Lancelot and the Lord of the Distant Isles, or, the Book of Galehaut Retold

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PATRICIA TERRY and SAMUEL N. ROSENBERG with wood engravings by judith jaidinger, Lancelot and the Lord of the Distant Isles, or, The Book of Galehaut Retold. Jaffrey, NH: Godine, 2006. Pp. xvii, 226. ISBN: 978-1-56792-32-7. $26.95.

This enchanting retelling of tales from the Lancelot en prose follows the tradition of Joseph Bédier's famous and widely popular The Romance of Tristan. Like Bédier, Terry and Rosenberg reshape a medieval text to make it more accessible to a contemporary audience. The problem faced in each case is, however, intriguingly different. Bédier was faced with a number of versions of the prose Tristan, none of which was entirely complete, and few of which entirely agreed with each other. Although Gottfried von Strasbourg and Thomas conveniently fit together with Thomas supplying the conclusion lacking in Gottfried, the Béroul version is considerably different and other anomalous versions record unique variants. Bédier hoped to reconstruct the Archetype from these sometimes disparate materials. Whether one agrees that he has indeed recovered the archetypal version of the Tristan (and I doubt that anyone now does believe it), his narrative has an artistic grace of its own and has delighted and continues to delight readers whether they are or are not Tristan scholars.

Terry and Rosenberg had quite the opposite problem. Their 'archetype' already exists in its entirety, even if not all manuscripts agree, but their project, as the subtitle makes clear, is to reconstruct a somewhat different text by rigorously pruning the original material. Thus, while Bédier was working with a process of accretion, Terry and Rosenberg approach their project by a series of eliminations. In both cases, the aim is to create a coherent, readable text. And in this, both achieve remarkable success. In addition to providing readable redactions, Bédier and Terry-Rosenberg have a clear motivation behind their recensions. For Bédier, the new version is meant to prove his theories of the Archetype; for Terry and Rosenberg, the motive is to extract from the Lancelot the embedded narrative of Galehaut and his tragic love for Lancelot. …