Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Chrétien de Troyes

(?1130-?1190) The father of Arthurian Romance (> Arthur). Our only knowledge of him comes from his own writings. He was a poet at the court of Count Philip of Champagne, though his real patroness was the Count's wife, Marie, a daughter of Eleanor of Aquitaine. Responding to Marie's wishes, CDT developed the work of the troubadours to produce a new form of narrative poetry which dealt with courtly romance and Chivalry. He drew heavily from the Celtic legends prevalent in Brittany and thus is regarded as the founder of the romans bretons. His early work is lost, though he is acknowledged to have worked on translations and adaptations of Ovid's Metamorphoses. The date of composition of his Arthurian romances is uncertain, and he almost certainly developed and embellished them over the period when he was most active, the 1150s-80s. The most common dates attributed to his works are as follows: Erec et Enide (?1170), Cligés (?1176), Lancelot, ou le Chevalier de la charette (?1177), Yvain, ou le Chevalier au Lion (?1177) and Perceval, ou Le Conte del Graal (begun ?1182). He refers to having written a sixth romance, about King Mark and Iseult, possibly in the 1170s, but that is lost. The sequence appears to follow a pattern starting with the youthful innocence, young love and thrill of adventure of Erec et Enide, to the more deeply romantic adventure and tragedy of Cligés, which seems to be modelled on the Tristan legend. Lancelot rounds out that tragedy by introducing adulterous love; Yvain emphasizes the power and honour of chivalrous love; while Perceval takes us into the darker mysteries of Christian love.

These stories share some commonality with stories later collected in the Mabinogion, in particular the relationship between Erec et Enide and "Gereint Son of Erbin" (?1250), between Yvain and "The Lady of the Fountain" (?1250) and between Perceval and "Peredur" (?1250). CDT nevertheless added his own colour. It was he who established courtly romance and chivalry as central to the Arthurian legend, based on the world of the Norman-French court, and thus developed the image of the Arthurian world as we perceive it today. He introduced the character of Lancelot and developed the romance between him and Guinevere. It was also he who established Arthur's court at Camelot, clearly a reflection of the glories of the court at Champagne. CDT created the mysterious Grail, though he did not depict it as the chalice of Christ, focusing instead on the mysteries of the Grail procession. Through the power of his imagery, the breadth of his vision and the passion of his characters, he developed the romance and gave birth to the fantastic adventure that has developed into the Heroic Fantasy of today.

Perceval, CDT's last work, was left unfinished. As his most mystical work, it captured the imagination of fellow romancers, who produced various continuations and Sequels by Other Hands. Most are anonymous, but some are signed Manessier and Gerbert de Montreuil; all were written within 50 years of CDT's death. They have been collected and edited by William Roach (1907-1993) in The Continuations of the Old French "Perceval" of Chrétien de Troyes (1949-1983 5 vols). [MA]

further reading: The Craft of Chrétien de Troyes (1980) by Norris J Lacy; Chrétien de Troyes: A Study of the Arthurian Romances (1981) by L T Topsfield. There have been many translations of CDT's works but the most complete currently available is Chrétien de Troyes: Arthurian Romances (coll ed and trans D D R Owen 1987).

Chrétien de Troyes

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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.