Ars longa, vita brevis! Although I’m holding down two jobs and working on two new books, I do have several posts in the queue about matters medieval—but until they get done, please indulge me in something atypical for this blog: blatant promotion. If any of these medieval-minded books should strike your fancy, I’d be delighted—and grateful.
When Becoming Charlemagne came out in 2006, I saw it as (among other things) a story about how swiftly time overtakes us. Little did I know that its elegiac mood would soon apply to the many defunct bookstores where it made its debut.
The book tells the story of Charlemagne’s imperial coronation in the year 800—one of the most important events in European history—by showing the early medieval world from the perspectives of people great and small: Frankish peasants, Jewish farmers, the monks of Tours, the caliph of Baghdad, a sneering empress in Constantinople, and world-weary locals in Rome. It’s a five-year slice of history that reads, I hope, like a brisk little novel.
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In the 15th century, an anonymous poet composed “The Tale of Ralph the Collier,” a 972-line Middle Scots romance about the kerfuffle that ensues when Charlemagne, separated from his entourage by a snowstorm at Christmastime, seeks refuge in the home of a proud and irascible collier. Combining folklore motifs with burlesque humor and elements of chansons and chivalric romances, “Rauf Coilyear” is a lively but rarely-read tale of courtesy, hospitality, and knighthood. To my knowledge, it’s also the only medieval romance in which Charlemagne totally gets slapped in the face.
This translation, which reproduces the rhyme and alliteration of the poem’s difficult 13-line stanzas, is available in a $9 paperback and a version specially formatted for the Kindle. (To get a taste of the translation, sample this low-res PDF of the first few pages, or check out the original Middle Scots to see what I was up against.)
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From 2009 to 2012, I posted the first drafts of 51 poems on this blog, each one inspired by a gargoyle or grotesque at Washington National Cathedral. What started as a lark turned serious when the cathedral granted me permission to show their typically camera-shy gargoyles in a compilation of the poems. In return, I’m donating 75 percent of the net profits to them to help repair damage from the 2011 earthquake.
Looking Up: Poems from the National Cathedral Gargoyles collects the final versions of these poems, plus two that are exclusive to the book. (You can browse a clickable list of the first drafts here.) The book is on sale at the cathedral gift shop and at the usual venues like Amazon, but you’d really be helping this project reach profitability much faster if you bought directly from me, whether using Google Checkout on this page or popping me a payment via Paypal. (Or heck, just send me a check. Questions? jeffsypeck -at- gmail – dot – com.)