Nikki's Reviews > Tristan: With the Tristran of Thomas

Tristan by Gottfried von Strassburg
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May 11, 10

bookshelves: arthurian, classics, myth-legend-saga-etc, medieval-literature
Read from May 09 to 11, 2010

I really liked this. I thought the translation was very good: it's engaging and interesting and doesn't get too dry, as some translations are prone to doing. Of course, it seems like a lot of that is down to the original text, which I do wish I could experience. But the translation is well done, I think. The descriptions are gorgeous, in places, and the imagery is lovely.

I really enjoyed learning about Tristan's history, too, with his foster father and how he grows up. He's a bit of a "Gary Stu", as fandom would put it: he's a bit too perfect. A bit of a Lancelot all round, really (I don't really like most portrayals of Lancelot).

The problem with enjoying this is how shameless Tristan and Isolde are. They trick Mark and make him feel guilty for ever suspecting them, and then respond to his love for them by cuckolding him again. They don't seem to make any real effort to hold back. And Tristan mistreats the other Isolde (of the White Hands), and Isolde the Fair's treatment of Brangane is ridiculous. Of course, these problems that are there for a modern reader might not be, for the original audience -- I'm aware of that, and it doesn't actually affect my rating of it because I enjoyed reading it so much. Still, it's hard to sympathise with the characters when they do things like that.

There are some great passages, though -- really affecting, and you can really feel for the characters. I had more sympathies for Mark than I'd expected.

It really isn't Arthurian at all, incidentally. There are a couple of references to King Arthur, but Tristan isn't a knight of the Round Table here. I'm still 'shelving' it as Arthurian, though, because of how strongly linked the Tristan and Iseult story has become with the Arthurian stories.
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