Prophecy, Dragons and Meaning in Malory
Essays in Medieval Studies, vol. 1 (1984)
Of all the perplexing aspects of medieval literature, the popularity of the courtly romance continues most puzzling to modern scholars. The question is, perhaps, not how people could enjoy such often-times rambling, almost chaotic not to say bad narratives, but rather, how a people who also appreciated sermons, saints’ lives, allegories, and biblical exegesis could possibly see any merit in these seemingly meaningless stories. As with any aesthetic question, the answer is far too complex to attempt in a brief study, but I would like to contribute a slight redefinition of the problem which was the accidental result of my own peculiar research in Malory. In tracing the occurrence and function of dragons in Malory’s romances, I noticed that the creatures are often found in an episode which proves significant or even determinative to the major themes of Arthurian romance, i.e., Arthur’s life, Round Fable chivalry, and the quest for the Holy Grail. This in itself is not so remarkable since dragons or otherwise monstrous creatures frequently appear in prophetic sequences, such as dreams, and prophecy would be used to foreshadow tile prominent events of the narratives. What struck me was the evidence of premeditation in tales that seem to flaunt sloppy plots the rather surprising attention to overall meaning.