Complementing my daily blog interviews, today’s Author Spotlight, the one hundred and twenty-second, is of journalist, editor, and fiction author Sue Burke.
Sue Burke was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and began studying Spanish when she was 12. She also began writing, and has worked as a journalist, editor, and fiction author. She and her husband lived briefly in Austin, Texas, before moving to Madrid, Spain, in December 1999.
They hoped to learn the language and explore the culture. Spain offered many inspirations, and one was its history. Sue says that if you look carefully, you can still see the Roman Empire in the landscape, the customs, and even the food — to say nothing of the Middle Ages, Renaissance, and more recent centuries. Spain treasures history the way Americans treasure the Great Outdoors.
As a writer, Sue was attracted to Spain’s rich literary legacy, and she discovered a book that had served as a pillar to European fiction but then fell into oblivion. In fact, there wasn’t even a good English translation available. So she decided to fix that.
And now from the author herself:
You may have never heard of Amadis of Gaul, but the story inhabits our collective consciousness: a knight in shining armor, unbeatable in battle, rescues damsels in distress and serves an unobtainable princess with total devotion. You may even know that Miguel de Cervantes wrote Don Quixote de La Mancha to ridicule this book.
But there’s far more to it than that.
In the Middle Ages, troubadours circulated stories about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table throughout Europe. In Spain, these stories coalesced around one knight, Amadis of Gaul. The stories were expanded in a novel by Garcí Rodríguez de Montalvo right when the printing press became big business.
The novel became Renaissance Europe’s first best-seller. It spawned dozens of sequels and a hundred spin-offs. Nobles dressed up and re-enacted the stories. A century later it had gotten so silly that Cervantes cashed in with a satire.
Yet, even he insisted that Amadis of Gaul was so good that it deserved to be read.
You can do that. I’ve been translating Amadis of Gaul from medieval Spanish to modern English a chapter at a time at http://amadisofgaul.blogspot.com, and now Book I of the four-book novel is available.
It’s the Middle Ages in its own words, and you might be in for a surprise.
First of all, there’s sex. All that repression and chastity belt nonsense was invented in the Renaissance. In fact, Amadis is born out of wedlock. And although he is too pure to accept carnal thanks from the damsels he rescues, other knights do.
Then, there’s violence. Knights hack each other to death bit by bit with swords as body parts fall to the ground. Or they smite their opponents in one gruesome blow with a lance. Amadis always wins, but sometimes just barely. At one point, he’s trying to hide his identity and is recognized by the scars on his face. This book drips with blood.
Be prepared for a typical medieval story, too: interweaving plots. This isn’t just about Amadis. This book tells the story of his family, his friends, his king, and their families and friends. Everyone has adventures.
Finally, you can discover why women treasured this novel to the point that religious authorities became alarmed. It wasn’t just over the sex, although the love story between Amadis and Princess Oriana does get scandalous. In the Middle Ages, women filled important roles, and as their lives became more and more restricted in the Renaissance, they could escape to the past with this exciting book, where women were as important as men.
And if you’re a writer, remember what Antoní Gaudí said: “Originality consists in returning to the origin.” Here’s where it all started, the story that was eventually turned into the watered-down trope that fills so many bookstore shelves today. Here’s the real medieval fantasy.
This book drove Don Quixote mad. What will it do to you?
The blog interviews will return as normal tomorrow with multi-genre author Karen Coombs – the five hundred and third of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me.
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Unfortunately, as I post an interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t review books but I have a feature called ‘Short Story Saturdays’ where I review stories of up to 2,500 words. Alternatively if you have a short story or self-contained novel extract / short chapter (ideally up to 1000 words) that you’d like critiqued and don’t mind me reading it / talking about and critiquing it (I send you the transcription afterwards so you can use the comments or ignore them) on my ‘Bailey’s Writing Tips’ podcast, then do email me. They are fortnightly episodes, usually released on Sundays, interweaving the recordings between the red pen sessions with the hints & tips episodes. I am now also looking for flash fiction (<1000 words) for Flash Fiction Fridays and poetry for Post-weekend Poetry.