an idea of how fallible the characters in this book are.  Chrétien de Troyes may have the ideal of the perfect knight in his mind, but real knights are not so perfect.  The foul mouthed Sir Kay also helps add much color to this story of knightly combats and monster slaying.  Sir Yvain earns the nickname Knight of the Lion when he rescues a lion from a giant serpent.  Thus begins a great partnership, as the lion is more than willing to even the odds for Yvain.  Some of the lines and the robust, Catholic zeitgeist of the times make this book a unique experience as well.  And so, I should highly recommend this work especially to people who have not yet explored medieval romances.


On the Ahistoricity of the New 300 movie

I’m sure that everyone whose watched the movie knows that The 300 – Rise of an Empire is barely historical.  But, here’s an excellent article which points out five major flaws of the film, including the needless and disturbing sex scene in the movie.  The only problem I have with the article is the confusing reference to Themistocles’ “slave-wife.”  Now, women were second class citizens in the Classical world, but neither their husbands nor their fathers thought of them as slaves.   And both Themistocles first and then second wife seem to have come from upper class Athenian families.

Five Things 300 Rise of an Empire Gets Wrong


EMT’s R. E. Lee

This site was dedicated to the purpose of writing about both fiction and history; yet, neither my partner nor I have posted anything of a purely historical interest.  (Though, this article mentions a historical movement at least.)  And so, I am resisting the inclination to post this on Aquilon’s Eyrie, a blog specializing in American culture.  This is despite the fact that I mention this particular biography on that site first.

EMT R. E. Lee

One of Emory M. Thomas’s goals when writing about Lee was to delineate the man himself.  He wished to avoid the extremes of hagiography or smearing his good name, which he felt had been the goals of his past biographers.  (Though, Douglas Southall Freeman’s four volume biography offers an example of rigid adherence to facts and is considered R. E. Lee’s greatest biography.)  I have to agree that Thomas offers us a very human portrait of Lee.  At the same time, he cannot think of Lee as anything less than a Hero.  (He capitalizes the H.)  Lee had his faults: he struggled to suppress a short temper, his work style was rather OCD, and he possessed such a predilection for female society that he had few male friends.   Yet, Thomas praises Lee for his perseverance in suppressing his temper and the excellence Lee’s character achieved through modelling his actions on the Master, Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Lee with his sons

Perhaps, I found myself most edified by Thomas’ portrayal of Lee’s emotive side and the clarification of Lee’s views on blacks.  Robert E. Lee on Leadership by H. W. Crocker had convinced me that Lee ran ahead of his time in his views on slavery and blacks.  During the Civil War, he did recommend to Jefferson Davis that slavery be abolished so that France and England would not be embarrassed to aid southern arms.  However, Crocker led me to believe that Lee had emancipated all his slaves (inherited from his father-in-law) prior to the Civil War.  The case seems rather to be that he liberated some until the rest were freed perforce due to the Northern invasion.  It is true that Lee came to hate slavery, but he held a Jeffersonian understanding of emancipation: blacks are intellectually inferior to whites and cannot function in a republic.  He wished them free, but not in the same country.  Before anyone looks down on Lee for that, consider that people’s minds are restricted by the customs and opinions of their times–whether in the 19th or 21st century–and that many a Northern abolitionist felt no differently on the matter.

More so than Crocker, Thomas makes the reader understand how warmhearted Lee was and the degree to which he cared about people.  Crocker does write about how Lee was a concerned father and cared for his troops, but this Lee comes across as more stoic than Thomas’s Lee.  In regard to his parenting, Thomas writes that not only did Lee give good moral instruction and set a good example, but Lee also loved his children most affectionately and enjoyed playing with them.  In regard to the affection which he held for his troops, when a certain general lamented the slaughter of Pickett’s charge and the loss of the battle, Thomas records Lee’s loud outburst: “Too bad!  Too bad!  OH!  TOO BAD!”  In this singular outburst, one can feel his anguish and pity for all the Confederates who lost their lives in the bloodiest battle of the war.  Lee may have been called the “marble man,” but his exactitude and polished manners concealed a heart full of compassion.  Perhaps, it can even more be said of Lee than of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain that “he has the heart of a woman and the courage of a lion.”

Still possessing a military posture even into old age.

Still possessing a military posture even into old age.

I have seen the remark that this work is as hard to trudge through as a textbook.  I submit that the beginning of Lee’s life makes for difficult reading, alleviated by the excitement of the Mexican War; yet, the sections from the strife leading up to the Civil War to the end read very quickly.  The greater information about Lee at this time makes the author feel less compelled to intrude his personal views into the work.  Certain points of the work are marked by excessive fixation on Lee’s faults.  (To make him seem more human, I suppose?)  I could have also done without some of his political comments.  Yet, this cannot take away from the truth that this is a well written biography, and perhaps the best one available as a single volume.

“The Process”

This is an excellent article on the fiction writing process. Cristian Mihai’s articles on the craft of fiction writing and perseverance in writing are the best I’ve read.

Cristian Mihai

process Sometimes when I tell people I’m a writer they ask me about my process – how do I write. I find it to be a pretty funny question, and I often tell them that all I do is sit at my computer and type. Like I’m doing just now.

It might sound like me being arrogant, but it’s not. I don’t outline, I don’t make plans. I just write.

It all starts with a vision… can I call it that? An image, a sound, a conversation. A whisper. And that becomes a scene, and I replay it in my head, over and over again, always adding more, until I have something. It’s just a glimpse of something or a glimpse of nothing… only time will tell.

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Medieval Otaku on Twitter

As of now, I have a twitter account. Be sure to follow me there too!

Medieval Otaku

Hello, my dear readers!  I have decided to get a twitter account, since I read this post which recommended the idea.  I have the idea that one should approach it like a cocktail party, where one can drift from one conversation to another.  Hope to see some more of my fellow bloggers there!

Can't recommend Vinland Saga enough.  Written by the truly medieval mangaka, Makoto Yukimura. Can’t recommend Vinland Saga enough. Written by the truly medieval mangaka, Makoto Yukimura.

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In Pursuit of the Obvious

An excellent selection of quotes, which makes one wish the blogger had strung them together in an article. 🙂

Egotist's Club

In the course of writing last night’s post, I struggled to corral my thoughts so as to share them in an orderly fashion.  But these other quotations express a little bit more on the subject, so I wanted to share them too.


I am the man who with the utmost daring discovered what had been discovered before. If there is an element of farce in what follows, the farce is at my own expense; for this book explains how I fancied I was the first to set foot in Brighton and then found I was the last. It recounts my elephantine adventures in pursuit of the obvious. No one can think my case more ludicrous than I think it myself; no reader can accuse me here of trying to make a fool of him: I am the fool of this story, and no rebel shall hurl me from my…

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