Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

The code of honour supposedly observed by Christian Knights, whose formal adoption was derived by adaptation of a Germanic Rite of Passage. The Church employed the device to provide an ideological basis for the Crusades and other military adventures, and it became a major self-justificatory myth of feudalism. Chivalric ideals were central to the chansons de gestes and other baronial amusements, and thus to the tradition of imaginative Romance which ultimately produced modern High Fantasy. The most important works of chivalric romance include: The Song of Roland and other tales of Charlemagne's knights; the Legends of the Grail, popularized by Chrétien de Troyes and others; tales of Arthur and his knights; and such proto-novels as the 14th-century Amadis de Gaule (see Amadís de Gaula). There was always an element of self-parody in chivalric romance, exhibited by such as Fergus of Galloway (circa 1200; trans 1989) by "Guillaume le Clerc", though its ideals were pilloried far more comprehensively by Miguel de Cervantes in Don Quixote (1605-1615).

Neochivalric romance was introduced by Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué, most notably in The Magic Ring (1813). Some slight English prose fiction in a similar vein had been written by Nathan Drake, but it was Robert Southey's rewritten translations of Amadis of Gaul (1803) and Palmerin of England (1804) that paved the way for William Morris's adventures in neochivalric romance, which in turn inspired imitations by G P Baker, E Hamilton Moore and Henry Newbolt.

A reverent but corrosively sceptical account of chivalric ideals is elaborated in the work of James Branch Cabell, beginning with Chivalry (coll 1909) and The Soul of Melicent (1913; rev vt Domnei 1920); other US works in the same ironic vein include John Erskine's Galahad (1926) and William Faulkner's Mayday (written 1926; 1977). European works of similar nature include "Sir Perseus and the Fair Andromeda" (1923) by Robert Nichols and "The Non-Existent Knight" (1959) by Italo Calvino.

The long tradition connecting chivalric romance to modern fantasy is mapped out by Lin Carter in his Dragons, Elves and Heroes (anth 1969) and Golden Cities, Far (anth 1970). Modern versions of classic chivalric romances include Huon of the Horn (1951) by Andre Norton, The Green Knight (1975) by Vera Chapman and Parsival (1977) by Richard Monaco. [BS]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.