The Story of Roland
The Story of Roland (Classic Reprint), by James Baldwin
(Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1897; reprinted by Forgotten Books), pb., 415 pp,
This is a wonderful 19th century book in facsimile form. As a facsimile there are places where some letters are hard to read. I have seen re-typed versions of the book also available. I kind of like the facsimile look, and this edition has a nicer cover. :)
In this book James Baldwin, famed author and editor of children’s books, especially old myths and legends, weaves into one flowing story the various legends and stories about Roland, the hero knight of France in the days of Charlemagne. For those who will read or study “The Song of Roland” this is a great help in getting the broader story in an understandable way. I am grateful to Kevin Vailes for pointing us to this book.
At over 400 pages this is a long book but we enjoyed it. Simply the language itself was enjoyable. Baldwin wrote well in a grand style reminiscent of the King James Bible (including the use of thee, thou, and inflected verbs ending in –eth). He is not flowery but uses his words well. This made the reading a vocabulary building exercise as well as I would stop to ask my boys if they knew certain words and then explain. At other times I did not know certain words and I would look them up so that we all learned.
The story is full of adventure and noble themes. The account of boyhood friendship in the first “Adventure” (the term used rather than “chapters”) was stirring. It was refreshing coming from an error which understood honor and had no reservations about masculinity or deep friendships between men. There are great examples of courage and character as well as examples of the fall of the wicked.
There are also odd sections and things to critique in the story, which is also instructive. Probably representative of the times, there is an amazing level of syncretism in the realm of Charlemagne. They clearly consider themselves Christian and yet employ the services of a wizard who calls upon the forces of darkness. The story shows no qualm about this, so it was a good point to see that my audience noticed the problem. The idea of Christianity advancing by military force against the “Saracen foe” is also assumed, as well as the propriety of conquering anyone you can. This again was an opportunity for critiquing the worldview found here.
So I would commend this book to an audience a bit older, who will enjoy the adventure and nobility and also be ready to discuss the areas of weakness. Also, I think hearing/reading good writing like this helps to shape good writing.