The Canon—Close Encounters: Ideal of Courtly Love Examined

If I were to read or hear “Lanval” at the time Marie de France wrote it—the twelfth century—I might be a lady at the Anglo-Norman court, possibly at the court of Henry II. I would have “listened … gladly and joyfully” to such narratives and would have referred to them as “lays.” These narratives, telling of “love and adventure”—later known as romances— would have excited my curiosity and a sense of wonder, as they told stories of kings, queens, and knights, and often included elements of the supernatural. Romances are “stories of separation and return, disintegration and reintegration” (Greenblatt 158). If I were a listener of this particular lay, I would have followed the struggle of Lanval, one of the knights of the Round Table, to the deeply comforting, happy ending, but I would also have been left with many questions to ponder long after the echo of the last words that have died in the chamber. Perhaps I would notice that the structure of the story varies from other romances that I have heard—the elements of separation and loss appearing immediately in the beginning. To use Greenblatt’s language, the “protected, civilized state of some integrated social unit” is missing at the start of the story while the elements of “disintegration” abound (158). “Lanval” is a narrative that makes the reader focus on disintegration and does not offer much in terms of solution; rather, it offers a looking glass in which the courtly audience can see and examine themselves.

Disintegration or disruption is present from the first lines of the narrative, which takes place in king Arthur’s   England, torn by violence, where “Scottish and Pictish peoples [lay] / waste all that land, in war and raid” (de France 7-8). Marie de France builds the story of Lanval with complexity, depth, and creativity. Where a typical romance would move the audience from a harmonious beginning, through loss or separation, to a satisfying reintegration, Marie de France employs creative variation to this structure. From the country at war, she narrows down to the “unit” of Arthurian court, where she zooms in on many points of disintegration. She undermines the legendary notion of the unquestionable nobility of the Knights of the Round Table—all equal and unified around their king; instead, Arthur is portrayed not as a superhero and the best of kings, but a prone to error human who “forgets” to reward one of his most valiant warriors (19). Arthur and his knights, guided by petty jealousy, “[make] a show of loving” Lanval, says the story, and there, I believe, begins Marie’s commentary on love in its various forms.

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Solving Crime is Easy, A Mysterious Analysis

One author whose work I’ve had on my to-be-read list is Walter Mosley. Most famous for his novel Devil in a Blue Dress, many of Mosley’s books focus on the tales of the hard-boiled private investigator and Los Angeles resident, Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins. Easy, as an investigator, always drew my interest. His character is methodically, sometimes morally, opposite from detectives like Hercule Piorot or Sherlock Holmes, since he’s more willing to blur the lines between right and wrong in the name of justice and truth. After reading and analyzing the 1930s Harlem novel The Conjure-Man Dies by Rudolf Fisher, one of the first mystery novels written by an African American, I wanted to dip my toes into the 1960s experiences of Easy Rawlins. I figured the best way to skim the surface would be with one of Mosley’s more recent releases, a short story collection entitled Six Easy Pieces.

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Discuss: Having Second Thoughts

Recently, you may have read about J.K. Rowling expressing some feelings about that seven book series that she wrote. Remember that one? Rowling was doing an interview last month and happened to mention that she thought, perhaps, Ron and Hermione maybe didn’t belong together. And then the internet exploded. I have my own opinions about this revelation, but I’m not going to bore you with my fan musings today. Instead, I want to talk about authors and the ownership they have (or don’t have) over their own work.

For the most part, I adhere to the belief that, once an author has finished writing their words and has put the story out into the world, that book now belongs to its readers (via John Green). Especially with something as hugely popular as the Harry Potter series, the books take on a life of their own as fans theorize, discuss, and even add to the story in the form of fanfiction. Fans are very important to any written work and once a piece of writing is put out there, you can be sure that fans are going to devour it both good and bad ways. But does this mean that an author cannot recant something she wrote? I don’t think so. Especially not when it has no effect on the book as it exists already.

I also firmly believe that — while the work is still in its creation phase — authors do not owe their fans anything. Yes, fans can do what they like with the work that authors put out. And yes, fans have a right to criticize authors for what they do, and I know they will. But authors are going to do things that you don’t like. Many of us didn’t enjoy the epilogue that J.K. Rowling tacked onto Harry’s story. But guess what? There’s nothing we can do about that and if it made J.K. Rowling happy to write that epilogue, I am fine with it. In this case, Rowling’s regrets — misquoted/misconstrued or not — have no bearing on the books as they stand. Her expression of this opinion does nothing to alter the books as she wrote them.

Aside from all of this, pieces of writing are rarely completely finished. I found it refreshing, actually, to see an author expressing regrets about something she had written and which had been published and out there in world for so long. That shows that Rowling still mentally inhabits the Potter-verse sometimes, that she still thinks about the characters she created, and that she is still contemplating the story she set to paper. I would hope that all authors are that thoughtful about their previous works.

For further reading on this topic, and for more in-depth discussion about what Rowling actually said and what it means in the Potter-verse, I would suggest Alyssa Rosenberg’s article, “What J.K. Rowling’s Ron And Hermione Bombshell Tells Us About True Love And ‘Harry Potter’.”

What do you think? Is Rowling “allowed” to express these opinions? What do you think about authors having regrets about plot points they put into their stories? Do books belong to the readers or the author? Share your thoughts in the comments!

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan