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Produced by Thierry Alberto, Chris Curnow, Julia Miller
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Transcriber's Note

Obvious typographical errors have been corrected. A list of changes is
found at the end of the book.










I once read a book about a poor little lonely boy in a great house with
a large library. This boy was pale, dull, and moping. Nobody knew what
was the matter with him. But somebody tracked him into the library and
saw him take a huge thick black book, half as tall as himself, out of a
bookcase, and sit down and read it. The name of the book was
_Polexander_. So he sat and sobbed over _Polexander_, because it was so
very dull and so very long. There were 800 pages, and he had only read
sixty-seven. But some very stupid grown-up person had told him that he
must always begin a book at the beginning, and, if he once began, he
must read every word of it, and read nothing else till he had finished
every word of it.

The boy saw that he would die of weariness long before he reached the
end of _Polexander_, but he stuck to it like the other boy who stood by
the burning deck long after it was 'time for him to go.' So _Polexander_
was taken away from him and locked up, and so his life was saved.

Now, in the first place _Polexander_ was a romance, but it was not like
the romances in this book, for it was dreadfully long, and mainly about
the sorrows of lovers who cannot get married. That could not amuse a
small boy. In the second place, every boy should stop reading a book as
soon as he finds that he does not like it, just as you are not expected
to eat more mutton than you want to eat. Lesson books are another thing;
you have to read them, and if you do not you will get into trouble. They
are not meant to be amusing, but to teach Latin grammar, or geography,
or arithmetic, which are not gay. As to this book of Romances, if you do
not like one story, give it up and try another. If you do not like any
of them, read something else that you do like.

Now what are romances? They are grown-up people's fairy tales or
story-books, but they are the kind of story-books that grown-up people
read long ago, when there were castles and knights, and tournaments, and
the chief business of gentlemen was to ride about in full armour,
fighting, while ladies sat at home doing embroidery work, or going to
see the men tilt at tournaments, just as they go to see cricket matches
now. But they liked tournaments better, because they understood the
rules of the game. Anybody could see when one knight knocked another
down, horse and all, but many ladies do not understand leg before
wicket, or stumping.

The stories that they read were called 'romances,' but were in prose.
Before people could read they were not in prose but in poetry, and were
recited by minstrels. Mrs. Lang, who did the stories in this book, says:
'Many hundreds of years ago, when most of these stories were told in the
halls of great castles, the lives of children were very different from
what they are now. The little girls were taught by their mothers'
maidens to spin and embroider, or make simple medicines from the common
herbs, and the boys learnt to ride and tilt, and shoot with bows and
arrows; but their tasks done, no one paid any further heed to them. They
had very few games, and in the long winter evenings the man who went
from house to house, telling or singing the tales of brave deeds, must
have been welcome indeed. From him the children, who early became men
and women, heard of the evil fate that awaited cowardice and treachery,
and grew to understand that it was their duty through life to help those
that were weaker than themselves.' That was long, long ago, when nobody
but priests and a very few gentlemen could read and write. They just
listened to stories in rhyme, which the minstrels sang, striking their
harps at the end of each verse.

The stories were really fairy tales, dressed up and spun out, and
instead of 'a boy' or 'a king' or 'a princess' with no name, the old
fairy adventures were said to have happened to people with names: King
Arthur, or Charlemagne, or Bertha Broadfoot. A little real history came
in, but altered, and mixed up with fairy tales, and done into rhyme.

Later, more and more people learned to read, and now the long poems were
done into prose, and written in books, not printed but written books;
and these were the Romances, very long indeed, all about fighting, and
love-making, and giants, and dwarfs, and magicians, and enchanted
castles, and dragons and flying horses. These romances were the novels
of the people of the Middle Ages, about whom you can read in the History
Books of Mrs. Markham. They were not much like the novels which come
from the library for your dear mothers and aunts. There is not much
fighting in them, though there is any amount of love-making, and there
are no giants; and if there is a knight, he is usually a grocer or a
doctor, quite the wrong sort of knight.

Here is the beginning of a celebrated novel: 'Comedy is a game played to
throw reflections upon social life, and it deals with human nature in
the drawing-rooms of civilised men and women.' You do not want to read
any more of that novel. It is not at all like a good old romance of
knights and dragons and enchanted princesses and strong wars. The
knights and ladies would not have looked at such a book, all about

Now, in this book, we have made the old romances much shorter, keeping
the liveliest parts, in which curious things happen. Some of the tales
were first told in Iceland eight hundred years ago, and are mostly true
and about real people. Some are from the ancient French romances of the
adventures of Charlemagne, and his peers and paladins. Some are from
later Italian poems of the same kind. 'Cupid and Psyche' is older, and
so is the story of the man who was changed into a donkey. These are from
an old Latin romance, written when people were still heathens, most of
them. Some are about the Danes in England (of whom you may have heard),
but there is not much history in them.

Mrs. Lang says: 'In this book you will read of men who, like Don
Quixote, were often mistaken but never mean, and of women, such as Una
and Bradamante, who kept patient and true, in spite of fierce trials and
temptations. I have only related a few of their adventures, but when you
grow older you can read them for yourselves, in the languages in which
they were written.'

'Don Quixote' was written by a Spaniard, Cervantes, in the time of James
I. of England, to show what would happen if a man tried to behave like a
knight of old, after people had become more civilised and less
interesting. Don Quixote was laughed at, because he came too late into
too old a world. But he was as brave and good a knight as the best
paladin of them all. So about the knights and ladies and dwarfs and
giants, I hope you will think like Sir Walter Scott, when he was a boy,
and read the old romances. He says: 'Heaven only knows how glad I was to
find myself in such company.'

If you like the kind of company, then read 'Ivanhoe,' by Sir Walter
Scott, for that is the best romance in the world.

All the stories in this book were done by Mrs. Lang, out of the old



_How William of Palermo was carried off by the Werwolf_ 1
_The Disenchantment of the Werwolf_ 13
_The Slaying of Hallgerda's Husbands_ 28
_The Death of Gunnar_ 45
_Njal's Burning_ 71
_The Lady of Solace_ 84
_Una and the Lion_ 93
_How the Red Cross Knight slew the Dragon_ 105
_Amys and Amyle_ 128
_The Tale of the Cid_ 141
_The Knight of the Sorrowful Countenance_ 165
_The Adventure of the Two Armies who turned out to be Flocks
of Sheep_ 177
_The Adventure of the Boiling Lights_ 190
_The Helmet of Mambrino_ 194
_How Don Quixote was Enchanted while guarding the Castle_ 202
_Don Quixote's Home-coming_ 209
_The Meeting of Huon and Oberon, King of the Fairies_ 213
_How Oberon saved Huon_ 221
_Havelok and Goldborough_ 234
_Cupid and Psyche_ 251
_Sir Bevis the Strong_ 267
_Ogier the Dane_ 287
_How the Ass became a Man again_ 298
_Guy of Warwick_ 309
_How Bradamante conquered the Wizard_ 320
_The Ring of Bradamante_ 331
_The Fulfilling of the Prophecy_ 341
_The Knight of the Sun_ 351
_How the Knight of the Sun rescued his Father_ 360



_How Gunnar met Hallgerda_ _Frontispiece_
_The Werwolf carries Prince William away_ _To face p._ 2
_The Lady of Solace_ " 86
_At the sight of the Lion she flung down the pitcher_ " 102
_The End of the Dragon_ " 124
_Softly she rose to her feet and stole out of the wood_ " 134
_Aphrodite finds Psyche's Task accomplished_ " 264
_How the Fairies came to see Ogier the Dane_ " 288


_The Lovers meet by plan of Alexandrine_ _To face p._ 8
_The Bearskin--Am not I a bold Beast?_ " 14
_The Fury of the Werwolf_ " 24
_How Thorwald was slain by Thiostolf_ " 32
_Thiostolf decides to slay Glum_ " 40
_Otkell and Gunnar in the Field_ " 58
_Gunnar's last Fight and Hallgerda's Revenge_ " 66
_How Kari escaped from Njal's House_ " 78
_The Lady of Solace helps the Fallen Knight_ " 88
_The Red Cross Knight enters the Monster's Cave_ " 96
_Una saved by the Wood-Folk_ " 106
_Arthur fights the Seven-Headed Serpent_ " 112
_In the Cave of Despair_ " 120
_Rodrigo brings home the head of Gomez_ " 142
_Don Diego and Don Fernan show that they are cowards_ " 154
_Don Quixada declared that he would give his Housekeeper
and his Niece into the bargain for the pleasure of
bestowing one kick on Ganelon the traitor_ " 166
_Don Quixote determines to attack the Windmills_ " 180
_How the Galley Slaves repaid Don Quixote_ " 198
_The Meeting of Huon and Oberon_ " 216
_Round the Bag which held the Boy a brilliant Light was
shining_ " 236
_Zephyr carries Psyche down from the Mountain_ " 254
_Little Bevis avenges his Father_ " 268
_Strong Sir Bevis keeps the Two Dragons at Bay_ " 278
_Bradamante defeats the Wizard with the Ring_ " 326
_Roger borne away from Bradamante_ " 332
_The Two Damsels rescue Roger from the Rabble_ " 336
_The Giant's Daughter reproaches the Two Brothers_ " 360
_The Knight of the Sun fights the Serpent_ " 366

_The Emperor carries William away_ 5
_The Werwolf's Visit to the Cave_ 19
_Hauskuld's Pride in Hallgerda_ 29
_How Gunnar slew Thorgeir, Otkell's Son_ 63
_Sudden Departure of Una's Parents_ 94
_In Archimago's Cell: the Evil Dream_ 100
_The Two Cups_ 132
_Sir Amyle arrives in time to save the Ladies_ 139
_Don Quixote belabours the Muleteer_ 175
_Don Quixote's Battle with the Wine-skins_ 203
_Huon defeats the Giant Agrapart_ 227
_Havelok presents Goldborough to the English People_ 247
_Aphrodite brings Cupid to Psyche_ 252
_Joyfully the Eagle bore back the Urn_ 265
_Ogier the Dane meets Morgane le Fay at last_ 293
_Apuleius changes into an Ass_ 302


Many hundreds of years ago there lived in the beautiful city of Palermo
a little prince who was thought, not only by his parents but by everyone
who saw him, to be the handsomest child in the whole world.

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