I’ve long been interested in the story of Melusine, the fairy with a serpent’s tale. However, it is very difficult to find any scholarly works in English about her – most are in French, so I was delighted to discover Gareth Knight’s recently published “Melusine of Lusignan & The Cult of the Faery Woman.”
Gareth Knight is well-known in esoteric circles and for his work on myths and legends. His previous book on European faery tradition was “The Faery Gates of Avalon,” which I have not read but now am curious to.
“Melusine of Lusignan” is a relatively short book – 124 pages, and I wouldn’t consider it an academic work but rather an attempt just to shed light upon the tale of Melusine. In fact, Knight retells the story at length blending together various versions without specificying which piece he got from where so that I wish he had been more academic about it since bits of the legend that he cites I have not seen elsewhere. That said, I admit I have only read what I could find online about Melusine and a translation of Coudrette’s “The Romans of Partenay” and Lainez’s “The Wandering Unicorn,” which I previously reviewed here. I am no expert but rather an enthusiast on the subject.
What I most valued about Knight’s book is how he retells the story, then breaks it into pieces and offers commentary on each section, including what was added later to the legend and what might be the earlier versions. For example, Melusine’s ten children, excepting Geoffrey, seem to be mostly fictional and added as ways to link the genealogy of several European houses as descendants of Melusine. It’s also interesting that Pressyne’s curse on her daughters for how they punished their father is probably an addition to the story made by chroniclers to explain her serpent’s tale. I think Knight is probably correct that in reality Melusine needed each Saturday alone because it was the Sabbath day, a day of rest, a day for her to reenergize after a week of masquerading as a human.
Knight also offers a lot of historical commentary to the other children of Melusine and the sources for the tales of her sisters which do not appear to be original.
Finally, he speculates that Melusine’s mother Pressyne could be the sister of Morgan le Fay, which links her to Arthurian literature, although I don’t think this connection will ever be fully clarified.
I wish I could find more scholarly works in English about Melusine and also how the Arthurian legends influenced the French romances of Melusine and Charlemagne, since Avalon is connected to both.
Anyone interested in Melusine will want to read Gareth Knight’s book. Much remains to be said on this subject, but Knight has provided a good start for English audiences interested in what is probably France’s most famous fairy tale or legend. Like King Arthur, we will probably never know just who the historical Melusine or who her real descendants are, but it’s always fun to speculate.
Gareth Knight’s “Melusine of Lusignan & The Cult of the Faery Woman” is available at Amazon and at http://rjstewart.net/
Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, available at www.ChildrenofArthur.com