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The Magic Ring by Friedrich Heinrich Karl La…
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This is a very odd book. The author calls it a Ritterroman, a novel of knights, but it is not a novel in the 19th century sense of the word. Instead it takes its inspiration from the romances of chivalry so popular in the late Middle Ages, and it is obvious that Fouqué has read a lot of them, loves them and tries to shape his own effort in their image.
The result is a tale full of magic and coincidences, incredibly noble knightly heroes and unbelievably beautiful chaste maidens, set in the year Richard the Lionheart escaped from captivity. Everyone blushes, weeps, sighs and faints with reckless abandon, and the plot reminded me at every turn of operas like Rinaldo and Orlando furioso, no doubt because Fouqué knew the poems they are based on.
Of course, these romances have nothing to do with the Middle Ages as they actually happened. They describe chivalry as an ideal, elevate it to a level where it becomes a fairy tale (and can easily be satirised by the likes of Cervantes). Fouqué wants to return to the originals, but recreating their innocence and devoutness doesn’t really work. There are a lot of anachronisms, and the prose is so quaint it is eye-watering, not only to a modern reader, but already to his contemporaries.
I do not regret the time I spent reading it, but this is very much an acquired taste. ( )
  MissWatson | Jan 14, 2016 |
Friedrich de la Motte Fouque is a name pretty much forgotten in today's literary scene; information about him, especially critical treatment of his writings, is sparse and most of his writings have yet to be translated from the German. The Magic Ring hasn't been translated since the mid-19th century, and by all accounts, professes to be a barely adequate representation of the tale. Any critical comment I can make about his work seems similarly limited.

For all the influence Fouque held over writers such as George MacDonald, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein, those scholars who know him at all have never firmly decided whether he fits in the box of high or low culture. Towards the end of his career particularly, he was looked on as hopelessly sentimental, as his particular brand of romance faded out of fashion...of course, literary fashion really should be neither here nor there. However, The Magic Ring can't help but get sorted into the same hat as Horace Walpole's craptastic Castle of Otranto, and that's never a desirable association.

Most post-Medieval literature that takes a Medieval setting attempts to graft modern day values, ie. a sense of enlightenment, onto at least the more noble-seeming of the characters. Walpole and Fouque are unique in that they attempt to write a Medieval-type romance, while preserving the values of the period (however, I may gladly report that the similarities end there). Fouque's protagonists are all devoutly Christian, and therefore, they support unreservedly the Crusade into the Holy Land. It saddens me that the book's contents would probably turn away anyone who was not themselves a Christian, and at times it's hard to wonder if I shouldn't be turned off myself by the subtle (and not so subtle) racism portrayed at times by the characters.

However, every time my thoughts turn on to this particular train, I have to keep reminding myself what a stupid way of thinking this is. If my studies in Chaucer and House of Fame taught me nothing else (or rather, reinforced what I already know), it's that inquiring into the meaning of a text is completely different than inquiring into authorial intent. (George MacDonald's essay, "The Fantastic Imagination" has some fabulous things to say on this topic, and I highly reccommend it to anyone interested in *real* literary theory.) The point is, that if I didn't know that Fouque himself was a devout Christian and a member of the nobility, it wouldn't even occur to me to wonder if he too was a supporter of the Crusades even with over 600 years of historical perspective to ground his judgment. The fact is, it shouldn't matter even if Fouque really did think the Crusades ruled the school, which he most likely didn't, and that definitely shouldn't be the guiding force in determining the worth of his writing; all that matters is what the story itself seems to suggest, which (I really shouldn't have to remind myself) can be RADICALLY different from what the characters (even the Good ones) think or believe about it.

The overarching theme of the story, especially considering the resolution, as well as the central symbol of the ring, celebrates the unity frequently rejected by the characters, and Fouque certainly has mind enough to entwine pagan myth and symbols into his writing, even while his characters themselves reject them as anti-Christian. While (unfortunately) having no first-hand knowledge of this, the translation problems stem for the inherent complexity of Fouque's prose and the many symbolic layers that he packs into his story telling.

Finally, and most importantly, the story is a frickin' structural masterpiece. Each individual element serves it's own function as well as contributing to the main theme, and by the end you've heard a million stories as well as just hearing the one, and furthermore you can't but be convinced that all the stories you've ever heard are really just a part of the same story in different words. I've never before encountered a plot this crazy and twisted and magical, and while reading it the second time, I kept remembering shades of different plot threads that seemed to me couldn't all fit into that one book, one tale, but ended up showing themselves after all, as well as many more that I thought I remembered from somewhere else, but really just came from this ( )
2 vote shallihavemydwarf | Mar 15, 2010 |
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In dem gesegneten Schwabenlande, hart an den Ufern des Donaustroms, liegt eine schöne Aue, darauf sich einstmalen im Monat Mai, just als die letzten Sonnenstrahlen von den Blumen Abschied nehmen wollten, ein junger Knappe erging, der Otto von Trautwangen geheissen war.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0977784126, Paperback)

The book that inspired Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings!

It is the twelfth century, the era of Richard the Lion-heart and the Third Crusade. Along the Danube, the tranquil world shared by the young squire Otto and his cousin Bertha is changed forever when they witness a knightly contest for possession of a magic ring. Soon both are drawn into a quest that transforms them and endangers all they love. The resulting adventures lead each to different paths of enchantment and peril, from the mysteries of Moorish Spain to the birthplace of Norse mythology. While navigating an ever-changing sea of allies and foes, both natural and magical, the two seek love, honor, survival, and a ring that possesses more power than either can possibly understand.

A seamless blend of medieval quest, epic fantasy, and Gothic nightmare, The Magic Ring draws on an impressive host of inspirations, such as Germanic folk tales and Icelandic sagas, Arthurian romance and Gothic horror. This novel has earned its place as a text of considerable historical significance, and yet it continues to offer an exhilarating reading experience for the modern audience.

This edition includes the complete original text of the first English version of The Magic Ring, the 1825 translation by Robert Pearse Gillies, as well as a scholarly introduction, a glossary of literary influences and references, and the complete text of Fouqué's 1820 short story "The Field of Terror," also translated by Gillies.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:48 -0400)

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Valancourt Books

2 editions of this book were published by Valancourt Books.

Editions: 0977784126, 1934555983

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