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Back in the Middle Ages, tales about King Arthur reached Europe from Wales, and soon everyone was telling them – and they also told spinoff stories. In Spain, one spinoff dealt with Amadis of Gaul, a knight who lived (supposedly) after “the passion of our lord Jesus Christ” but before King Arthur. In his day, Amadis was the greatest knight in the world.

That story came down to us in the form of a fat novel called Amadis of Gaul. I just finished translating it from medieval Spanish into English as a blog. The final post went up today. You can read it here.

Amadis of Gaul became Europe’s first best-seller and created a genre that persists to this day in such works as Game of Thrones.

I began translating it eight and a half years ago, posting a chapter or partial chapter weekly, and I had fun. The story offers adventure, love, and magic. It’s also very medieval, with a huge cast of characters and intertwining stories. While women had a set place in society, that place might be commanding a realm or dispensing sorcery. There’s humor, but at times laughing at the suffering of others or telling jokes whose punch line we’ve forgotten. And there’s romance and sex. Amadis was born out of formal wedlock, as was his son.

The story teaches a lot about a society long ago and far away, both different and similar to our own in unexpected ways. Knights sometimes felt troubled by the violence of their duties, and the burdens of office weighed heavily on those who directed and defended realms: it has always been known that governing is complicated.

The blog will remain up for all to read and savor. I’m now working on getting the four-book novel out in paper and ebook format.

For years, I’ve spent my Fridays working on Amadis of Gaul as a seemingly never-ending challenge. I’m glad I did, and I hope you enjoy the fruits of my labor.

— Sue Burke
mount_oregano: Let me see (Amadis)
Today, after an August break, I have resumed the on-line translation of Amadis of Gaul, a medieval novel of chivalry, at

I began this translation in 2009, and I expect to finish in 2017, posting a chapter or portion of a chapter every week. We’re up to Chapter 117, and the book ends at 133.

The story has followed the life of Amadis of Gaul, the greatest knight in the world, from his birth to a life filled with adventure, intrigue, and love. As Chapter 117 opens, he has been at war with King Lisuarte of Great Britain, but now, Lisuarte faces defeat by an army raised by Amadis’s longtime enemy, Arcalaus the Sorcerer. Amadis is racing to rescue the king. To complicate matters, Amadis is secretly married to Princess Oriana, Lisuarte’s daughter. Winning a battle might be easier than making peace.

This book drove Don Quixote mad. What will it do to you?

— Sue Burke

mount_oregano: Let me see (Amadis)

I’m still translating the medieval Spanish novel Amadis of Gaul at

I started in 2009, and I post a chapter, or a portion of a chapter, every other week. I’m now about two-thirds of the way through. I also occasionally post commentaries relating to the novel, the Middle Ages, and Spain.

The novel tells the story of the greatest knight in the world. After the printing press was invented, the book became Europe’s first best-seller, and it created a genre that echoes to this day as sword and sorcery.

You’ll find distinct differences to the present-day genre: a lot more fighting, for example, because the novel was written by people who knew how exactly to hack someone to death in a melee or joust, and who appreciated a good fight.

You’ll also find varieties of supernatural beings and a kind of Christian magic that has been lost today.

You’ll find damsels who can dish it out as well as damsels in distress.

You’ll find that in medieval times, they laughed at different things. They enjoyed insults, too.

Finally, you’ll find characters whose lives are motivated by love yet limited by social standing and royal intrigue. There were no chastity belts, that’s for sure.

Dip into this treasure that shaped the history of literature. It’s still a good read.

— Sue Burke

mount_oregano: Let me see (Amadis)
A true tale involving a boy, a knife, a castle tower, and a subway station in Madrid.

In 1294, the nobleman Alonso Pérez de Guzmán ruled the city of Tarifa, near Cadiz at the southernmost tip of Spain. He received dire news from King Sancho IV that Prince Juan of Castilla, his rebellious brother, was approaching to take the city. The King asked Guzmán to remain loyal.

Juan arrived with Beber and Nasrid troops – and with a page, Guzmán’s oldest son, 10-year-old Pedro.

A siege began, but the mighty walls of Tarifa’s castle held strong – and the King’s reinforcements were on their way. In a desperate move, Juan brought Pedro before his father, who stood at the top of the tower of the castle. If Guzmán did not surrender, Juan said, he would slit his son’s throat.

Legend says that Guzmán replied:

“I did not beget a son to be made use of against my country, but that he should serve her against her foes. Should Don Juan put him to death, he will but confer honor on me, true life on my son, and on himself eternal shame in this world and everlasting wrath after death.”

And, he added, if Juan needed a knife, he could have his. Guzmán threw his knife down from the castle tower.

That reply may be legend, but contemporary reports confirm that Pedro was not only killed, Juan had the boy’s head catapulted into the castle. He and his troop soon retreated.

Among other rewards for his loyalty, King Sancho granted Guzmán the use of “el Bueno” as part of his name, meaning “the Good” or “the Noble.”

This is why, in the subway of Madrid, the stop named “Guzman el Bueno” has knives and castle towers outlined in the tiles paving its platform.

— Sue Burke

Also posted at Amadis of Gaul, an ongoing translation of a Spanish medieval classic.
mount_oregano: Let me see (Amadis)
Fan fiction is as old as literature. Throughout the centuries, the Spanish medieval masterpiece, Amadis of Gaul has inspired hundreds of sequels and spinoff works — and the novel itself was a spinoff from tales about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

I have continued that tradition and written “The Giants of Galtares.”

In Chapters 11 and 12 of the novel, Amadis’s brother Galaor travels to Galtares to do battle with the giant who has taken those lands from Galaor’s step-father. He is accompanied by two damsels he meets along the way.

This is the story of one of the damsels who witnesses Galaor’s combat — and who faces her own life-changing test of courage. You can read “The Giants of Galtares” in issue #111 of Beneath Ceaseless Skies, an online magazine of literary adventure fantasy:

— Sue Burke
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I'm in the Author Spotlight at Morgen Bailey's popular blog, taking about me and my publication, "Amadis of Gaul."

Author Spotlight no.122 – Sue Burke « Morgen Bailey's Writing Blog

Fellow writers, take note that Morgen offers a lot of writer-related goodies and author-related opportunities, and she wants to hear from you. She was easy and pleasant to work with.

-- Sue Burke
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I couldn't help myself. There aren't enough stories about zombies in medieval literature, so I wrote one.

As you know, I've been translating the Spanish medieval novel Amadis of Gaul a chapter at a time online for a while. Now there's chapter XXVIII½.

You can read it here:

— Sue Burke

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Today, in the final Blog Ring of Power interview, author Dean C. Rich and I discuss some of the business aspects behind my translation of Amadis of Gaul, including self-publishing.

Dean also has some interesting posts on his blog about what he's learned on his writer's journey.

— Sue Burke
mount_oregano: Let me see (Let me see..)
Sandra Ulbrich Almazan interviews me today about the technical aspects of translation.

This is part of a series of author interviews by the Blog Ring of Power.

— Sue Burke
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Today I talk with E. M. Labonte about how translating is different from writing, and about the special challenges of translating Amadis of Gaul:

This is the third of five brief interviews hosted by members of the Blog Ring of Power.

— Sue Burke
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Today I'm interviewed at author T.W. Fendley's blog:

This is the second of five brief interviews hosted by members of the Blog Ring of Power.

Today, find out about my writing routine and how I got the nickname "evil."

— Sue Burke

mount_oregano: Let me see (castle)

Today I'm interviewed at author Terri Bruce's blog:

This is the first of five brief interviews to be hosted by members of the Blog Ring of Power.

Today, find out what writing means to me, why I learned Spanish, and when and why my husband and I moved to Spain.

— Sue Burke

mount_oregano: Let me see (Amadis)

Where do fairy tales come from? Adult stories.

Specifically, where did Hans Christian Anderson get one of his most famous stories? From a medieval Spanish story meant to counsel adults.

You can read a translation of the original story at Amadis of Gaul:

— Sue Burke

mount_oregano: Let me see (Amadis)

For some time, I've been translating the medieval Spanish novel Amadis of Gaul a chapter at a time at The novel is divided into four books, and Amadis of Gaul Book I is now available at Amazon in paperback and Kindle versions.

The book includes a preface by a present-day Spanish novelist, an introduction, notes to chapters, and an appendix explaining what eliminated Amadis from respectable bookshelves — it wasn't Don Quixote.

Why did I do it?

Because readers asked me to, and I didn't think any traditional publisher would take a chance on such an uncommon piece of literature.

How was the process?

Creating the actual text took the longest. I had published everything as blog entries, so I needed to do considerable editing to turn them into a book. The individual chapters in the novel — 43 of them — had to be assembled into one file. Then I had to select the entries to form the introduction, appendix, and notes to chapters, and stitch them all together.

I also needed to create a table of contents, a list of references, cover, and title pages. But I've worked as an editor before, so all this was nothing new, though it was work. Then it all had to be proofread. Again. And again.

Amazon provided templates to create the book layout that were easy enough to use, since I've done that sort of thing before. It all went just fine.

Then I decided to create a Kindle version. Again, Amazon provided clear instructions and software to work with, and it went fast — especially now that I had created the text.

These days, anyone can publish a book. This will change the world, but we don't quite know how yet.

What do I think of Amazon?

Amazon is a big, clever company — so big that it can be bad and good at once. It is both a solution to the long slow disaster that has been the publishing industry in recent decades, and a new problem that needs yet another solution. It's an 800-pound gorilla.

But it let me publish the book. I hope you like it.

— Sue Burke

mount_oregano: Let me see (Amadis)

I've been translating the Spanish medieval novel Amadis of Gaul as a blog since 2009, and I've learned a few things about the Middle Ages.

1. Sword fights and jousts are horrible ways to die. I always knew that, but now I know it with extremely detailed anatomical accuracy; the book was written by people with real-life experience.

This is from Chapter 39: "Agrajes took the sword ... and went after him, but the Duke turned to give him a blow or two, and turned again to flee. Agrajes cursed him and followed and gave him such a blow on the left shoulder that it cut through the chain mail and the flesh and bones almost to the ribs, so the Duke's arm was left hanging from his body. He cried out, and Agrajes grabbed his helmet and pulled, and because the Duke was already partially paralyzed, Agrajes knocked him from his horse. One foot remained in the stirrup, and the Duke could not take it out as the horse fled, dragging him all around the field until ... the Duke was dead, his head smashed by the hooves of the horse."

2. Chastity belts probably didn't exist in the Middle Ages, and they certainly don't appear in this book. In fact, it was eventually condemned for corrupting young women with its sometimes casual attitude toward sex. Amadis's brother Galaor in particular has quite a way with the ladies.

For example, in Chapter 25 he finds himself alone with a damsel he had just rescued: "and as she was very beautiful and he was eager for such sustenance, before the meal was brought and the table set, together they unmade a bed that was in the hall where they were and made the damsel a woman, which she had not been before, satisfying their desires, which had grown great during the brief time they had spent gazing at one another in the flourishing beauty of youth."

3. I don't always get medieval humor. Earlier in Chapter 25, Galaor enters a castle by means of a large basket that was lowered over the walls and brought back up with a winch. I know this is funny because of the way it's presented, because Galaor is often a comic character, and because I've seen passing references to this in other medieval books as some sort of sexual joke. But I don't know what's so funny.

The comic strip xkcd got it right when it said, "There's no reason to think that people throughout history didn't have just as many inside jokes and catchphrases as any modern group of high schoolers." I don't get all the jokes of today's high schoolers either.

4. Pampered princesses dependent on heroes? Not in this book. And that's why the book became a favorite among female readers. Women and girls appear in every chapter in all sorts of roles: beneficent sorceress, powerful queen, brave and daring damsel, practical best friend, wise old woman, efficient messenger, beautiful temptress, rebellious daughter, stubborn fool, courtly schemer, capable healer, and even damsel in distress. Although women don't fight (just as well, see lesson 1 about horrible ways to die), they can do just about anything else — while riding sidesaddle.

Our romantic fantasies of princesses and women's roles came from later in history, from the Renaissance's supposed progress that ushered in progressively more limited female roles, from Romantic-era depictions, from bad history, and from satire confused with truth.

In short, I've found proof of what L. P. Hartley said in the opening line of his 1953 novel, The Go-Between: "The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there."

— Sue Burke
Also posted at

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Upper excerpt: "...what happened to him shall be told farther on. At the time when these things took place, as ye have already heard, there reigned in Great Britain a king named Falagriz, who died without an heir, leaving..." — Amadis of Gaul, Chapter 3.

Lower excerpt: "Idle reader: thou mayest believe me without any oath that I wish this book, as the child of my thoughts, were the most beautiful, charming, and prudent that could be imagined. But I have not..." — Don Quixote de la Mancha, Prologue.

When reading changed, so did writing.

In the introduction to the Spanish Royal Academy's 400th Anniversary edition of Don Quixote de la Mancha, Mario Vargas Llosa writes:

"Cervantes, in order to tell Quixote's deeds, revolutionized the narrative forms of his time and established the foundation on which the modern novel was born. [...] Perhaps the most innovative aspect of Quixote is the way in which Cervantes faced the problem of the narrator, the basic problem that must be resolved by anyone who wants to write a novel: who is going to tell the story?"

I think we should also ask: who is the story going to be told to, and how? The answer to that question helps explain the difference in narrative forms between Amadis and Quixote.

Amadis was written in Castilla-León the late Middle Ages by anonymous authors, and it was one of a number of novels of chivalry popular at that time. This was before the printing press, so books were copied by hand on parchment, which made them expensive and rare. Most people didn't read much, especially for pleasure. Instead, they listened to books at group readings for entertainment, including readings of novels of chivalry. Pero López de Ayala wrote at the end of the 14th century, "It also pleased me to hear these books many times," especially Amadis.

Often enough, these books were read during meals to audiences distracted by the soup or their dinner partners. A good story required plenty of action to capture and recapture the audience's attention, as well as a declamatory narrative style. You can see this in the text, which often addresses the listeners as "vos" in Castilian or "ye" in English, which is the plural form of "you."

You would have heard this book, not read it. Indeed, the style of the original Castilian makes Amadis a stirring book to read aloud to an audience.

But around 1440, Gutenberg invented the printing press. By 1604, when Quixote was published, books had become more common and relatively inexpensive. Reading had become a private activity, and so, in the prologue, Cervantes addresses his readers with the second-person-singular familiar form of "you": "thou."

That reader would curl up in a sunny alcove with Quixote as if it were a close friend, and the words from the page would travel directly to his or her thoughts. Cervantes could count on attentive readers, and so the kind of story he could tell them could be different: intimate and nuanced.

Technology had revolutionized the act of reading. It had revolutionized "you." As a result, it had also revolutionized writing — that is, it had changed what authors could do. The printing press initiated a period of great and fruitful literary experimentation.

Will the Internet cause a similar revolutionary change? Will it change "you"? If so, writing will change again, and a new kind of novel will be born.

— Sue Burke

Also posted at

mount_oregano: Let me see (Amadis)

As you know, I'm doing a serial translation of Amadis of Gaul, a medieval Spanish novel, at

I was looking at an analysis of the site by a service called Site Meter, It provides a variety of information about the site use, maybe too much information.

I discovered that there are two users in Mexico -- I don't know who they are precisely, just their ISPs -- who read the site regularly translated via Google back into Spanish. I'm always delighted to have readers, but the book is readily available in Spanish. Granted, it's medieval Spanish, which is tough sledding sometimes, but that's no worse than Google machine translation, which has trouble transferring English syntax into Spanish syntax without garbling the meaning.

Anyway, I'm pleased, but mystified.

— Sue Burke

mount_oregano: Let me see (Amadis)

I'm about to take a summer break from posting translations of the medieval novel Amadis of Gaul. Today's chapter is the last one until September.

Chapter 35 begins with gripping suspense as Amadis searches for Princess Oriana, his true love. She's been kidnaped by the evil sorcerer Arcalaus and his men as part of his scheme to take over the Kingdom of Great Britain. The chapter ends with one of the most beautiful and joyful passages of the novel.

Read it at:

— Sue Burke

mount_oregano: Let me see (Amadis)
The Broad Pod posterous - ... voices of women in science-ficiton, fantasy, and horror

This month's Broad Universe podcast, with a theme of military fiction, features me reading from Amadis of Gaul, and four other fine authors reading from their works.

-- Sue Burke
mount_oregano: Let me see (Amadis)

What should a medieval king spend his money on?

As you know, on another blog I'm translating Amadis of Gaul chapter by chapter. It's a medieval novel of chivalry, and in the chapter I posted today, King Lisuarte of Great Britain has called his noblemen together and asked their advice on what he should do to better serve God and achieve greater honor.

The final decision may seem strange to us in the 21st century, but we shouldn't doubt that it was deemed wise 700 years ago. Amadis often alternates between episodes of high adventure and passages meant to provide examples of good behavior.

Notice that Barsinan, the lord of Saxony, is scheming to remove Lisuarte from the throne (stay tuned!), so he offers bad advice.

You can read it here:

— Sue Burke

September 2017

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