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Lanz and Gwenhevre


Against the Tide

This controversial novel of the twelfth century takes place both in Burgundy and Brittany, a mix of local customs, art history, Celtic legends, with a strong dose of magic.

The story is presented as the prequel to Chrétien de Troyes’ love story about Lancelot and Guinevere, replacing their wise King Arthur with the tyrannical Viscount of Avallon. We learn his name — Thamory, after the massacre of burghers in Bièvre. Lancelot and Guinevere discuss how the slaughter could change their lives. In fact, they eventually must flee and take refuge in Iceland.

Their names are changed according to their Celtic roots — Lanz “virility” and Gwenhevre “white magic” to reflect their roles as a couple and in society. At first Gwenhevre doesn’t see in Lanz a suitor whom she can love. However, Lanz, of noble blood, had rejected chivalry to change into a pacifist monk, becoming Gwenhevre’s tutor. Before they run away together, Lanz lives to change the world peacefully, while Gwenhevre has her own agenda – to climb the social ladder — at any price.

Lanz falls madly in love with the beauty and brilliant mind of Gwenhevre, though unaware that she is a witch. After her “love at first sight” for an unknown runner in the woods, Gwenhevre will open her heart to him and everything changes.

The narrative contains language drawn from Anglo-Norman but remains in modern French, written supposedly by a French-speaking chronicler from Colchester, Jehan d’Elleby, who poeticizes two opposing worlds that coexisted in the twelfth century — the natural sphere and the supernatural sphere.

Like Gwenevere there were other exceptional burghers, but no other novel at that time was written about them. In fact, these successful merchants, both women and men, threatened the privileges of feudal nobility and their bold ventures can still inspire us today.