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Charlemagne and the Paladins (Myths and Legends) Paperback – July 22, 2014
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About the Author
Julia Cresswell is a writer and tutor specializing in the medieval world, mythology and the history of the English Language. She is the author of over a dozen books, and lives in Oxford where she tutors regularly for the Oxford University Department of Continuing Education and Stanford University's Oxford Center. The author lives in Oxford, UK.
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Top Customer Reviews
by Julia Cresswell
Looking at the diverse legend of Charlemagne, the first ruler to unite the area that will become Europe, how his story has grown over the centuries. His history is only known in poetry and verse from generations after his life. Like Arthurian legends Charlemagne and his companions the Paladins have been taken by many authors given little changes to the stories and the characters.
This book looks into the stories comparing them to the little history that has survived the ages. The characters are described in detail showing the different versions and ideals that each of the paladins was to exhibit. The art work alone would make this a collector’s item for any lover of art.
The introduction begins by describing the wide geographic and cultural reach of stories about Charlemagne and his paladins, gives a bit of historical detail about the real-life emperor and his heirs, describes the process of “mythistory,” “where fact and fiction feed into each other,” and final explains how most of the text will be made up of the French tales.
More detail on both the historical and fictional Charlemagne follows, listing some important texts, summarizing a few key tales, and describing his interactions (fictional and real) with the Muslim world. A cast list of the paladins and their companions follows, each with a brief description.
The bulk of the book is, as one would expect, a retelling of the Song of Roland. The original is a lengthy work, to say the least, and so we aren’t going to get, nor should we expect, every detail, but as is typical of this series, Cresswell does a nice job of condensing the original, for the most part managing to avoid the sort of “then he killed then he killed then he killed” summary that can bedevil condensations of big battle epics. Nor does she shy from some of the more unsavory aspects of the tale (rumored incest, rape, etc.). Here is a brief excerpt toward the end of the battle:
Then Oliver returned to the fray, striking out wherever he could. As he did this, he called for Roland to come to his aid. Roland rode up and saw his friend pale from loss of blood. In fact, Oliver had lost so much blood that he could no longer see clearly, and in his battle fury, he struck out at Roland. Humbly and gently, Roland asked if he meant to attack him. Oliver begged forgiveness. He knew who he was now that he could hear him . . . the two friends, reconciled, embraced. The Oliver, now blind and deaf, dismounted, knelt, and prayed for God’s blessing on Charlemagne, France, and most of all, Roland. Then his heart broke and his helmeted head bowed in death. Roland slumped in the saddle, mourning his dear friend’s death.
After the “Song of Roland,” the next few short chapters summarize or retell some of the paladin tales, including how Roland and Oliver met, battles against giants, sieges, and conversions of fair Saracen maidens who fall for goodly Western knights. These tales are followed by a shift to the Italian versions of the stories, which involved a lot more romance and fantasy, and a necessarily brief outline of several well-known tales: Orlando Innamorato and Orlando Furioso. From there, Cresswell moves on to a summary, with several well-selected excerpts, of Browning’s long poem Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came and its influence on later storytellers, including Stephen King. Finally, the main part of the text closes with a return to “mythhistory”, explaining what is known about Charlemagne’s death and burial as well as what stories are later told about each, including that like King Arthur, he merely sleeps to rise again.
As is always the case with MYTHS AND LEGENDS titles, a series of sidebars are dotted throughout the text to fill in some context, though I’d say there are fewer in Charlemagne than in some of the other texts. In this case, some of what is covered includes the historical basis of some of the tales and/or characters, an explanation of the term “Saracen,” and a look at the name of Roland’s sword. The artwork, a mix of historical works and original illustrations, is excellent throughout, with Coimbra lending his drawings a strong mix of color and vibrant action.
I think I’ve only come across one weak entry in this entire series, with all the other titles ranging from good to very good to excellent. I’d place Charlemagne & the Paladins in the upper tier, somewhere between very good and excellent.
This is probably the best in the series.
Review copy provided by Net Galley.
I was always more of a King Arthur and Robin Hood fan, so was much less familiar with the tales of Charlemagne. The reasons for that are explained, but it's not because the stories aren't as fantastical. Charlemagne was a historical figure, but there are many fictional stories about Charlemagne and his paladins. The most famous of these is Roland (and I have read The Song of Roland), but we do meet Guy of Burgundy and Ogier the Dane. We learn the names of their swords and horses and battle trumpets. We also see how these stories look in the Italian versions and in Robert Browning's poem Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came, which served as a sort of inspiration for Stephen King's character of Roland Deschain in his Dark Tower series.
As well as text, there are plenty of illustrations, photographs and woodcuts to go along with the text. I continue to love this series for it's ability to be so concise in nature. There is a lot of information packed in here as well as the illustrations. The bibliography was a bit briefer this time around, but that is likely due to the briefer amount of modern work about the subject.
I was given a review copy of this ebook by Osprey Publishing and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you for allowing me to review this ebook.
A condensed beginner's guide to Charlemagne and his Paladins that includes both history and legend as well as how the myths changed over time. There's some nice artwork and the author includes a bibliography.
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