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Favorite Medieval Tales


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With this gorgeously produced volume Osborne and Howell meet and in some ways even exceed the standards they established in Favorite Norse Myths and Mermaid Tales from Around the World. The nine entries range from adaptations of widely known stories ("The Sword in the Stone"; "Robin Hood and His Merry Men") to more eclectic choices (Marie de France's "The Werewolf"; "The Chanticleer and the Fox," adapted from The Canterbury Tales); they also span about a thousand years of Western European literary history. Throughout, Osborne blends suspenseful storytelling with almost imperceptible explanations of the original context. For example, the Green Knight holds out his own head to Gawain, the knight who severed it, and reminds Gawain that he has promised, on his honor, to receive a blow of the ax in return. Osborne subtly relays the historical weight of this exchange: "Even the bravest warrior shuddered. Preserving a knight's honor was more important than preserving his own life." Howell, meanwhile, imaginatively bends medieval traditions to his own uses. As he explains in a detailed endnote, he models his paintings on such works as the Unicorn Tapestries and specific illuminated manuscripts. Adding to the book's educational value, Osborne prefaces each entry with an excerpt in the original language (along with a translation) and conveys further information in unusually meaty appendices. This stylish collection will not only entertain readers but will also nurture a lively interest in history, literature and language, and the way these forces of culture intersect. Ages 8-12. (May)

Gr 4-9-This beautiful storybook is also an entrancing introduction to medieval art and literature, and to the development of the English language. Rather than attempting a potted life history, each tale presents a defining narrative for its hero: Finn MacCoul, Beowulf, King Arthur, Hagen, Roland, Marrok the Werewolf, Gawain, Robin Hood, and Chanticleer. Sometimes this incident is virtually all there is (e.g., Marrok), but the informative notes do not always indicate when additional tales about the figure exist, as they do for most. The language of the retellings manages to be both dignified and lively, with just a hint of the archaic. The introduction notes that the chronological sequence of the tales also reflects the development of the English language. Howell has contributed detailed notes on the medieval elements and inspiration in his work from the elaborate borders to the compositions of the full-page, color illustrations and ornamental title pages. Strikingly handsome, this collection should appeal to a wide range of readers.-Patricia Lothrop-Green, St. George's School, Newport, RI

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