Archive for ‘Arthuriana’


“We’ll find the speck of truth in each riddle…”

When you write a blog that focuses mostly on medievalism and poetry, you accept that you dwell in a narrow and unnoticed niche. Then a book subtitled “Eight Medievalist Poets” lands in your lap, and you revel in the rare pleasure of finally being somebody’s ideal reader. Published by Stairwell Books, a tiny but prolific Yorkshire-centric press, New Crops from Old Fields summons medievalists from Britain and America, most of them scholars of literature, and bids them sing. The resulting poems are often bookish, but not academic; they’re as vital as the era behind them once was.

Editor and contributor Oz Hardwick, for example, plays with a motley assortment of medieval tropes: pagan fertility, Christian prayer, Arthurian visions, Germanic adventurers—you name it. I can’t tell if his “Journey from the West” is a translation from an Old Norse poem by Sigvatr Þórðarson or just inspired by it, but this moving paean to homecoming after travel and toil is just serpentine enough to evoke skaldic poetry without being cryptic and cramped:

Wind’s servant, across the shifting hills
I return, richer in words and welcomes,
giving gifts undiminishing, gaining
grace of place, proud amongst peers.

I have fared far, fought clinging coils
of earth’s duplicitous dragon, found
home, the giver of true gifts:
one word resolves all riddles.

Another poem, “The Seafarer’s Return,” blurs the rhyme schemes of two types of sonnets and staggers the meter to capture the relief and grace of a second, harder-earned homecoming:

At your door I stand, tongue tied in weed,
footsore, with blistered palms and a distant stare,
my shoulders stooped with the weight of my journey. I need
more than I can ask. But first, share
these far-gathered gifts of shell and stone
whose value resides in the grace of you alone.

In Hardwick’s poetry, life teems just beneath the surface: the Green Man wakes for sex and then slumbers, obscene wooden beasts cavort in the choir at a Belgian basilica, and we beg to behold the true nature of things:

And I pray: not for the voice, not
for the touch, taste, sight, smell
of sound, but for the sharp annunciation
of fire, the heart’s bright kindling,
the understanding beyond understanding.

Hardwick’s craving for the cosmic highlights the fact that in an era of Ren faires, cosplay, and fantasy LARPing, popular medievalism often omits a crucial aspect of the Middle Ages—but in New Crops from Old Fields, religion is omnipresent. Hannah Stone, an expert on eastern Christianity, contributes poems inspired by desert hermits and the Council of Chalcedon in A.D. 451, where “stiff robes chafe; their doctrines / don’t sit comfortably, either.” She’s capable of a lighter touch, too, as she shows in a funny, Browning-like soliloquy about a cat in a Mercian church, and in a poem that culminates in a call to pray for the soul of Worcester pilgrim reduced to a headless skeleton in boots.

Other pilgrims pace restlessly through this book: Jane Beal finds poetry when she visits landmarks in Rome, but her most striking entry in New Crops from Old Fields consists solely of questions Muslims and Jews asked her in the Holy Land. The poem is a remarkable distillation of the sort of grace and charity a pilgrimage should foster: a diminution of the self, and the generosity of letting others speak. Throughout her poetry, Beal makes the medieval personal—a fox on the roadside reminds her of the Reynard of fable, and she writes in the voices of Caedmon and Dante—and her destination is the answer to an intimate question: “What shape does the shadow of my life form / when I take my stand in the light of God?”

Likewise, Joe Martyn Ricke recounts his eagerness to observe the celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which is how he finds himself in an Indiana church “with what felt like half a million Mexicans, / I mean at least a hundred of us standing and only one of us a very tall gringo.” His pilgrimage culminates in manic, ecstatic verse that wavers between dreamlike and drunk:

And it’s not exactly a miracle that everything smells like roses,
since there are perhaps a New Year’s Day parade’s worth of them
piled together under her feet. And, yes, sometimes the celestial music
is slightly out of tune or the trumpets are just obviously showing off.
But it really doesn’t matter about the roses or the guitars or the outfits
because you find yourself mumbling,
I’ve been bleeding a long time. Such a long time.

Elsewhere, Ricke takes a 15th-century lyric about Adam and “translates” it into a rambling, Beat-like poem that name-checks Harry Belafonte, while his “Four Sinful Hymns for the Love of Saint Mary Magdalene” imagine the biblical figure’s conversion and salvation from her own perspective, gritty and physical. Ricke is more playful than the other overtly religious poets in this book, but he’s never irreverent; his earthy exuberance is worthy of Chaucer.

Several poets in this collection show a strong commitment to form. M. Wendy Hennequin retells the story of Andromache as an Anglo-Saxon poet might have done, in lines that resemble Old English alliterative verse. In the rhyme-royal septets of “The Bard’s Tale,” an Irish maiden appears at Camelot at Christmastime and tells a story that astounds King Arthur. Her tale ends on an emotionally ambiguous note, as if it really were composed in another, less knowable time. “My scholar attempts to understand the past; my poet tries to sing with them,” Hennequin explains, and her knack for the latter is clear in a light and lovely ballade for a scribe who joyfully works through the night:

How glorious the colors, green and gold,
The black and scarlet, purple and the blue!
Though deep the night and bitter bites the cold,
And candles smoke, and colors shine untrue,
My dancing hands a woman’s face imbue
With living truth of spirit and of sight.
My hands in darkness work; my heart, in light.

Working furtively is a recurring theme in this book. I recalled Jane Chance from assigned readings in a graduate seminar on Beowulf, but I hadn’t known she was a poet; appropriately, her medieval-inspired poetry laments the strain of conflicting roles. In “The Night the Books Fell,” a shelf collapses when a retired scholar is a continent away. The ponderousness of her scholarly responsibilities by “the tough edge of discipline / slackened,” she is

relieved of the obligation
of learnedness
and granted the divine gift of
pleasure in being
simply
human.

In another poem, Chance gives voice to the unicorn in a tapestry at the Met. Chained to a tree, he too feels the weight of his work and is “tired of being symbolic”:

He’d like to sleep a little, or play with others,
leave town and get a little dirty,
have a cool drink, find a girl,
let down his horn.

Burdened scholars, restrained beasties, weary French women, moat-encircled ladies, costumes and masks—Chance’s take on academic life is poignant and personal but not self-pitying. “Given scholars’ training to maintain objectivity and the life of the mind, medievalism helps create an imaginary shield against personal revelation,” she warns in her introduction, but that doesn’t diminish the optimism of “Aventure,” in which a young knight sets out amid “the sun bursting on the horizon / like a promise / in the long summer of his youth.” Another poem, concise and original, likens the migration of animals on the Serengeti to the stained-glass sunlight and sense of belonging inside a cathedral. It also prompts a question: Is the Serengeti the subject, or the Gothic nave? The answer doesn’t matter: balancing them is the point, and Chance writes with a freedom and lightness for not having to choose between “you and the wildebeests / in endless repetition, season in and season out, / natural music in time, in time.”

Other poets in this collection wear their medievalism less showily, using the past to buttress poems about the here and now. Imitating Anglo-Saxon alliterative lines, Pam Clements casts snowy owls as feathered Vikings to dramatize the birds’ migration in vast numbers from the Arctic to the northeastern United States. In “Anhaga,” she draws upon words and concepts from Old English poetry for the lament of a Yankee in the antebellum South who sounded to me like a battlefield ghost:

Palmettos clap thin plats
where wind should keen and wail
that anyone so loved should have the gall to die.

Here, the go bare-legged in November
in fleshy-bosomed air
Anhaga, eardstapa —
it might be any season.

In “Wodewose,” Clements uses the Green Man, “Lord of Kudzu / and Dandelion,” to evoke the fecundity and lushness of a springtime trail, but the poem could easily be read with no understanding of the title—but then I think an adventurous reader could easily enjoy New Crops from Old Fields without any background in the Middle Ages at all. If published elsewhere, the eerie personal verses of A.J. Odasso probably wouldn’t strike most readers as the work of a medievalist, but they’re precise, haunting dream-visions with diction and alliteration inspired by late medieval poets. Odasso’s inclusion makes a worthwhile point: the medieval often lingers well below the surface, where it nourishes something peculiar and new.

If I were forced at sword-point to gripe about New Crops from Old Fields, I might mention the introductions provided by each poet: most of them are too jargony and too reluctant to let the poetry stand on its own. But so what? The range and heft of these poems surprised me—and as someone with a bias toward formalism, I was cheered to find free verse that was free for good poetic reasons. As scholars who work line by line through texts in eldritch languages, these poets brood over words—what they mean, what they insinuate, how they sound on the tongue. What they do with that lore is delightful. The Middle Ages are a golden trove strewn with trinkets and bones; this book proves it’s a blessing instead of a curse.

“A kiss on the wind, and we’ll make the land…”

In the 1990s, I met grad students who dreamed of finding the “real” King Arthur; one would-be archaeologist was sure she’d pry Excalibur from the corner of some forgotten Devon field. Back then, most aspiring medievalists only dimly saw that we were riding multiple waves falling neatly into phase, as decades of “historical Arthur” scholarship drew energy from, but also fed, a pop-culture surge of movies, novels, comics, and games. Now that Arthuriana is waning—it’s overdue for a deep, restorative nap—the ghost of Tolkien comes drifting through to provide its “last assay / of pride and prowess”—or, perhaps, to promise its next reawakening.

Published last week, The Fall of Arthur is an oddity: a 40-page poetic fragment easily lost amid 150 pages of commentary by the author’s son. Tolkien left the poem unfinished in the 1930s, and I’ll be curious to see how his fans greet this book. Having taught Arthurian lit and composed poems that mimic Old English verse forms, I enjoy seeing Tolkien take the Matter of Britain for an original, alliterative spin—but how many readers like me could there be?

The Fall of Arthur follows the daunting rules of Anglo-Saxon verse: A line consists of two half-lines, each of which must be one of five metrical types and must contain two stressed syllables. At least one stressed syllable in the first half-line must alliterate with the first (never the second) stressed syllable in the second half-line. Also, the vowels in the stressed syllables must be long, unless they come before a consonant cluster, or unless you’re letting initial vowels stand in for consonants. If you’re feeling saucy, you can add unstressed syllables in certain positions—but never in others, or an Anglo-Saxon simply wouldn’t hear the line as verse.

Beowulf and nearly all of the surviving 30,000 lines of Old English poetry follow this form, and Tolkien liked to play with it in modern English, well aware that it didn’t always work. “Our language now has become quick-moving (in syllables), and may be very supple and nimble, but it is rather thin in sound and in sense too often diffuse and vague,” he says in a lecture cited in The Fall of Arthur. “The language of our forefathers, especially in verse, was slow, not very nimble, but very sonorous, and was intensely packed and concentrated—or could be in a good poet.”

Is Tolkien such a poet? Sometimes. The surviving 954 lines of The Fall of Arthur set up a story about the last gasp of a doomed world—Arthur, in the autumn of his reign, is “in war with fate”—and Tolkien does a heck of a job conjuring bleak, clammy gloom. As the king and his army ride east across the Rhine, the sound and shape of the poetry emphasize brutality in eerie, alien lands:

Foes before them,    flames behind them,
ever east and onward    eager rode they,
and folk fled them    as the face of God,
till earth was empty,    and no eyes saw them,
and no ears heard them   in the endless hills,
save bird and beast     baleful haunting
the lonely lands.    Thus at last came they
to Mirkwood’s margin    under mountain-shadows:
waste was behind them,    walls before them;
on the houseless hills     ever higher mounting
vast, unvanquished,    lay the veiled forest.
(I:61-71)

The Fall of Arthur is packed with passages like this: evocations of the wild wastelands beyond the civilized world, scenes of shipwrecks and storm-battered coasts, shadowy foes lurking just out of sight. Tolkien clearly had a blast composing them, and even when his plot is derivative, these moments are original contributions to the Arthurian story in English. They’re also a pleasure to read aloud.

Once in a while, Tolkien serves up scenes that are remarkable for looking nothing like Beowulf. Here’s Lancelot, waking by his window, marveling at songbirds greeting sunrise on the sea:

His heart arose,    as were heavy burden
lightly lifted.     Alone standing
with the flame of morn    in his face burning
the surge he felt    of song forgotten
in his heart moving   as a harp-music.
There Lancelot,    low and softly
to himself singing,    the sun greeted,
life from darkness    lifted shining
in the dome of heaven    by death exalted.
Ever times would change    and tides alter,
and o’er hills of morning     hope come striding
to awake the weary,    while the world lasted.
(III:214-220)

As the Arthurian story demands, Lancelot’s hope fades before Mordred’s far more prescient gloom:

                           Time is changing;
the West waning;    a wind rising
in the waxing East.     The world falters.
New tides are running    in the narrow waters.
False or faithful,     only fearless man
shall ride the rapids    from ruin snatching
power and glory.     I purpose so.
(II.14-153)

Despite these euphonious examples, Tolkien does struggle to squeeze the bourgeois hand of modern English into the mailed glove of Old English verse. In need of words that alliterate on “f,” he uses “fell” as an adjective with offputting frequency—eight times in the first 153 lines, alongside variations of the verb “to fall”—and meter demands that he flip the order of words more often than even many readers with a patience for archaism are wont to tolerate. “Eager rode they,” “he was for battle eager,” “Ivor him answered”—the seams of this poem are easily frayed.

Christopher Tolkien, who discusses his father’s Arthurian poem as if it were a medieval work, calls it “one of the most grievous of his many abandonments” and suggests that such a slowly built, backward-looking poem “could not withstand the rising of new imaginative horizons.” Although enough notes survive to show that The Fall of Arthur was headed nowhere radical, its final, unwritten scenes might have been deeply revealing. Tolkien adored the language of the Germanic invaders who helped defeat the fictional Arthur, overran much of Britain, and gave England its name; this poem is composed in their style, as if it were sung generations later to honor a worthy foe. Had it shown Tolkien’s appreciation for the world that had to die to make way for the literature and language he loved, the finished Fall of Arthur might have been a memorable, much-quoted read.

When The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun came out in 2009, I wondered how vast a readership awaited Tolkien’s obscure and scholarly pseudo-medieval verse. The Fall of Arthur likewise makes me wonder how many Tolkien fans will wade through a 49-page essay that places this poem in its medieval Arthurian tradition; whether a 954-line fragment deserves a 50-page overview of the notes and drafts behind it; and whether the 43-page essay linking this poem to the Silmarillion doesn’t seem like padding to people who know Tolkien far better than I do.

On the other hand, The Fall of Arthur is a wonderful rarity for our times: a book that makes gigantic demands of those who pick it up, published by a literary executor who assumes his readers are patient, curious, conversant with medieval traditions, and appreciative of formal verse.

Somewhere, I know, are readers who are baffled by Sigurd and Gudrun or The Fall of Arthur but also haunted by their dim awareness of the vast intellectual realms behind them. Perhaps these readers are on the cusp of cultivating a love of Arthurian stories, an ear for archaic English, or other weird passions that civilize the brain but defy popular taste. In the end, they may not prevail—in good Germanic style, The Fall of Arthur warns them that nothing lasts—but they’ll live and fight and revel in words and think deeply for a time, becoming through Tolkien what Tolkien dubbed Gawain: “defence and fortress of a fallen world.”

[Previous Tolkieniana on this blog: Tolkien und Wagner; hobbits at a beach resortThe Lord of the Rings as Methodist Bible study.]

“Way up there in the poison glen…”

This creepy dragon on the north nave hides within his own fishy body. If you approach him, he’ll sing prophetic nonsense.

AUTUMN SONG

Clerks wrap swords in newsprint gray;
Voices of Avalon pine and pray.

Spine-cracked quartos brace the wall;
Voices of Avalon flake and fall.

Cursors burn a wanton field;
Voices of Avalon yawn and yield.

Spiders fast in pyx and grail;
Voices of Avalon fade and fail.

Glowing points rouse brush-bent hair;
Voices of Avalon strain and swear.

Roof-beams warp like corset bone;
Voices of Avalon mince and moan.

Unplucked medlar rots to wine;
Voices of Avalon pout and pine.

Marshes drown the back-toll’d bell;
Voices of Avalon swoon and swell.

Mice in moat-muck bloat face-down;
Voices of Avalon fuss and frown.

Grave-masks grin, but none deceive;
Voices of Avalon groan and grieve.

No knights rise, though one did try;
Voices of Avalon drift and die.

Furze-pigs rove in disarray;
Voices of Avalon seethe and say:

“Run, and raise the rust-white gate.”
Voices of Avalon wait.

(For all the entries in this series, hit the “looking up” tab.)

“…and August’s rare delight may be April’s fool.”

Medieval romances aren’t sacred texts, but translators often treat them with a reverence that overshadows their sheer entertainment value—so thank goodness for Adam Golaski, who’s grappling with Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in an effort to make the poem his own. Playing Tom Lehrer to Cotton Nero A.x’s “Clementine,” Golaski began posting pieces of Green to the Open Letters Monthly web site in 2008, and OLM recently published the entire first fitt.

Here’s the opening stanza of Green:

Since ceased th’siege + assault upon Troye,

bones brok’nd brittled t’bronz’nd ashes,

that soldier who trod treason o’er th’plots’v

his enemies was tried f’r treachery tho

agile Ennias, of th’truest on Earth, of high kind,

haunted by shade Dido, was worth th’wonder

wealth’v all th’west isles——

From rich milk’v wolf-mother Romulus

rose Rome’nd’n its captured riches Romulus was

swath’d. W/ arrogance he built his name

upon a hill + took Palatine t’Romulus t’Rome——

Tirius traveled t’Tuscany he built beginnings,

Langaberde’n Lombardy left us houses,

+ far o’er th’French floods Felix Brutus

on many full banks built Bretayn + sits

w/ one

where war’nd wreck’nd wonder

by surprise has went therein,

+ oft both bliss’nd blunder

fool hope shifted t’sin.

And here’s a bit of the Green Knight’s appearance at Camelot:

Arthur’nd Arthur’s court
look’d long’nd in wonder, + wondered what kind’v man be-held them,
wondered what this magical spectacle must mean,
f’r’a knight’nd’is horse to’ve accrued such’a hue that is

green

green as th’grass’nd growing greener it seemed
green glow’n’nd bright’nd brighter than enameled gold.

Translating medieval poems, whether long works or short, is a cage-match between meaning, meter, and form. Tricky passages drive the disheartened translator to other people’s versions, all of which have their own iffy relationships with the original. Preserving the sound of favorite lines clashes with the need to sacrifice fine medieval details—someone else’s favorite lines—for storytelling, while the manuscript context of the poem gets all the respect of a Carolingian hunchback.

That’s why Green is a hoot. Having developed his own idiom, Adam Golaski doesn’t try to spackle over its seams. He makes deliberately insensible decisions, jamming words together for the sake of sound and using typographic gimmicks to bemuse anyone who tries to read this thing aloud. Every conundrum a translator faces becomes, in Green, a source of amusement; some lines he barely translates at all. Golaksi gleefully defenestrates the needs of teachers, scholars, and students, but his Green makes a point that won’t be lost on medievalists: the original poem is really, wonderfully weird.

(Related “Quid Plura?” posts: a defense of the Gawain-based film Sword of the Valiant and a look at Christopher Logue’s rewriting of the Iliad.)

“There is a green hill far away…”

Despite the presence of noble-minded buffoons sitting around tables making futile plans, Washington is not an Arthurian town. Sure, there’s that suburb with corny Arthurian names, but Washington culture may be better suited for mocking fabliaux than the charming fictions of medieval romance.

Still, this city never stops sprouting quasi-medieval surprises. Trudge through the snow three days after a blizzard, and you do so alone; no one’s out taking pictures anymore, not even at the perpetually lovely Bishop’s Garden. Climb over a wall or two, send a few squirrels bounding away from the racket you make, and you’ll stumble onto this, in the driveway of a neighborhood school: a tree which the gardening guild claims was grown from the Glastonbury Thorn.

Of course, the “real” Glastonbury Thorn, dubiously rooted in history, has died several times over the centuries, and there’s reason to believe that my neighbors occasionally replace the local offshoot. Interest in the Washington thorn peaked in the 1950s, which partly explains why I’ve spent many a summer afternoon dozing on the Bishop’s Lawn unaware that this trace of Arthuriana prospered a few yards away, the quiet center of its own Tennysonian scene:

“The cup, the cup itself, from which our Lord
Drank at the last sad supper with his own.
This, from the blessed land of Aromat–
After the day of darkness, when the dead
Went wandering o’er Moriah–the good saint
Arimathaean Joseph, journeying brought
To Glastonbury, where the winter thorn
Blossoms at Christmas, mindful of our Lord.
And there awhile it bode; and if a man
Could touch or see it, he was healed at once,
By faith, of all his ills. But then the times
Grew to such evil that the holy cup
Was caught away to Heaven, and disappeared.”

It’s a silly thing, really, but after a week of Washingtonians grousing about winter, I’ll be glad when they’re back to chasing political grails. In a city that imports its legends, we could do worse than remember stories that teasingly promise perpetual spring.

“…the dreams all made solid, are the dreams all made real.”

After fifteen weeks of teaching about King Arthur, reading about King Arthur, gabbing about King Arthur, and drumming into my students that King Arthur is omnipresent in modern culture, I shouldn’t find it weird when the creaky old king makes a cameo—but honestly, I hadn’t expected that a wrong turn in suburban Virginia would land me in the Camelot subdivision of Annandale, where the streets are named after Arthurian characters and motifs.

Unlike the occasional cul-de-sac dubbed “King Arthur’s Ct.” by some card of a developer, the Camelot neighborhood along the Beltway appears to have been mapped out around 1966 by someone whose knowledge of Arthurian legend wasn’t entirely facile. Lancelot, Merlin, Guenevere, and Arthur are all here, but characters who rarely surface in popular Arthuriana are also represented by such stately addresses as Balin Court, Bedivere Court, and (my favorite) Pellinore Place. Charmingly, Lancelot Way meets Guenevere Drive while King Arthur Road does not—although King Arthur Road does cross Saxony Drive before turning into something else.

There’s no Mordred Avenue, but the residents of this particular Camelot probably hope their neighborhood leans toward Lerner and Loewe rather than Tennyson. Mortgages and foreclosure are mundane subjects for Arthurian legend, but nowadays “my house hath been my doom” might hit too close to home.

“And a strange dust lands on your hands, and on your face…”

When the sun is shining and the world is all a-green, it takes a tendency toward Tennysonian drear and a special leap of faith to study—and to teach—the Idylls of the King, especially Arthur’s “last weird battle in the West,” which falls on “that day when the great light of heaven / Burn’d at his lowest in the rolling year, / On the waste sand by the waste sea.” You’d think a week of rain would set the tone, but the present gloom is undeniably springlike. A sad tale’s best for winter; even in the stormiest May, students want to see suntans and beach umbrellas, not a despondent Bedivere sobbing on the bleak December seacoast.

Fortunately, Tennyson is a poet for all seasons. Arthur’s climactic rush-and-push against Mordred offers hardy perennial advice about facing a final exam:

Then spake the King: “My house hath been my doom.
But call not thou this traitor of my house
Who hath but dwelt beneath one roof with me.
My house are rather they who sware my vows,
Yea, even while they brake them, own’d me King.
And well for thee, saying in my dark hour,
When all the purport of my throne hath fail’d,
That quick or dead thou holdest me for King.
King am I, whatsoever be their cry;
And one last act of kinghood shalt thou see
Yet, ere I pass.” And uttering this the King
Made at the man…

My students, sharp and studious, will know whether Arthur is exhorting them to end on a note of defiant triumph or advising them to fail with dignity. This week, they’ll free themselves from my Vortigern-like tyranny, and they can remember the Mabinogion and William Morris however they like. I’ll remember them as the first group in ten years to find notes of perseverance and hope amid Guenevere’s severity. Generous and unexpected, that sort of personal response refreshes a tired-out teacher.

In Arthurian legend, when the old order passes, the world doesn’t end; instead, it gives way to something new. If Bedivere can watch the sunrise on the coast after the winter solstice, then melancholy at the end of the semester makes sense even when, as Tennyson puts it, “the world is white with May.” My students can tell you that there’s no more conventional month to revel in medieval romance; maybe there’s nothing inherently un-Arthurian, also, about going to the beach.

“He sits in the canyon with his back to the sea…”

Every few years, I’m asked to teach Arthurian literature, a gig that’s led to a curious custom here at “Quid Plura?” headquarters: In the week before we talk about The Mabinogion, I fly the Welsh flag above my television. When the week is over, the flag gets folded and stowed, but not before I’ve caught up on several years of Welsh news, reread the relevant scholarship, and startled myself daily with the sight of a huge red dragon by the bathroom door.

What more can I say? Y Ddraig Goch ddyry gychwyn! Let the red dragon show the way to this dubious assortment of Welsh-themed links.

Amazon user G.R. Grove has kindly compiled a list of novels set in medieval Wales.

Watch the first part of an eight-part BBC documentary about Owain Glendywr.

Need a fix of Welsh? Listen to BBC Cymru, partake of their “Learn Welsh” Web site, or dabble in the language with the Cardiff School of Computer Science.

The Digital Medievalist has a FAQ on learning Middle Welsh.

Last year, locals officials made a wonderful mistake on a Welsh-language road sign.

What’s more Welsh than a male voice choir singing the national anthem? Possibly a male voice choir singing “Myfanwy.” (You’ll find the lyrics here.)

If you ever need accommodations in Snowdonia, pop over to the Plas Gwyn Guest House. The proprietor cooks a fine breakfast and stocks a nice library of maps for the overzealous hiker.

While you’re there, gawk from the highway at Dinas Emrys, where Vortigern supposedly tried to build his tower on the shakiest of foundations.

If you want to follow in Patrick McGoohan’s footsteps and be chased by a giant inflatable white ball creature thingie, Plas Gwyn isn’t far from Portmeirion.

Here’s something you don’t see every day: a “Welsh language hip hop 80s style badminton video.”

To my knowledge, there’s only one song about a wheelchair-bound savant who takes a break from starting World War III on his cell phone to wax nostalgic about his Welsh upbringing. Here it is.

“In vain they struggle for the vision fair.”

Iceland and Camelot rarely collide—which is why I was pleased to find, via Adrian Murdoch, this perplexing headline:

Quest for Holy Grail in Iceland Unsuccessful

As Murdoch points out, this story is “Dan Brown in 200 words”:

In Botticelli’s “Primavera” a series of numeric symbols form the date March 14, 1319, which somehow supports Gianazza’s theory, and in da Vinci’s “Last Supper” Gianazza believes to have found outlines matching the landscape at Kjölur.

Further clues were found in Dante Alighieri’s “Divine Comedy” and an ancient Icelandic script states that poet and politician Snorri Sturluson was accompanied by “eighty armored Eastmen” at the Althingi parliament in 1217, who could have been the Knights Templars.

To assuage the disappointment of these ardent questers, I offer an alternate headline:

Quest for Holy Grail in Jeff’s Apartment Unsuccessful

However, a quest through the kitchen here at “Quid Plura?” headquarters did turn up a Serbian Coke bottle, a possibly stolen coffee cup from the University of Iceland, a can of Edward G. Robinson pipe tobacco, a Pac-Man tumbler, and a Newfoundland “Viking Millennium” souvenir mug.

Two Iceland-themed drinking vessels? That’s no coincidence, especially not when “Pac-Man” so closely resembles Old Norse *pakki-maðr, “man carrying a bundle.” And what is a pipe but a small, skinny, smokable grail? I confess, I don’t see how the Coke bottle completes the message, but one anagram of “Serbian” is “i b n arse.” Whatever can it mean?

“Put our product to the test, you’ll feel just fine…”

Miles O’Keeffe, his helmet of hair, and so many wasted thespians—that, in brief, is Sword of the Valiant. I wrote about this cinematic disaster back in February, when I revisited the movie and found it almost endearing: bad, yes, but usefully inscrutable.

But did you know that Sword of the Valiant was actually a remake? Yes: the 1984 travesty was a remake of a 1973 film written and directed by the same deluded people; it even starred some of the same unfortunate actors. For 35 years, the original movie roiled in the purifying fires of cinematic limbo—until something, probably the recent bestselling success of Simon Armitage’s translation of the original poem, prompted an ill-advised DVD reissue.

So the DVD came out two weeks ago, and Fortune did as Fortune does. For one thing, the Amazon product description mistakenly draws on the listing for a Gawain-related documentary. Worse, though, is the fact that—well, I’ll let the fresh list of one-star reviews tell you the rest of it:

I received this DVD from Amazon, the packaging and DVD label say Sir Gawain but the DVD itself is called “Pike Fishing in Winter” and features two guys pike fishing somewhere in England. At first I thought it was a joke, but pike fishing is all you get.

Firstly, having ordered this DVD I discover it isn’t the film advertised, but a 70 minute documentary. Secondly, when I put the documentary in to play, I get ‘Winter Pike Fishing with Mick Brown and Des Taylor’ …

I didn’t open it to play it, so I don’t know about the fishing others have mentioned, but the CD packaging itself indicates it is a documentary…

Not the 1973 Robert Hardy film. Mislabeled and mismarketed prior to release. I haven’t played it yet, so I don’t know if I got the pike fishing too.

In the words of Sir Gawain himself: “Oops.”

On the off chance any of those disappointed reviewers are still eager for a Gawain video fix, they should check out YouTube. They’ll find numerous versions of the romance, including: an award-winning Irish cartoon with a remarkable stained-glass sensibility (part one; part two; part three); a 1994 live-action mangling with a Green Knight right out of the original Star Trek (part one; part two; part three; part four); and—mirabile visuan adaptation for paper-bag puppets.

All of the above are better than Sword of the Valiant—although mind you, I can’t promise that they’re any more satisfying than “Pike Fishing in Winter.”