FOUR ARTHURIAN ROMANCES
By Chrétien de Troyes • Read by Nicholas Boulton
“Ukemi Audio: Doing the Lord’s Work”
Long before the Internet made almost everything available to just about everyone, a friend of mine would say of certain publishing houses that they were “doing the Lord’s work”.
He meant that, despite the cost of production and the inevitable loss in the marketplace, these houses persevered in turning out slim volumes of the lesser-known Elizabethan sonnet cycles and classic works of history eclipsed by more up-to-date scholarship. If he were still with us, he’d probably say Ukemi was doing the Lord’s work for audiobooks.
This edition of Chretien de Troyes is the third Ukemi release in my library, joining Boetheus’ Consolation of Philosophy and the amazing, anonymous Mabinogion. Like the first two titles, this one is superbly, vigorously, read. Like the first two, the translation is of a rather reverend vintage, well within the Public Domain.
At first that made me wary; though no chronological snob (C. S. Lewis’ term for one dismissive of past ideas and ideals) I appreciate what modern scholarship can bring to the translation of ancient texts. But beyond a certain stiltedness in Boetheus, my fears have proved groundless. In the case of Chretien, I’m grateful for this prose version. While I thoroughly enjoyed reading the deftly rhymed verse translations by Ruth Cline and Dorothy Gilbert, these fabulous stories, told in four-beat couplets crowded with details, would probably be harder to follow through ear buds.
If you clicked on this book, chances are you already know these stories, so I won’t dwell on their origins and influence. You know about Marie de Champagne; you get the irony that Britain’s greatest hero was celebrated most enthusiastically in France; you know that two of these tales—Yvain and Eric et Enid—are variations of stories that appear in the Mabinogian (which should make for some interesting comparative listening). It only remains to say that the performance by Nicholas Boulton, though a tad hurried, is superb.
No doubt professor Comfort’s essay at the end of this recording would not pass muster in the modern academy. Nevertheless, it is still a solid exposition of the zeitgeist in which Chretien worked, his possible influences, the strengths and shortcomings of his work, and his ultimate place in the Western literary tradition.
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