Mélusine of Lusignan is no stranger to the Europeans and their interweaving histories and mythologies; indeed her great progeny impacted an area roughly the size of the Roman Empire at its height. It is claimed that her serpentine bloodline produced royalty at the far corners of Europe and the Middle East, with heroic deeds spanning the breadth of the Middle Ages. She was also a figure of some controversy, dark and shadowy for some while angel-clad light for others. Demonised as a succubus by Martin Luther in die Melusina zu Lucelberg, she was alternately celebrated in Goethe’s Die Neue Melusine (the sixth chapter of his novel, Wilhelm Meisters Wanderjahre), followed by Franz Grillparzer’s play and Felix Mendelssohn’s overture (The Fair Melusina). The most notable literary version of her story comes from Jean d’Arras, compiled somewhere between 1382 and 1394, later adapted by Couldrette in his prosaic The Romans of Partenay or of Lusignen: Otherwise known as the Tale of Melusine and addended with copious source notes. The popular German version was translated in 1456 by Thüring von Ringoltingen, followed by an English translation c. 1500.
Enter Gareth Knight, the respected esotericist author, mythographer and Middle Ages scholar, who took a deep interest in the Mélusine tale sometime prior to penning these inquisitive lines in his blog entry of October 2010:
“Ever heard of Melusine? She deserves to be better known. A major figure in medieval French lore and legend who is little known in the English speaking world apart from an essay by the Rev. Sabine Baring-Gould as one of his “Curious Myths of the Middle Ages” published way back in 1894, and where he seems to take her for a mermaid, depicting her with a fish’s rather than a serpent’s tail.
She is however an altogether different creature. Indeed she has given her name to the type of faery who enters the human world to mate with a human being, bringing great good fortune until he makes the mistake of distrusting her.”
Close on the heels of that statement came two Mélusine related books, Melusine of Lusignan and the Cult of the Faery Woman (R.J. Stewart Books, 2010) and The Romance of the Faery Melusine (Skylight Press, 2011). The first was described by the author as a “short monograph” on the Mélusine legend – and the second was his own translation of an evocative early 20th Century novel by André Lebey. In the first book Knight makes a strong case for Mélusine being one of the pre-Christian water-faeries (like the Lady of the Lake or Lorelei), illustrating how the story can become one of magical empowerment and transformation, as similarly suggested by his treatment of the tales of the Arthuriad (see the author’s many books on the subject). But not content to let his work rest there Knight collects together all the best source materials, many of which he translates from the French, and presents his own researches into the Lusignan family of the 12th century. As per his introductory words regarding the great Matriarch – “…I think the lady deserves better” – Knight has delivered a stunning compendium that will be of tremendous value to historical scholarship.
The result is The Book of Mélusine of Lusignan: In History, Legend & Romance, a remarkable collection of source texts and commentaries, many of which being made available in English for the first time. Part One is Knight’s own translation of Légende de la Fée Mélusine by the Abbé Vergnaud, former parish priest of Lusignan, which in turn quotes largely from a mid-19th century version of Couldrette. Part Two contains an English translation of The Romans of Partenay or of Lusignen: otherwise known as The Tale of Melusine translated from the French of Coudrette (c.1500-1520 A.D.). As Knight explains – “The prose redaction, provided as a marginal crib by the famous Victorian scholar Walter Skeat, is perhaps more terse than my own…” Part Three is Knight’s translation of Essai sur Mélusine, Roman du XIVéme siècle par Jean d’Arras, a scholarly analysis by the distinguished French scholar Louis Stouff, described as “the definitive academic work on Mélusine.” This account, published by the University of Dijon, provides commentary on the romance, the identity of Jean d’Arras and his commissioners, along with cultural, geographical and historical interests. In Part Four Knight collates various materials about the Castle, Town and Church at Lusignan, including Histoire de la Maison Royale de Lusignan by Canoine Pascal, Notre Dame de Lusignan XIéme et XIIéme Siècle by Suzanne Devillards & D. Sabourin, and L’Histoire de la Ville from a brochure of the Lusignan Tourist Office that Knight himself visited. Parts Five and Six comprise two essays by Gareth Knight, the first “A Historical Outline of the Lords of Lusignan” is followed by “Faery Tradition & the Kingdom of Jerusalem.” These essays begin with a scholarly and historical approach to the Lusignan family, their role in the crusades and various paths to kingship – but as always, Knight follows with a more intimate exploration into the spiritual portents of the story. He traces vibrant faery connections and their significance to various sister myths such as the Swan Knight of Lohengrin and seeks to illuminate a sacromagical light in the familial patterns between them. Skylight Press is thrilled to publish another unique and valuable scholarly work by Gareth Knight, the scope of which for this subject matter is unparalleled in the English language.