Twice-told tales

Today was about magic and legends. The legends concerned King Arthur and his knights. I have no qualifications to debate the origins of the Arthurian legend, and whether Wales or Bretagne can rightfully claim him. But it’s an interesting issue.

We saw at Chinon how Henry Plantagenet had the story rewritten to prove his claim to the English throne. But here, of course, Arthur is now a creature of Brittany, who characteristically added Lancelot and his affair with Guinevere to the mix. How French.

Today’s tour began in Paimpont, a small town deep in what was the primeval forest that is key to the legend, and the key to the tourist map of key Arthurian sites. While this may all be pure fantasy, the legend plays out along the route. We began at the Château de Comper. The story is that the fairy Viviane was born and where she brought up Lancelot, doncha know. Little of the original remains, but it is now the headquarters of the Centre Arthurien, a very busy institute, where young scholars study important skills like juggling.

We spent the next hour trying to find Merlin’s tomb, but he was eluding us today. (Bad signage also contributed.) Suffice it to say that it seems to exist. We were able to locate the Val sans Retour, a very important place in the legend. Evidently, Morgana the witch, jealous of a knight who had been unfaithful to her, cast a spell over the valley preventing anyone who had done wrong from leaving it. Only Lancelot was able to break the spell, thanks to his faithfulness to Guinevere. (Guess breaking up Arthur’s marriage just didn’t count in the French version of the story.) We hiked through the valley to the Miroir des Fées, which allowed us to make a round trip.

The Golden Tree, which is a sculpture seen at the top of this post, is rather mystical, but it has a more modern origin. A tremendous fire in 1990 ruined much of the ancient forest, but it stopped at the point the tree commemorates, at the very edge of the pond. Perhaps Morgana started using her powers for good.

The Valley is in the town of Tréhorenteuc, which has fully bought into the Arthur story for many years, as its small Church of the Grail illustrates. It would be interesting to know if the sultry woman in one of the paintings is Guinevere seducing Lancelot or Morgana exercising her wiles. Something to consider during Mass, I guess.

Our day’s journey ended at the town of Josselin, in a small hotel looking up at a château. The castle has been the home of the noble Rohan family for over 600 years. They live there still, but one can tour several rooms of their ancestral home, without a camera. Lovely, but it must be an awful lot of baggage to bear your entire life. No real point in being a modernist or a minimalist. But it and the town are lovely nonetheless. Plus, we have a castle view from our room.

4 thoughts on “Twice-told tales

  1. I think there might be a bit of a three-cornered fight over the Arthurian parentage. Cornwall is the other contender. You’ll maybe get to Tintagel later : big links there.Still, we’re all part of the Celtic brotherhood.
    When I was a kid in a Welsh village–almost back in Arthurian times-we used to get travelling salesmen from Brittany. They came on bikes, selling onions : the ‘shonny onion men’. ( I think now that the ‘shonny’ bit derived from Jean.)
    Lambert is a very common Breton name. Maybe that’s my heritage!

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    • Wonderful how those Celts got around, and how nice to think of it as a brotherhood. I love the travelling onion salesmen image (and the fact that you are expanding your origin theory). Have to confess we had nothing that exotic in the suburbs of the U.S.

      But don’t you think a story as pervasive as Arthur’s must have some basis in fact?

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      • Yes–but only as an unnamed Brit tribal leader who later got romanced into those big, sweeping tales. He and his knights sleep on , though, waiting for the call to wake and come to our rescue in times of great danger. Methinks they must be very soundly asleep since they seem to have missed a good few opportunities. Their sleeping place is reputed to be in Caerleon…and Glastonbury…and Alderley Edge…etc etc.
        And ( off blog) you might like to hear of other exotic traders in our village : the cockle women of Penclawdd. They came, black-clad, by Wednesday train from West Wales with baskets of cockles and laverbread. ( Now there’s a delicacy waiting for you when you get to the Principality!)

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        • I guess the French were telling the truth about those knights sleeping around, then.

          Cockles? Laverbread? I am still getting over the onion story, and am only grateful that at least we had some onions in our bland cuisine. What a boring life we led. Can’t wait to hear your stories of a Welsh childhood in the last century!

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