Monday, September 17, 2007
With increase in learning in the middle of the medieval European era, there appeared beside earlier myths and legends also literary fiction. Among the first to appear was the genre of romance. This genre embraced fantasy, and not only simply followed traditional myths and fables, but, in its final form, boldly created new marvels from the whole cloth.Romance at first dealt with traditional themes, above all three thematic cycles of tales, assembled in imagination at a late date as the Matter of Rome (actually centered on the life and deeds of Alexander the Great), the Matter of France (Charlemagne and Roland, his principal paladin) and the Matter of Britain (the lives and deeds of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, within which was incorporated the quest for Holy Grail).
The romances themselves were not entirely believed, but such tales as Valentine and Orson, Guillaume de Palerme, and Queste del Saint Graal were only the beginning of the fantasy genre, not fully removed from belief.During Renaissance romance continued to be popular. The trend was to more fantastic fiction. The English Le Morte d'Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory (c.1408–1471), was written in prose; this work dominates the Arthurian literature, often being regarded as the canonical form of the legend. Arthurian motifs have appeared steadily in literature from its publication, though the works have been a mix of fantasy and non-fantasy works. At the time, it and the Spanish Amadis de Gaula (1508), (also prose) spawned many imitators, and the genre was popularly well-received, producing such masterpiece of Renaissance poetry as Ludovico Ariosto's Orlando furioso and Torquato Tasso's Gerusalemme Liberata. Ariosto's tale, with its endlessly wandering characters, many marvels, and adventures, was a source text for many fantasies of adventure. With such works as Amadis of Gaul and Palmerin of England, the genre of fantasy was clearly inaugurated, as the marvels are deployed to amaze and surprise readers.
One English romance is The Faerie Queene of Edmund Spenser. The poem is deeply allegorical and allusive, Leaving allegory aside, however, the action is that of a typical knightly romance, involving knightly duels, and combats against giants and sorcerers. That is probably the first work in which most of the characters are not men, but elves (although the difference seems to be rather little). There are mentioned also the wars between goblins and elves, which were destined to have a great future in fantastic fiction.
The tale of Don Quixote deeply satirized the conventions of the romance, and helped bring about the end of this time of romance, although assisted by other historical trends in fiction. Nevertheless, large subgenres of the field of fantasy have sprung from the romance genre, either directly or through their imitation by latter fantasy writer William Morris.