marycatelli (marycatelli) wrote,

what really happened

One disadvantage of familiarity with the history of legends is the piece of historical fiction that presents its tale as telling the true story, the source of all the stories -- and it's impossible.

And you know that because you are familiar with the evolving legends, and it is providing historical justifications for characters that are certainly latter accretions.

Most "historical" accounts of King Arthur will have Lancelot, and many have Galahad, but we had slews of King Arthur tales from before the existence of those characters, in the days when Sir Gawain was without a question the greatest of King Arthur's knights.  Lancelot was clearly developed in response to the refitting of the legends for the purposes of courtly love.  And Galahad was clearly developed in the same way for the Holy Grail.  We can trace their development in the manuscripts.  (And some writers try to evade it by giving Lancelot the name of a knight found in older works.  Then why was he renamed, if this is true history?)

Or Robin Hood.  With Maid Marian, Friar Tuck, and Alan-a-Dale -- and I sigh.  Robin Hood's oldest companions are Little John, Much the Miller's son, and Will Scarlet/Scarlett/Scarlock/Scadlock/Scatheloke/ Scathelocke/probably other last names in places, and a handful of Merry Men who appear only once apiece in the older ballads.  Maid Marian may even be older than Robin Hood, certainly the records of her are older, but she was unrelated.  There was a time when both she and he were popular figures in May Day festivities, where they would put on plays -- described by a writer as "of Maid Marian or else of Robin Hood", but the cross-over happened there.  Friar Tuck also appears to have gotten in there, too.  He couldn't have been part of the original history, whatever happened -- Richard the Lion-Hearted predated Francis of Assisi, and so in his time, there were monks, but no friars.  Then, the earliest ballads put Robin Hood in the reign of "King Edward".  Alan-a-Dale is worse:  he is definitely an addition from Victorian times.

If the writers put them in illo tempore and give them a mythical aura, it might work, but overwhelmingly it is presented as this is what really happened.
Tags: characters, fictional history, myths and legends, reading

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