I will never forget the first time I have heard about Amadis de Gaula.
António de Macedo (avant-garde cinema master) was talking about the roots of the fantasy genre at Fórum Fantástico (SF&F event in Lisbon).
Amadis de Gaula is one of the first novels in the world. It is very modern for a book writen in the 13th century.
My imediate tought was “I always heard that D. Quixote was the first novel.” Like he was listening my ideas, he continued:
Amadis is even referred by Cervantes in D. Quixote. When the Priest and the Barber are burning all the chivalric romances in Don Quixote library, which they think is the source of his madness, they save one book: Amadis de Gaula.
The reason? Its high literary quality.
I was sold to the idea. I had to discover more. Lucky me that Fórum Fantástico happens inside a library and the catalogue computer was at hand. In that same day, I discovered the fantastic stories of Amadis.
Amadis de Gaula is a chilvaric romance composed of 3 books possibily writen in the late 13th century. Today, the only complete copies available are the 1508 translated by Garci Rodriguez de Montalvo, to which he added a 4th book writen by him. By that reason, nobody really knows if the original author was spanish or portuguese.
In 1956, four fragments from Book III, Chapter 68 were found. The pages writen in 1420 were recycled (a renaissance common practice) to bind a newer book. The pages can now be found in The Bancroft Library at the University of California.
Like António de Macedo stated, there are several “modern” characteristics in Amadis de Gaula.
The plot unfolds from cliffhanger to cliffhanger, resembling nowadays series, grabbing the readers attention. And while the King Arthur stories are focused on the mystical-religious feats, Amadis is more “real” focusing on love and sensuality. The feelings are simple, is the circunstances that makes everything complicated. Other characteristic is women having their own agenda, being some of the female characters the responsibles for aproaching the male hero to express their love interest on him.
Amadis de Gaula was a best-seller from the 15th century onwards and one of the most read book in Europe at the time. In the 17th century it already had translations to english, french, italian and german.
And because of the lack of the idea of copyright, it suffered several sequels and spin-offs. For example, the french version had 24 books.
Even today, specially in spain, there are several adaptations of the book, being one of the most curious the adaptation to comic book format.
The stories of Amadis had a profound impact on the iberian culture during and after the Renaissance (e.g. there are regists of dogs with the name of a character of the book). When the first spanish conquerers arrived the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan they wrote ” We were marveled. We said it looked like the enchanted stuff they tell in the book of Amadis”. But maybe, the most impressive reference is the USA state California to be named, (some say, others differ) after a fictional island populated by warrior women who helped Amadis’ son defending Constatinopla.
Another cultural reference can be found in Mary Shelleys journal, whose notes say she was reading Amadis de Gaula in the early months of 1817, roughly at the same time she was working on Frankenstein.
The books of Amadis de Gaula can be found in portuguese edited by Imaginauta(book I) translated directly from the 1508 copy.
I strongly recommed this blog were you can find the book in english for free and some nice articles about Amadis (and even an altered chapter to include zombies). A review by Georges T. Dodds can be found here.
So, if you want to read about knights, monsters, evil wizards, profetic witches and mighty medieval battles, Amadis is for you.
By Carlos Silva
Born in 1989, Carlos Silva is a Portuguese writer whose main interests are science fiction and weird fiction. He is also editor at Imaginauta (Indie press – http://www.imaginauta.net) and organizes several events as the Festival Contacto.