In 2009, I started translating the medieval Spanish masterpiece, Amadis of Gaul, a chapter a week at the Amadis of Gaul website. It took me nine years (it’s a long book), but I’ve finished!
This novel, published in 1508, traces the life of the greatest knight in the world, Amadis of Gaul, starting with his conception and birth (outside of formal wedlock). He becomes a knight and battles evildoers and sorcerers, and he protects the kings he serves. He also falls in love with the most beautiful woman in the world, an unobtainable princess — and she loves him, too. Courage and passion fill this story.
You can read it at the website, or you can enjoy it in the convenience of a four-volume set in paperback and e-book, now on sale.
Why should you read this novel?
1. It’s one of the pillars of European literature and was the first continent-wide best-seller. It kicked off a century of tales of chivalry, a genre now known and loved as “sword and sorcery.” Knights in shining armor go off to fight for what’s right — with bravery tempered by fear. For readers, it was great fun, and it still is.
2. This is a story of the Middle Ages told by people in the Middle Ages. Their take on love, magic, war, fantasy, and honor doesn’t quite match our own. You can better understand their thoughts and get a glimpse of their daily lives by reading their own words. One thing I learned: being alone made them feel painfully anxious.
3. The plot is complex. It’s not just about Amadis, it’s about his family and friends, his beloved Princess Oriana, damsels in distress, and distressing damsels. The novel became a favorite of women and girls — and, eventually, it was accused of corrupting them. Don’t you want to be corrupted, too?
4. If you like Don Quixote de la Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes, you’ll like it even more after you read Amadis of Gaul. You’ll get a lot more of the jokes. Chapter 6 of Quixote calls Amadis “the best of all the books composed in this genre” — and there were almost 80 books of that genre available at the time in Spanish, all inspired by Amadis but never equaling it.
5. Fight scenes! Knight versus knight, army versus army, fleet versus fleet, and knight versus horrible monster.
6. Love scenes! “Amadis turned to his lady, and when he saw her so beautiful … he was so struck by joy and shyness that he did not dare even to gaze at her. So it could well be said that in that green grass, on that cloak, more by the quiet grace of Oriana rather than the bold courage of Amadis, did the most beautiful maiden in the world become a woman.”
It was originally written as four “books,” each the size of a modern novel. Each volume includes notes to chapters, introductory material, information about the Middle Ages, lists of characters, and references.
This novel drove Don Quixote mad. What will it do to you?
— Sue Burke