A Medieval Storybook
"Medieval men were great storytellers. In the long dark of winter evenings, there was not much to do but tell stories and sing songs. At country markets, professional narrators and ballad-singers profitably drew clusters of auditors, ready to pay with their farthings. The stories were mostly old and familiar, but each teller altered and localized his material to suit his hearers and his own taste. Thus a great body of oral literature existed. Most of it has disappeared, destroyed by printing and the enormous communications industry. Some remnants of the oral tradition are included in this volume. At the same time a good number of original writers of fiction appeared, composing with conscious art. We can identify some of them, such as Marie de France, Huon Leroi, and of course Boccaccio and Chaucer. But most of them remain anonymous, and only by good luck have their works been preserved.
"For this collection the compiler has picked examples of stories of various sorts. His essential requirement has been that the chosen tales should excel as stories, that they should progress from an initial state through altering incidents to a conclusion, logical but often unforeseen. While of course the tales illustrate medieval life and thought, the compiler's purpose has been to please the story-reader rather than the social or literary historian. The examples should stand alone as works of art, not illustrations of anything."—from the Preface
From the rich store of medieval tales, Morris Bishop brings together a delightful collection of thirty-five stories. Some are romantic, some religious, some realistic, some even scurrilous. There are merry tales and moral tales, sagas, allegories, and fables. They vary widely in theme and their characters represent every class of medieval society. The tales in A Medieval Storybook vividly illustrate medieval life and thought. Above all they excel as stories, and demonstrate the high level attained by narrative art in the Middle Ages and the great gift the medieval writers had for creating lively and memorable characters. Some of the stories in the book were translated by Bishop; others were translated in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Line drawings by Alison Mason Kingsbury add considerably to the charm of this collection.