A Quest for Reynard the Fox
By Rik Van Daele
The Profane Arts of the Middle Ages/Les arts profanes du moyen-âge, Misericordia International, Vol. 5:2 (1996)
Introduction: The Middle-Dutch Van den vos Reynaerde (VdvR) was written around the middle of the thirteenth century by an anonymous author, whom we know only by the Christian name, Willem. He might have been from Boudelo, an abbey in the Flemish Waasland, a region between Antwerp and Ghent. For most medievalists Flanders, during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, is known as the home of a number of medieval writers and miniaturists, among them Chretien de Troyes, who started his unfinished Grail story, Le conte del Graal or Le Percheval at the court of Filips van de Elzas, in Ghent.
The Dutch story of Reynaert de vos/Reynard the Fox is regarded as one of the best medieval works in the vernacular language. The nineteenth century German linguist and fairy tale collector Jacob Grimm wrote that it was, after Dante’s Commedia the best literary work of the Middle Ages.
The language barrier is a problem for many scholars. Dutch is only spoken by a small group of people in the Netherlands — Flanders — in parts of the north of France — Artois — and in Pas de Calais (mainly by elderly people), in South Africa and in some Dutch colonies. This explains why in the proceedings of the colloquia of the International Reynard Society so few contributions deal with the Middle Dutch Reynard story.