In the Lais, supernatural elements (like talking animals and fairy lovers) are sprinkled throughout the stories in no obvious pattern. When love is involved, such phenomena are simply expected. Often, magic is mainly a narrative element that serves to entertain the audience while moving a story along. For instance, the knight Guigemar, who’s been unable to find love elsewhere, is conveyed in a magical ship to the city where his future beloved lives. And in “Bisclavret,” Bisclavret becomes a werewolf for no apparent reason except that this twist gives an opportunity to show how heartless his wife is and that Bisclavret deserves his king’s pity and favor. Indeed, characters seem to take magic for granted as part of life. In “Eliduc,” a princess is restored to life by means of a magic flower that’s brought into a church by a resourceful weasel. The characters don’t regard this event as strange or even surprising—in fact, they embrace it as a fitting miracle, and it enables the story’s happy ending, when Marie vindicates Eliduc’s and the princess’s chaste love by having them get married. Marie’s matter-of-fact use of magic throughout the Lais suggests that the purpose of storytelling is to convey lessons that apply to humanity as a whole, which means that the particular details of a story don’t necessarily have to be true—or even plausible—to make the story worth telling.
Magic and Storytelling ThemeTracker
Magic and Storytelling Quotes in The Lais of Marie de France
Whoever has good material for a story is grieved if the tale is not well told. Hear, my lords, the words of Marie, who, when she has the opportunity, does not squander her talents. Those who gain a good reputation should be commended, but when there exists in a country a man or woman of great renown, people who are envious of their abilities frequently speak insultingly of them in order to damage this reputation. […] But just because spiteful tittle-tattlers attempt to find fault with me I do not intend to give up. […]
I shall relate briefly to you stories which I know to be true and from which the Bretons have composed their lays.
The animal, wounded and in great pain, lamented in these words: ‘Alas! I am mortally wounded. Vassal, you who have wounded me, let this be your fate. May you never find a cure, nor may any herb, root, doctor or potion ever heal the wound you have in your thigh until you are cured by a woman who will suffer for your love more pain and anguish than any other woman has ever known, and you will suffer likewise for her, so much so that all those who are in love, who have known love or are yet to experience it, will marvel at it.
But love had now pierced him to the quick and his heart was greatly disturbed. For the lady had wounded him so deeply that he had completely forgotten his homeland. He felt no pain from the wound in his thigh, yet he sighed in great anguish and asked the maiden serving him to let him sleep. As he had dismissed her, she returned to her mistress, who was, like Guigemar, affected by the ardour which had kindled within her heart.
Not long afterwards, as I understand it, the king, who was wise and courtly, went into the forest where Bisclavret had been discovered. Bisclavret accompanied him and on the way home that night the king took lodging in that region. Bisclavret’s wife learnt of this and, dressing herself elegantly, went next day to speak to the king, taking an expensive present for him. When Bisclavret saw her approach, no one could restrain him. He dashed towards her like a madman. Just hear how successfully he took his revenge. He tore the nose right off her face.
Arthur, the worthy and courtly king, was at Carlisle on account of the Scots and the Picts who were ravaging the country, penetrating into the land of Logres and frequently laying it waste.
The king was there during the summer, at Pentecost, and he gave many rich gifts to counts and barons and to those of the Round Table: there was no such company in the whole world. He apportioned wives and lands to all, save to one who had served him: this was Lanval, whom he did not remember, and for whom no one put in a good word.
The king led his daughter into the meadow towards the Seine, where a great crowd gathered. She wore nothing but her shift, and the young man took her in his arms. The little phial containing the potion (he well knew that she had no wish to let him down) was given to her to carry, but I fear it will be of little avail to him, because he knew no moderation.
The lady, now assured, uncovered her head and spoke. She answered the knight, saying that she would make him her lover, provided he believed in God, which would make their love possible. […] ‘Lady,’ he said, ‘you are right. I would not on any account want guilt, distrust or suspicion to attach to me. I do believe in the Creator who set us free from the sorrow in which our ancestor Adam put us by biting the bitter apple. He is, will be and always has been life and light to sinners.’
With its teeth the weasel picked a flower, bright red in colour, and then quickly returned, placing it in the mouth of its companion, whom the servant had killed, with the result that it quickly recovered. The lady noticed this and shouted to the servant: “Catch it! Throw your stick, good man, do not let it escape!”