The following is a review of Gareth Knight’s new work, The Book of Melusine of Lusignan: In History, Legend and Romance, from the June edition of the Inner Light Journal (reprinted here with permission):
I wonder if you have ever seen the wonderful Mediaeval illustrations from the “Tres Riches Heures” of the Duc de Berry? If you have, and have seen the picture representing March, you will have seen the Chateau de Lusignan, and perhaps noticed what looks like a golden dragon flying above the tower on the right hand side. This is no dragon proper, but a winged serpent, one of the forms taken by the castle’s foundress, the Faery Melusine. Sadly the Chateau no longer exists as shown in the picture; it was burned to the ground in 1575. However, the legend of Melusine was documented by Jean d’Arras, the Duc’s secretary, and this story has survived in various incarnations since the 14th Century.
Gareth Knight has long been fascinated by the serpent-tailed Melusine, and has investigated her links with the history of her descendants, the lords of Lusignan. He has previously published “Melusine of Lusignan and the Cult of the Faery Woman” (RJ Stewart Books 2010) a short monograph on the legend, and has subsequently made a masterly translation of the evocative 20th century novel “ The Romance of the Faery Melusine” by Andre Lebey from the French. (Skylight press 2011)
However, as Mr. Knight says in his introduction to this latest book, “I think she deserves better.” And so he has edited a book of source material which gives the reader a more rounded picture of his muse, much of which is translated from the French for the first time. This new material will be invaluable to the scholar, not least in his masterly comparison of core texts.
We have several versions of the legend, followed by material Gareth Knight has collated about the castle, the town and the church at Lusignan, an area that is well-known to him after visiting there with his family. There is nothing like going to the actual sites where these mythical events took place, one makes a connection with the land and the forces that have been playing out down the centuries. It may sound fanciful to say that it is as though Mr. Knight met the Lady Melusine on her own terms, however it is clearly a labour of love as well as a labour of scholarship.
I was particularly interested in the final two chapters, where Gareth Knight answers such questions as “So what” or “Why does this story, and similar tales, matter?” Or more usefully, “What happened next ? What is the relevance of these far-off histories today?”
Simply, that we can see the results of an Ideal, that of the other-worldly marriage being enacted upon a particular place on Earth, in historical time, and the repercussions thereof. As usual, things did not go quite to plan; however, sometimes apparent failure is a part of a particular process, as any student of comparative myth will know. Melusine founded a remarkable dynasty, a dynasty that left the realms of legend to enter that of history. The first of these essays is “A Historical Outline of the Lords of Lusignan” and is scholarly and historical. The second essay is more speculative, perhaps, and explores the links between families who seem to have married into the world of faery, and sheds fresh light on relationships between seemingly disparate myth cycles.
Mr. Knight, you have done your lovely lady Melusine proud! Taken together, the three volumes mentioned, culminating in this book, are the fullest exposition of the legend, lore and history of Melusine and her “serpentine bloodline”. This is the definitive academic and romantic work on Melusine in the English language.