The Tale of Charlemagne and Ralph the Collier.

[UPDATE: As of December 2012, information on purchasing The Tale of Charlemagne and Ralph the Collier as either a paperback or an e-book can be found here.]

Do students better appreciate the artistry of great medieval poets if they also read some of the less studied works of the Middle Ages? After teaching a survey course for several years, I wondered about that—but I also knew that time constraints prevented me from assigning lengthy Middle English poems that would take students weeks to read. Instead, I decided to make my own classroom translations of several medieval romances, lively narrative poems that put more frequently studied works in context but which themselves rarely appear on an undergraduate syllabus.

“The Tale of Charlemagne and Ralph the Collier” is my third modern English translation of a Middle English work. It’s an entertaining 972-line romance packed with folktale motifs, elements of French chansons, burlesque humor, post-Crusades Christianity, and an examination of the rules of courtesy that may be more thoughtful than it first appears. (If you’d like to read “The Taill of Rauf Coilyear” in its original language, you can check it out at the TEAMS Web site.)

You don’t need a background in medieval literature to enjoy this translation. If you’re new to the storytelling of this period, you’ll notice a typically medieval mixture of the familiar and the strange. The lengthy alliterative stanzas and many of the plot twists may frustrate modern sensibilities, but I hope readers can benefit from greater access to a story that once delighted late medieval people.

This translation—a no-frills, low-resolution, 19-page PDF—is free to download. However, if you find it useful, edifying, or entertaining, please support my efforts by purchasing a copy of my book Becoming Charlemagne in hardcover, paperback, or Kindle edition.

If you’d like to refer someone to this translation, please don’t link directly to the PDF or distribute it through other Web sites. Instead, please link to this page.

I hope you enjoy this other Christmas story about an unlikely hero named Ralph.

4 thoughts on “The Tale of Charlemagne and Ralph the Collier.

  1. Jeff,

    Thank you for sharing this. I had not heard of this tale before and it is enchanting.

    There is a theme of personal honor running through these legends that would be hard to translate into a story set in modern times. The idea that “this is my house dammit and I shall be the one to show deference regardless of your higher station in life” and to feel that insult so passionately as to follow it with a physical blow seems unlikely in today’s world.

    No matter how much young adults of today decry someone showing them disrespect, if one were to accuse Orlando/Roland or other Carolingian heroes of being “discourteous” it could result in a duel to the death.

    Hopefully your students appreciate this translation as much as I have.

    Merry Christmas,



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