How many Arthurian romances are there?
Have you ever gone shopping for toothpaste at Target? And they sell row upon row of specialty toothpaste? Crest with Whitening. Crest with Fresh Breath. Crest with Whitening and Fresh Breath. Crest with Stinky Breath. Cinnamon Aqua Fresh Whitening Pro-Care. Cinnamon Colgate Mouth Wash Ultra-Plus. Now imagine brushing your teeth with King Arthur, and that is how many of these dang romances there are.
What the hell is a romance, anyway?
"Romance" as used here doesn't mean what it does in 21st Century English, namely a love affair. It's more like a genre of literature: there's a tragedy, the comedy, the Bildungsroman, the romance, the pastoral, the picaresque … There were a whole bunch of terms like this when I was slogging through English literature courses in college.
The genre of romance is basically described as some chivalrous hero-guy tearing around some kingdom on a fantastical quest in gallant service to his lady, his king, and his God (in descending order of importance). In short: the romance is the medieval version of an adventure story - or rather, our adventure stories are the modern-day descendants of medieval romances. Star Wars is a romance, more or less.
Of all the Arthurian toothpastes, which is the best?
Monty Python and the Quest for the Holy Grail. Nobody ever gets tired of hearing quotes from it, ever.
James, stop being cute; make charts of various things.
|Time||Author||Romance||Point of Interest|
|540||Gildas||On the Ruin and Conquest of Britain||Historical accounting of then-recent British history, including Vortigern and Aurelius Ambrosius, a powerful war-leader who repelled the Saxons.|
|830||Nennius||Historia Brittonum||One of the earliest accounts, featuring quick mentions of Vortigern allowing the rapacious Saxons into Britain, and Arthur (a war leader rather than a king) building an alliance and driving the Saxons off in the next generation in a series of twelve battles including Mount Badon. (Badon was a historical battle; this is the first text linking it to Arthur, who supposedly slew 960 men.) Features Bedivere's battle with Gurgi, Arthur's treacherous son Amr, and Merlin ("Ambrosius").|
|1000s||Unknown||Pa Gur||Welsh poem reciting Arthur's acts and those of his knights, most notably Kay and Bedivere|
|early 1100's||Unknown||Four Branches of the Mabinogion||Welsh myths, almost unrecognizable as King Arthur stuff|
|1137||Geoffrey of Monmouth||History of the Kings of Britain||The first widely popular consolidation of the Welsh stories into Latin. Arthur is just one part of a 2000-year pseudo-history of the British Isles. Vortigern, Hengist & Horsa, Aurelius Ambrosius, Merlin, King Arthur, Saxons, Badon, Emperor Lucius, Mordred, Camlann, Avalon, and Constatine.|
|later 1100's||Unknown||haven't survived||The "Matter of Britain" becomes one of the three main story-cycles for the French troubadors|
|1170s||Chretien de Troyes||Erec and Enide, Clige, Knight of the Cart, Knight of the Lion||First surviving Arthurian romances in French. First appearance of Lancelot! Less emphasis on the epic tragedy, and more using Arthur's court as the hub for many chivalrous, amorous knights-errant.|
|1183||James Goldman||The Lion in Winter||(Not Arthurian: just using this as a pop culture reference point)|
Here are some selected later works
|1858 - 1885||Alfred, Lord Tennyson||Idylls of the King|
|1860s||Richard Wagner||Tristan und Isolde|
|1941 - 1958||T.H. White||The Once and Future King||maybe James's favorite version|