Bernadette Smelik

title.none: Johnson and Claassens, eds., Dutch Romances, Volume I; Roman Van Walewein (Smelik)

identifier.other: baj9928.0107.011 01.07.11

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Bernadette Smelik, Katholieke Universiteit Nijmegen,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2001

identifier.citation: Johnson, David F. and Geert Claassens, eds. Dutch Romances, Volume I: Roman Van Walewein. Arthurian Archives, VI. Suffolk: D. S. Brewer, 2000. Pp. iv, 541. $90.00. ISBN: 0-859-91584-0.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 01.07.11

Johnson, David F. and Geert Claassens, eds. Dutch Romances, Volume I: Roman Van Walewein. Arthurian Archives, VI. Suffolk: D. S. Brewer, 2000. Pp. iv, 541. $90.00. ISBN: 0-859-91584-0.

Reviewed by:

Bernadette Smelik
Katholieke Universiteit Nijmegen

One of the most beautiful Arthurian romances ever written in any language is the Middle Dutch Roman van Walewein. This gem of medieval literature, dated around 1260 and written by Penninc and Pieter Vostaert, has only recently become known outside the small circle of Dutch medievalists, after the publication by David Johnson and Geert Claassens of a new edition, accompanied by an English translation in 1992. Since then non-Dutch scholars were invited to write articles about this romance. First Norris Lacy, Walter Haug and Felicity Riddy wrote contributions for the Dutch journal Tijdschrift voor Nederlandse Taal en Letterkunde (TNTL) in the years 1995 and 1996. These articles have been reprinted in a collective volume also containing analyses by others such as Jane Taylor, Thea Summerfield and Douglas Kelly, published in 1999 in the series Arthurian Literature. [1] Unfortunately this volume appeared too late for the editors of the Roman van Walewein, and references to it could not be included in this first publication of Middle Dutch literature in the Arthurian Archives series.

Whereas in the French tradition Gauvain is portrayed as a ladies' man and not exactly the epitome of knighthood, in the Dutch tradition, and also in this romance, Walewein comes to the fore as an idealized figure, the 'father of adventures'. The Roman van Walewein is unique in that the structure of a folktale (The Golden Bird, Aarne-Thompson 550) is its guiding scheme. The story is as follows: As King Arthur holds court a chess-set flies into the hall, and just as suddenly disappears again. Arthur promises half his kingdom and the crown after his death to whoever brings the chess-set to him. His nephew Walewein leaves court in search for this marvel. After dangerous encounters he arrives at the court of King Wonder who tells him that he is willing to give the chess- set in exchange for the Sword with the Two Rings, which is in the possession of King Amoraen. Walewein leaves King Wonder in search for this magical Sword. After other adventures he arrives at the court of King Amoraen who is very happy to meet him, for he wants Walewein to embark on a dangerous quest. If Walewein wants to help him, he will get the Sword with the Two Rings. The quest implies that Walewein has to fetch a maiden for King Amoraen, called Princess Ysabele, who is held in a well-guarded castle. Walewein leaves the King and is allowed to take the Sword with him. With the aid of this Sword he vanguishes knights and rescues a damsel. After many adventures he arrives in a walled garden where he falls asleep. There the fox Roges attempts to steal his weapons and horse, but Walewein strikes him and the fox begs for mercy. Roges turns out to be transformed into a fox by his stepmother and can only be changed back into his original nature when he sees King Wonder and his son Alysdrisonder, Walewein, and Assentijn's daughter all together in the same place. After Walewein has revealed his identity the fox helps him wherever he can and tells him how he can enter the castle where Ysabele is, which turns out to be nearby. Walewein, however, is captured after a brave fight. Ysabele falls in love with him the moment she sees him, and Walewein returns that love, but the lovers are caught and thrown into the dungeon. They are rescued by the spirit of the knight who on advice of Walewein had confessed his sins before he died. Walewein, Ysabele and Roges return to Amoraen, who in the meantime has died. So Walewein can keep both the Sword and Ysabele and takes them with Roges to King Wonder, where Roges is restored to his human form. Walewein gives the Sword to King Wonder, receives the chess-set in return and brings is to King Arthur. Some say Walewein married Ysabele and later wore Arthur's crown after his death but the poet is not sure.

The volume in question is a reprint of the edition with translation published by Garland Press in 1992. Fortunately annoying reading mistakes have been corrected--for example line 5: Conticse has been corrected to Consticse--which makes the volume of the Arthurian Archives the better choice to work from. The edited text is a diplomatic edition, based on the only surviving complete manuscript. Sometimes the editors have emended manuscript readings, for example evident scribal mistakes, or preferred variants transmitted through the only extant fragment of the romance. The translation is a verse by verse translation, which makes it possible for readers not very familiar with the (Middle) Dutch language to get used to the original wording. I sincerely hope this will stimulate non- Dutch scholars to go into in this wonderful romance and through that into the other Middle Dutch Arthurian Romances. [2]

The Introduction discusses the authors and the proposed date of the Romance (Penninc and Pieter Vostaert; 1230-1260), and after that the 'Artistic Achievement' and the sources and influence. The edition is followed by Notes in which Johnson gives literary-historical elucidations and in which he discusses the more drastic emendations. A list of small emendations is to be found in appendix A, and appendix B is the edition of the fragment. There is also an index of names. The bibliography has been updated since 1992, when the Garland edition was published, but the contents of later studies have not been incorporated into the Introduction or Notes of the present edition. And this is precisely the--only--point of criticism I want to make. Especially the contributions by Lacy, Haug and Riddy should have been used to update the Introduction, a great chance has been missed here. But on the whole, this is a book worth having and reading, a book that will give one new ideas for research in Arthurian literature.


[1] Bart Besamusca and Erik Kooper, eds., Originality and Tradition in the Middle Dutch "Roman van Walewein", Arthurian Literature XVII (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 1999). In the introduction the editors give a very good and up-to-date overview of the 'Walewein'-research.

[2] Recent surveys of Middle Dutch Arthurian literature are to be found in W. H. Jackson and S. A. Ranawake, eds., The Arthur of the Germans; the Arthurian Legend in Medieval German and Dutch Literature, Arthurian Literature in the Middle Ages 3 (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2000) pp: 187-228; and in Geert H. M. Claassens and David F. Johnson, eds., King Arthur in the Medieval Low Countries, Mediaevalia Lovaniensia, Series I, Studia XXVIII (Leuven: University Press, 2000) pp. 1-34.