'May the Lord of all glory receive your souls.'
ABOUT THIS BOOK
[vii] The book from which these stories are taken is called the
Song of Roland, for when the tales were first written down
they were written as poetry. That was many hundreds of years
ago. They were then set to music and sung to the sound of
the harp by the minstrels, who strolled from place to place,
singing of love and death, of battle and reward. For in
those days, long long ago, when there were not many books
and few could read, it was from the songs of the minstrels
that the people learned the history of their country and the
stores of their brave men.
The stories were told from minstrel to minstrel, from father
to son, and were often changed in the telling. Sometimes a
singer would forget a part, or another who was
[viii] good at
telling stories would add a little. Even when the stories
were written down they were changed too, for there was no
printing in those days, and the people who copied the poems
would sometimes add or leave out parts, and sometimes a
great poet would come, who, instead of copying merely, would
tell the story in quite a new way. And so in time it
happened that true history and fairy tale were interwoven,
until at last it was hard to tell which was which.
And this is what happened with the stories that I have tried
to tell again here. Charlemagne, the great king of whom
they speak, belongs to history. He was very wise and
powerful, although he lived more than a thousand years ago.
He ruled over a vast empire, which stretched from the
borders of Spain over half of Germany, at a time when our
island was divided into several kingdoms, ruled by several
We know from history that Charlemagne went to Spain to fight
the Saracens and that as he returned home he was defeated.
[ix] the rest, the Song of Roland is a fairy tale. But
through the ages it has come down to us, a song of soldiers
and of chivalry. To the sound of it many a time the Frankish
warrior must have marched to battle. To the sound of it the
Normans marched upon the dreadful day of Hastings, when our
Harold met his death, and for this reason, if for no other,
to us it should be interesting.