Strange Words offers separate but interrelated close readings of four medieval Roland texts in French and Occitan, paying particular attention to scenes in which the speeches of various characters perform or mirror narrative functions. In this clearly written and accessible book, Margaret Jewett Burland focuses on discourse and narrative within the fictional universe to argue persuasively that medieval authors and audiences understood the battle of Roncevaux and its aftermath as an appropriate story in which to incorporate implicit commentaries about contemporary issues. It allows readers to interpret the well-known Oxford version, TheSong of Roland, within the expanded context of its larger medieval textual tradition. The similarities and differences among the four versions Burland analyzes help modern readers to better appreciate which aspects of a given Roland text are most innovative and thus most suggestive of its particular political, social, or literary agenda.
Strange Words is the first book in fifty years to compare multiple medieval Roland texts, and the first to do so in English. It will be welcomed by students and scholars of French and medieval studies.
“Strange Words: Retelling And Reception In The Medieval Roland Textual Tradition makes an original contribution to the field of studies on the textual tradition of the Chanson de Roland, and beyond that to studies of the medieval French epic and of medieval French literature. It is the only study of its kind since Jules Horrent’s 1951 book La Chanson de Roland dans les littératures française et espagnole au moyen áge.” —Joseph J. Duggan, University of California, Berkeley
“Strange Words offers the first major monograph on the French Roland corpus in all of its fascinating variety. Margaret Jewett Burland argues compellingly for understanding the Roland narratives as a group of self-conscious literary creations, written by people deeply concerned about the place of historical memory in their respective cultural milieus. Strange Words will surely become an obligatory starting point for future studies of Roncevaux.” —Michelle Warren, Dartmouth College
"Margaret Jewett Burland’s Strange Words: Retelling and Reception in the Medieval Roland Textual Tradition offers a perceptive and persuasive look not just at the Oxford Roland, but more importantly at what she terms the “Roncevaux tradition” that follows in its wake. Understanding the subsequent reception of the Roland material produces not only provocative insights into important but long overlooked avatars of Oxford, but also fresh angles on the masterpiece itself by placing it firmly within the tradition of medieval rewriting." —William W. Kibler, emeritus, University of Texas at Austin
“By focusing on the strangeness of words that report and reinterpret the Roncevaux legend, as retold by characters within the narrative or by multiple authors across the centuries from the Oxford Roland to the fifteenth-century Galien restoré, Margaret Burland provides an indispensable guide to the rewriting and multi-layered reception characteristic of the Roland textual tradition. Strange Words should be required reading for anyone who wants to teach or read the Song of Roland within its medieval context. Burland’s study of the Roncevaux tradition is no less essential for scholars working in a variety of fields where rewriting is the usual mode of literary production, whether in the multiple traditions of saints’ lives and Arthurian romance or in the self-conscious play and replay of postmodern fiction.” —Matilda Tomaryn Bruckner, Boston College