SLIGHTLY later than the verse romances, though over-lapping them, come the long prose romances which close the epoch in Arthurian romance. The poetry, roughly speaking, belongs to the last half of the twelfth century, the prose to the first quarter of the thirteenth. In the poetry, traces of the old minstrel tradition still linger; these are obliterated in the prose, which reflects a civilization where reading has entirely superseded recitation and song. A later epoch is moreover clearly indicated in the complex interweaving and occasional debasing of the materials used.
These prose romances are the immediate sources of Malory's book. There is no evidence that he had direct knowledge of any twelfth-century poet; but his compilation is based on selections from the long prose works which in his day had delighted Europe for over two hundred years. For if the poems were popular, the prose romances seem to have been more popular still. Indeed, till quite recently, the mention of mediæval romance did not suggest poetry at all, but rather interminable prose stories in black-letter, such as George Macdonald's heroes are always discovering in old libraries where they lie moldering and forgotten.