The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).>br>Volume I. From the Beginnings to the Cycles of Romance.

XIII. Metrical Romances, 1200–1500: I

§ 11. Fairy Tales

The different versions of Launfal—Landavall in couplets Launfal Miles of Thomas Chestre, in rime couèe, and the degenerate Sir Lambewell of the Percy MS—have been carefully studied and made to exhibit some of the ordinary processes of translation and adaptation. They come from Marie de France—Thomas Chestre took something from the lay of Graelent besides the main plot of Lanval. The story is one of the best known; the fairy bride—

  • The kinge’s daughter of Avalon,
  • That is an isle of the fairie
  • In ocean full fair to see—
  • and the loss of her, through the breaking of her command. The Wedding of Sir Gawain, which, in another form, is The Wife of Bath’s Tale, is from the same mythical region, and has some of the same merits.

    The romance of Sir Libeaus, “the fair unknown,” the son of Sir Gawain, is of different proportions, less simple and direct than Orfeo or Launfal. But it keeps some of the virtues of the fairy tale, and is one of the most pleasing of all the company of Sir Thopas. Adventures are too easily multiplied in it, but it is not a mere jumble of stock incidents. It is very like the story of Gareth in Malory, and, along with Gareth, may have suggested some things to Spenser, for the story of the Red Cross Knight. Also, the breaking of the enchantment in the castle of Busirane may owe something to Sir Libeaus: there seems to have been an old printed edition of Libius Disconius, though no printed copy is extant. The plot is a good one, the expedition of a young and untried knight to rescue a lady from enchantment; it is a pure romance of knight errantry, very fit to be taken as an example of that order, and, possibly, the best of all the riming tales that keep simply to the familiar adventures of books of chivalry. Sir Libeaus takes a long time to reach the palace of the two enchanters—“clerkes of nigremauncie”—who keep the lady of Sinaudon under their spells in the shape of a loathly worm. But the excursion and digressions have some spirit in them, and no confusion.