a burning fire that casts no heat;
a day with no sunshiny hours;
a summer season with no flowers;
a comb whose honey has been lost;
a wintertime without a frost;
a blank book and a moonless sky.
That is the way I would descry
the man not fearful or appalled,
for by him Love goes unrecalled."
Chrétien de Troyes (flourished 1165-80) was a French poet in the late 12th century, most well known for his Arthurian epic poems which became seminal works of the Chivalric Romance genre, emulated countless times by later poets.
Chrétien is best known writing the earliest stories to contain the Grail (although the "Holy" part got added later) and the Guinevere/Lancelot affair (although that was his patron's idea, not his). Ironically, these elements come from two stories that he didn't even fishing writing. The three other stories he did complete have less legacy.
Little is known of the life of Chrétien, but he may have frequented the court of Marie, Countess of Champagne, and visited England. His work also followed Wace's Roman de Brut (1155), a translation of Geoffrey of Monmoth's Historia Regum Britanniae, introducing the Arthurian legend to continental Europe.
A non-Arthurian poem, Guillaume d'Angleterre, is also attributed to Chrétien, but the authorship is uncertain.
The Arthurian romances of Chrétien de Troyes are:
- Erec and Enide (circa 1170): A submissive wife who proves her love for her husband by disobeying him.
- Cligès (circa 1176): The victim of a marriage made under constraint fakes her death.
- Yvain, the Knight of the Lion (between 1177 and 1181): A widowed woman hastily marries her husband's killer; her new husband falls from grace and has his honour restored later.
- Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart (between 1177 and 1181): Introduced the love affair of Lancelot and Guinevere.
- Perceval, the Story of the Grail (between 1181 and 1190): Introduced King Arthur and the Holy Grail (although it wasn't yet holy, merely magical). Chrétien left this unfinished.
Tropes in Chrétien's romances:
- Depraved Dwarf: Erec and Enide and Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart both have an Inciting Incident involving an ugly dwarf who seems to be employed by the antagonist.
- Honest Advisor: Erec and Enide and Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart both open with Arthur making some sort of decision and then Gawain telling him that was a dumb idea.
- No Name Given: Chrétien is kind of weird about names.
- Chrétien's stories are full of nameless bit characters, often referred to as "damsel" and "knight" (or other occupational titles). Many of them are unimportant minor characters where Nominal Importance names sense. But not always. For example, Meleagant's sister from Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart who rescues the protagonist really warrants a name, but doesn't get one. On the flip side, Chrétien has no problem naming lots of bit characters at court. In Erec and Enide he randomly lists off the names of Arthur's ten top knights, ranks, and then over two dozen more unranked. It seems like those are pre-named characters from the mythos and Chrétien was resistant to naming original characters.
- Chrétien has a habit of withholding the names of characters who do have names for a really long time before reveling them — such as Yder and Enide in Erec and Enide, and Lancelot in Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart.