Marie's Reviews > Tirant Lo Blanc

Tirant Lo Blanc by Joanot Martorell
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May 09, 14

Read from March 10 to May 09, 2014

The book jacket makes much of Cervantes mentioning the book as "one of the best" - but it's not Cervantes saying that, it's the priest character who is evaluating which of Don Quixote's books to burn and which to save. And I think I know why Cervantes had the priest save this one, because aside from a quick episode involving a female dragon, the book is mostly without magic and deals with wars and tournaments, not wandering knight errantry.

Written in the late 15th Century in Catalan, Tirant Lo Blanc chronicles the journey of your typical super-knight. He wins every fight he is in, and is an expert on virtue and courtliness. He also has a superpower seen in many knightly tales but rarely so extravagantly in contradiction to the laws of physics: he refuses all rewards ever offered to him and gives every messenger, stranger, friend, beggar, attendant, and squire buckets of wealth.

K. I'll forgive that.

Even by "medieval novel read in translation" standards, Tirant Lo Blanc drags. Every decision is predicated by four or five chapters of not very interesting speeches, some of which I think the author would have blessed the invention of copy-paste for because it must have been at least as tedious to write them as to read them.

Still, when I could chew my way slowly through that, and the often-contradictory, meandering plot, there were bits to amuse. Like the fascinatingly alien morality. Our most pious hero rapes his love, for one thing - and holds down another lady so his friend can rape her - only letting her up when his friend relents, knowing that he's going to MARRY THE WOMAN TOMORROW. In both instances the attacked women never complain and instantly forgive their attackers, even though the one lady was tricked into marrying the guy by Tirant carefully interceding every time her suitor made a social faux pas.

It's certainly the pre-16th-century novel that treats pre-marital sex the lightest. It's attitude towards women is, frankly, weird. There is a long section listing the virtuous warrior women of the past, and female characters like Pleasure-of-my-life and the Empress have real agency and tell the men what to do - though Pleasure-of-my-Life mostly extols the virtues of raping the princess immediately because chastity - eh, what's the point of that? Still, ladies are shown preparing towns for siege and outfitting armies. Tirant's princess Carmesina even dons armor and goes into battle, capturing a small boy so she can say she captured a saracen, too.

Oh, and here's another real weird thing in this book - after conquering all of Barbary and Greece and securing his betrothal to the beautiful princess he deflowered, he just up and dies. From a pain in his side that hits him while walking along a stream. BAM. On his deathbed he confesses - nothing, actually. They say he confesses, and have a few long paragraphs of him talking about how great Jesus is, and bam. His princess then hears about his death, dresses in her wedding gown, confesses publicly that she "allowed" Tirant to deflower her, and dies. Of love.

Then the book goes ON for several more chapters until all the remaining characters have been provided with their own end. Exhausting. The whole work is exhausting in detail.
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Reading Progress

03/10 marked as: currently-reading
05/09 marked as: read

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