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An Analysis of Fairies as a Literary Device In Medieval Folklore - Essay Example

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Medieval folk tales, or "lais" (a French term refering to the balladic form many of these tales used to survive until their chronicling), frequently contain elements of magic or reference to fairy powers. These otherworldly components are lingering elements of pagan beliefs and traditions, considered the "old ways" or "old religion," that existed prior to the coming of Christianity to medieval Europe…
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An Analysis of Fairies as a Literary Device In Medieval Folklore
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Download file to see previous pages A number of saints holidays (that happened to coincide with older holidays) help to ease the layperson's transition from pagan beliefs into a more Christian view of the world. These beliefs in the old magic evolved into literary devices when incorporated into folk tales, frequently used to either juxtapose the new and old beliefs, to distinguish between the two, to either reconcile them or to show the superiority of the new religion, as Christianity soon became omnipresent in medieval life. These Christian elements came to be exhibited retroactively through romantic tales of chivalry, for what was once an ethos of "might makes right" soon were thought to exemplify such Christian ethics as the mighty defending the weak, or the application of mercy. The reverence of the Virgin Mary developed into a reverence of all women and the notion of courtly love. However, these patterns spread slowly. To examine these elements in an evolutionary, if not exactly chronological, orderone can focus on such examples as the lais "Bisclavret" and "Yonic" by Marie de France and the J. R. R. Tolkien translations of "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" and "Sir Orfeo."
Marie de France's lais "Bisclavret," or "The Werewolf," approaches the notion of magic through the title character's curse of transforming into a werewolf. A brief summary of the plot describes Bisclavaret's curse, his wife discovering it, and then her subsequent betrayal of her husband in favor of another man which results in Bisclavret being trapped in wolf form. As a wolf, he eventually wins the respect of the king, who allows the wolf to stay at the castle. The wolf is well behaved until he meets is betrayers, at which point his animosity is so great that the court recalls the woman's lost husband. She confesses, Bisclavret is restored and the couple are exiled. In the context of this story, the author holds no implicit distrust of magic: it is viewed as a condition pre-dating the arrival of Christianity (paralleling evils of human nature), and while it proves a cursed inconvenience, it in no way prohibits Bisclavret from acting nobly while in wolf form: "He's never touched anyone, / or shown any wickedness, / except to this woman."1 The plot instead focuses on Christian moralizing, i.e. the evils of the wife and knight's betrayal of their lord (thereby breaking the holy covenant of marriage, as wel as the knight's forswearing of fealty to his lord) , and their subsequent punishment. The loophole provided by magic actually provides a more satisfactory retribution than mere Christian conscience would allow, for the Church would undoubtedly promote the notion of mercy, forgiveness and leniency. The couple are allowed this to an extent, as they are merely exiled with no other pronouncement of punishment. But magic allows a more telling retribution: when the wolf attacked the woman, he bit off her nose. Not only is she nose-less for the rest of her life, but several of her daughters were also born without noses, thus continuing the medieval tradition of a flawed character revealing itself in physical defect.
While Bisclavret's condition proves the means of his eventual revenge, the father of the title character "Yonec" uses magical transformation for different reasons and with different results. This ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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