Daurel and Beton
Translated from French by Jan Shirley
This is an unusual story. Written in Occitan probably in the twelfth century, it puts a wide range of characters on stage, from a duke of extreme, indeed crazy, nobility to a despised lower-class juggler, Daurel, who displays great personal heroism as well as musical and acrobatic talent. We also meet the Emperor Charlemagne in one of his most detestable moods, his tiny nephew Beton, the threatened and enchanting baby who chuckles his way through the book, as well as a kind Emir and his delightful family, a dastardly murderer who at last gets his comeuppance and Beton's noble mother, Charlemagne's own sister, whom he treats appallingly. His heartless exercise of power is perfectly legal and terrified bystanders can only weep.
The translation is accurate and lively. Daurel and Beton offers startling insights into early medieval ideas of social status and of the place in that world of children and women. It is also a well written story with a cast of strong characters, plenty of crisp dialogue, swift action and human warmth.
Paperback available from bookshops and from Llanerch.