Tristan & Iseult

October 14, 2019 at 3:14 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Tristan and Iseult, Tristan and Isolde, Drustan and Yseult… the variations of spellings are endless, but the way the names – and the story – roll of the tongue, largely stay the same.

I didn’t read the story growing up, but I gathered the main plot points throughout other literary references my whole life. The story was built slowly, for me, an allusion here, a quip there, until when I watched Legends of the Fall for the first time in college, I thought I understood the the gist of the movie’s genius: naming the wild heart that could not be tamed “Tristan” and subtly throwing in that his wife’s name was Isabel.

The movie is based on a book by Jim Harrison, that I later read and was not so smitten by, I even wrote a less than glowing review here. But in finally reading Tristan & Iseult both to myself and aloud to my daughter, I’m finding the desire to re-read Jim Harrison’s novella swelling in my literary soul.

The part that never sunk in through other literature, or the heavily influenced King Arthur, Guinevere, and Lancelot love-triangle–the part that left me briefly chuckling in a “Oh I see what they did there” –was that there are TWO Iseults. (And *spoiler* Tristan’s wife in Legends of the Fall is known as Isabel Two.) The story of Tristan and Iseult follows the tale of Tristan falling in love with Iseult the Fair, Queen of Cornwall, but marrying another Iseult, called Iseult of Whitehands. If you wanted to twist literature and try to be one of those people who got extra creative, telling authors what they were really trying to say and all that, you could say the wild-hearted Tristan had mommy issues and was Oedipally in love with the first Isabel. But that’s just too much…

The point is that literature is pervasive, ancient poems permeating society for generations; legends evolving and growing, but also maintaining. The stories of Tristan & Iseult, in all their incarnations, heavily influenced the King Arthur tales, the theme or forbidden love–no matter how ridiculous–ending in passionate death (Romeo and Juliet, anyone), continue for centuries. Bits and pieces dribbled in to make each new story more rich with nuance and the truths behind the human condition.

John William Waterhouse painting of Tristan & Isolde drinking poison.

So, I found the most “original” version I could find (and still read in English) for myself, and the most kid friendly version for me to read out loud for my eight year old. Rosemary Sutcliff is my go-to when it comes to ancient or medieval tales brought to life for a young audience. Much to my pleasure, she had a Tristan & Iseult published in 1991. Kiddo gave the story 4 stars on Goodreads, “It was really amazing, but also dramatic, and all the love stuff isn’t what would really happen.”

We had many discussions on the difference between love and passion. “Love is patient, love is kind, love does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud, love is not rude or self seeking. It is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrong. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth…” A man who loves you will never encourage adultery. A woman who loves a man will not participate in adultery. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth. Cheating isn’t love, it is passion. Some romance can be romanticized too much. It’s not that the “love stuff isn’t what would really happen,” it’s that it would happen, it does happen, and that’s not love, that’s agonizing obsession.

I enjoy working through literature with her. When she’s in college, I’ll be interested to see what her much more informed reaction will be to Legends of the Fall. As soon as my library is out of storage, I plan to re-read a few things, and see if my own mind has been changed by the experience of reading the literature that came before.

Permalink 1 Comment

The Big Book for Peace

February 24, 2014 at 10:54 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

A Weekly Low Down on Kids Books

big book for peace

This picture is from BookMine – the one I took at GBITW didn’t take.

Title: The Big Book for Peace

This is where I normally list the authors and illustrators of a book… there were so many involved with The Big Book for Peace that I opted to take a picture of the title page instead:

P1010142

I’ve been eying this for awhile now.  It’s been perched on display in the kid’s section at Good Books in the Woods for months now.  Why has no one picked it up?  Why is no one buying this.  It’s in a nice slip cover, it’s been taken care of.  There’s some slight water damage that – as a book collector – I see no problem with, it’s ever so slight and does not take away from the magic of the book.  It’s a nice, clean copy.  It’s only $12.

I know why I haven’t purchased it – I’m completely overloaded with books AND have NO money.

But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to read it until someone else does decide to take this treasure home.

So today, I sat down with the kiddo, in a bookstore, in another person’s home – and my home away from home – and read her the first story in the book.

P1010141Filled with castles and kings as any good Lloyd Alexander story should be, The Two Brothers follows a tale of two men who split the kingdom their father left them in half.  From the rubble of the fortress they grew up in, they build two separate castles.  What begins as a sweet story between the kindest brothers ever evolves into a competition of who can build the better kingdom, each man filled with greed and a medieval ‘keeping up with the Jonses’ mentality.

So many times, the reader can see where each brother makes an unwise choice, continuing the bitterness.  Until we arrive at this lovely illustration, which my camera has done little justice:

P1010140

This story was kiddo approved (she’s three, but it is a nice tale for any age). I look forward to the next chapter of The Big Book of Peace.

Permalink Leave a Comment

Emma, my introduction to the Viking era

September 12, 2012 at 9:36 pm (Education, Reviews, Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Title: Emma: The Twice-Crowned Queen, England in the Viking Age

Author: Isabella Strachan

Publisher: Peter Owen Publishers

Length: 192 pgs.

First of all, let me premise this by informing you that like the Catherines/Katherines of Henry VIII’s time, the name Elgiva/Emma runs rampant during the Viking age of England.  For instance, the subject of this biography was born Emma but the English chose to call her by the Latin equivalent: Elgiva.  Emma was the second wife of the widowed Ethelred, whose first wife’s name was Elgiva.  When Ethelred (king of England under the Saxons) dies and his land then conquered by the Danes (while King Swegn ruled), a Dane named Canute (Cnut) came to power.  Emma becomes his wife as well, but guess what? He already has a ‘wife’ named… any takers? anyone? anyone? Yep, Elgiva.  This makes for some interesting reading, but Strachan eases the issue by always referring to Emma as only Emma and providing a handy-dandy cast list in the front of the book.

When I first heard of Emma, I expected a woman who was cunning and manipulative.  Someone with political the intrigue of a Cleopatra or Elizabeth I.  I thought I’d be reading about a woman with a deep political agenda, always out-playing others in a real-life chess match.  Instead I found a woman who seems to me to have been more adaptive, reactive, a survivor constantly caught between a rock and a hard place.  The Twice-Crowned Queen is less of a political master mind and more of a drowning victim always bobbing up to the surface of the water just moments before death.

She was young when she became the bargaining chip in an arranged marriage to King Ethelred.  It was a political ploy of others that ensured the Normans and Vikings were kept at bay during a time of imminent war, as both her father and half-brother were Dukes of Normandy with close, friendly ties to the Vikings.  After Ethelred dies and England taken over by the Danes, Canute is chosen to be the new King.  The problem with this arrangement is that the Church and Cabinet wanted Emma to remain the Queen.  It remained good political sense, but Canute already had a wife.  Canute had a handfast wife, referred to as Elgiva of Northampton.  From what I gather from Strachan, a handfast wife was the Medieval equivalent of a ‘Common-law wife.’  Handfast wives had all the political and societal rights of a true spouse, but were not recognized by the church.  Later William the Conqueror’s own mother would turn out to be a Handfast Wife, which was why he was a Duke of Normandy but still got called William the Bastard.

Either way, there was a lot of drama surrounding Emma’s marriage to Canute.  He seems to have been completely in love with Elgiva of Northampton and despite promising that Emma would be his only Queen and her children heir to the throne, Elgiva was the only one granted regency rights over her own lands and it was her son Harold that took the throne upon Canute’s death.  Emma was again just a political pawn to keep the peace, and in keeping the peace was forced to send her own children (from Ethelred) away to grow up abandoned by their mother while fighting tooth and nail to keep her children by Canute in the running for the throne.  There is a poem called Samiramis that I’d like to get my hands on, written by the Normans of the time, that tells their account of the entire incident.

What I initially saw as an intense woman ensuring each of her children had a chance to rule (as her son Harthacnut from Canute and her oldest son Edward from Ethelred both eventually become King, while her daughter was the Queen of Germany), after the biography I feel that most of this was just chance and circumstance.  Harthacnut was indeed fought for to be King, but his half-brother Edward the Confessor became King despite his mother.  Edward actually stripped Emma of all her political rights as soon as he gained the throne.  One of the clenchers for me having been interested in studying her was that she was William the Conqueror’s great-aunt, but he did not seem to have much of a tie to her, he merely showed a bit of respect for his cousins.

I am glad I read the book.  Although I am disillusioned about her character, I think she’s still mighty impressive and wonder why she was left out of my education.  Reading this biography made me intensely interested in reading additional history on William the Conqueror and his mother Arlette (Herleva).  Lady Godiva also makes a cameo appearance, which piqued my interest as well as a man named Olaf Haraldsson.  As I always say, the more you read, the more you discover you need to read.

This book would make a great addition to a well-read 11-12 year old’s Medieval history curriculum.  It is short, sweet, and informative of not just Emma but a huge piece of history that made the English monarchy what it later became.  And I loved it.

Permalink Leave a Comment

What’s Up With Those Templars?

February 15, 2010 at 9:41 pm (Reviews, The Whim) (, , , , , , , , , )

So in Fall of 2009 I started a discussion thread in my book club about The Templars and Freemasons, and all those other secret societies that seem to have become lumped into one cohesive thought over that last few hundred years. I thought it would be fun and interesting (not unlike the Darwin study I’ve been doing lately). No one joined me.

My Book List was to Include:

Foucault’s Pendulum – Umberto Eco (fiction)

The Holy Bible – I am still using the Archaeological Study Bible put out by Zondervan (religion) as well as another version called ESV.

The Masonic Ritual or Guide to the Three Symbolic Degrees of the Ancient York Rite – Grand Lodge Free and Accepted Masons at San Antonio, Texas (religion/secret societies/ Freemasons/ occult)

Adoptive Rite Ritual of the Order of the Eastern Star together with the Queen of the South – arranged by Robert Macoy (religion/secret societies/Freemasons/ occult)

The Amaranth – Robert Macoy (religion/secret societies/ Freemasons/ occult)

The Templars – Piers Paul Read (history/religion/secret societies/ Freemasons/ occult)

The Meaning of Masonry – W. L. Wilmshurst (religion/ secret societies/ Freemasons/ occult)

Ivanhoe – Sir Walter Scott – (fiction / literature)

also for fun…
The DaVinci Code – Dan Brown (fiction/ mystery)
The Pickwick Papers – Charles Dickens (fiction/ literature)

Out of those, I read Foucault’s Pendulum (which was brilliant, as are all things Umberto Eco) and I just finished the book by Piers Paul Read.

Why did it take so long?

Piers Paul Read has an extensive history that spans three or so centuries – parts are fascinating and I couldn’t put the book down, and other parts were dull and I couldn’t wait to put the book down. What I discovered upon completion of the book, though, is that I was just being made more and more aware of how many interesting people there are in history that I should be reading biographies on! Eleanor of Aquitaine is mentioned a bit right around page 140 or so… There’s a picture of Richard the Lionheart in battle featured in the ‘centerfold’ pictures. I should know more about these people who are so well known among historians that every day people recognize their names too. Its not enough for me to recognize them – I want to KNOW them.

I noticed too that I tended to plod slowly through this book (and this topic in general) because it seems to create more questions than it answers. There is so much documentation of so many conflicting ideas. Were the knights actually crusaders for Christ? Were their actions even remotely compatible with the teachings of Jesus? Or, were they really devil worshipers like so many throughout history convicted them of being? Can the documented confessions be trusted? Or was it all just a a little too similar to events such as the Salem Witch Hunts?

The discussion thread for the book club is still open – join and add your thoughts there: http://www.shelfari.com/groups/32350/discussions/136727/Knights-Templar-Books-

Or, just tell me your opinion below. Also, if you’ve read something interesting on the Templars or the Freemasons, share the book and your review of it as a comment. I plan to continue my studies on the topic.

Permalink 1 Comment