Marie de France ‘Lanval’

Lanval goes off on a ride alone to think about his sorry state of being left with no cash. When he arrives at a meadow, his horse acts strangely, as if he sensed something. Lanval gets down, unsaddles his horse and lies down with his coat under his head to brood a bit more. Then suddenly he sees two beautiful young women approaching him, dressed richly and one of them carrying golden washing basins. Being a polite guy, he immediately gets up. The ladies address him and tell him that their queen invites him to her tent nearby.  When Lanval approaches the tent, he sees it is decorated with gold and it surpasses in its richness all the fabled possessions of Queen Semiramis or emperor Octavian. And what is inside the tent is even better – a most beautiful woman, dressed in a see-through shift, with a cloak of ermine thrown over it, because even fairies can get chilly. Mind you, the author doesn’t ever use the word “fairy”, but rather suggests it to the reader.

The lady declares immediately her love for Lanval and her willingness to go with him to bed right now. She also promises to provide him with any amount of money and expensive presents he wishes. So, a sexy and immensely rich woman offers herself to the knight – what do you think he is going to do? Well, the answer is pretty obvious. But where’s the hook? There is only one and it seems rather easy – Lanval must not tell anybody about his mistress. Never ever. If he ever does it, he won’t see her again. The lady then presents Lanval “her heart/and her body, every part”. (ll. 129 – 130). They spend the whole afternoon in bed and Lanval would gladly stay there longer if she didn’t push him out. They eat a nice dinner before he leaves. “There was also an interval/Which gave great pleasure to Lanval” (ll. 183 – 4), writes Marie, referring to the custom of serving entremes, a side dish between the main courses, or perhaps mischievously referring to a different kind of dish altogether. And to top that, he is also given a suit of rich clothes.


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