Vote for the Ideal $250 Middle English Library for Teens

As I discussed last week, my son is part of a small school with a budding library.  Recently a donor has offered a $250 (CDN) donation with a peculiar purpose: to secure Middle English books in honour of a recently deceased college prof who was himself a student of C.S. Lewis’. I was asked to take this on, so I turned to the community to create a list of books that would be great in the library.

You certainly rose to the challenge! As there is, however, too much to buy, I will let you take an imaginary $250 and go shopping here on A Pilgrim in Narnia. You can vote for as many books as you like, or as few, but you must not go over $250.

There are some in the bag for me, including the Norton Anthology and Tolkien’s Sir Gawain and the Green Knight with Pearl and Sir Orfeo. I have a complete Chaucer and a Brian Stone Gawain. I’m hoping someone locally will donate good Arthuriana (even if it is later) and perhaps a Malory or smaller versions of Chaucer and other poets. I have included the prices shipped to Canada from AbeBooks (Abe) or (Amaz). I will, of course, ransack local bookstores first. There are also a couple of interesting reprints in the list.

So please vote below the list, and do share so that others can enjoy building a Middle English library.

A Crowd-sourced Middle English Library

  • Anthologies:
    • The Norton Anthology of English Literature $16 (Amaz) $8 older edition (Abe)
    • Haskell, A Middle English Anthology $11 (Abe)
    • Of Love And Chivalry: An Anthology Of Middle English Romance, Everyman reprint $7 (Abe)
    • Medieval Literature: A Basic Anthology, Dover $8 (Abe)
    • Penguin Medieval English Verse $7 (Abe)
    • Burrow & Turville-Petre, A Book of Middle English $11 (Abe)
    • Kenneth Sisam and J. R. R. Tolkien, A Middle English Reader and Vocabulary $19 (Abe, new)
    • Sands’ Middle English Verse Romances $11 (Amaz)
    • Garbaty, Medieval English Literature $11 (Abe)
  • Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and the Pearl Poet
    • Simon Armitage $13 (Abe), $18 (Amaz)
    • Marie Borroff $9 (Amaz)
    • R.R. Tolkien with Sir Orfeo and Pearl $9 (Abe)
    • Anderson, Sir Gawain And The Green Knight/Pearl/Cleanness/Patience $9 (Amaz)
    • Stokes & Putter, with Pearl, Patience, Cleanness $28 (Amaz)
    • Cawley, Pearl, Cleanness, Patience, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight $11 (Abe)
    • Keith Arrison $9 (Abe)
    • Winney parallel $19 (Amaz)
  • The Death of King Arthur (Alliterative, c. 1400)
    • Simon Armitage $11 (Amaz or Abe), $15 (Amaz Hard)
    • Brian Stone $8 (Abe)
  • S. Lewis, The Allegory of Love (1936) $15 (Abe), $18 (Amaz Hard)
  • Beadle & King, York Mystery Plays: A Selection in Modern Spelling $13 (Abe)
  • Lester, Three Late Medieval Morality Plays : Mankind, Everyman, Mundus Et Infans $16 (Amaz)
  • The Book of Margery Kempe $10 (Abe)
  • Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love $10 (Abe)
  • The Scale of Perfection $8 (Abe)
  • The Cloud of Unknowing $8 (Abe)
  • John Gower, Confessio Amantis $9 (Abe)
  • Rolle of Hampole, The Fire of Love and the Mending of Life $8 (Abe)
  • Ancrene Wisse: parts six and seven $7 (Abe)
  • William Langland, Piers Plowman
    • Schmidt prose translation $10 (Abe)
    • Covella & Fowler, alliterative verse translation $10 (Abe)
    • Tiller verse translation $9 (Amaz)
  • The Mabinogion (Middle Welsh, not Middle English)
    • Guest translation $6 (Abe)
    • Gantz translation $10 (Amaz)
  • Malory, Morte D’Arthur
    • 2 vol. Penquin $10 (Abe)
    • The Winchester Manuscript, Oxford $8 (Amaz)
  • The Anglo-Saxon World: An Anthology, Oxford with Beowulf, $11 (Abe)

About Brenton Dickieson

“A Pilgrim in Narnia” is a blog project in reading and talking about the work of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the worlds they touched. As a "Faith, Fantasy, and Fiction" blog, we cover topics like children’s literature, apologetics and philosophy, myths and mythology, fantasy, theology, cultural critique, art and writing. This blog includes my thoughts as I read through Lewis and Tolkien and reflect on my own life and culture. In this sense, I am a Pilgrim in Narnia--or Middle Earth, or Fairyland. I am often peeking inside of wardrobes, looking for magic bricks in urban alleys, or rooting through yard sale boxes for old rings. If something here captures your imagination, leave a comment, “like” a post, share with your friends, or sign up to receive Narnian Pilgrim posts in your email box. Brenton Dickieson is a father, husband, friend, university lecturer, and freelance writer from Prince Edward Island, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter, @BrentonDana.
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18 Responses to Vote for the Ideal $250 Middle English Library for Teens

  1. dalejamesnelson says:

    Re the Mabinogion: I understand that the Guest translation is obsolete, and I seem to have seen criticism of Gantz’s. You can get the well-regarded Gwyn Jones-Thomas Jones translation from abebooks for a few dollars. It has the advantage, btw, of being the one specified by Alan Garner in The Owl Service!

    Liked by 1 person

    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      Jones & Jones is the first I read, and I thoroughly enjoyed it! And the long-influential Guest is easily available to consult in the Internet Archive. (I don’t know Gantz, but Wikipedia tells me he – like J&J – omits ‘Taliesin’: again Guest online supplies this.) I also enjoyed Patrick Ford’s The Mabinogi and Other Medieval Welsh Tales (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977), which does include “Taliesin” but, Wikipedia reminds me, omits “The Dream of Rhonabwy”, “The Dream of Macsen Wledig” and the three Arthurian romances (!).


    • If it lands on the list I’ll swap that one out. Thanks.


  2. tess says:

    I’ve just recently finish Butcher-Acevedo’s translation of A Cloud of Unknowing, and it’s magnificent. But the original author of the work himself requests that the work not be given to someone who is early on the spiritual path, but rather someone who has enough spiritual “literacy” to understand the fine distinctions he makes. I think it wise advice. So although a truly wonderful read, perhaps not for school-age readers, even through high school, and perhaps even in college.
    Of course, that’s if you’re reading it for spiritual benefit. I suppose if you’re reading it only as a piece of literature, you could take a different tack. But I think of the scriptural caution about milk and meat, hence my two cents.

    But, omigosh, YES on Piers Plowman. I read the alliterative verse translation and it is delectable. I couldn’t stop reading it aloud. 🙂

    Julian of Norwich I might put in the same category as A Cloud of Unknowing for spiritual reasons. But I might certainly be wrong.

    What a great thing to happen for your son’s school!

    Liked by 1 person

    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      For what it’s worth, I’d think Julian of Norwich might be spiritually ‘safer’ then The Cloud (which I’ve still ever been scared off trying by that warning) – quite a good introduction to English mystical writing, in fact – as, I think, is Richard Rolle of Hampole, though I have only read the Penguin translation of the Latin version of The Fire of Love. (What edition/version of Rolle of Hampole, The Fire of Love and the Mending of Life are you considering? Wikipedia notes there is one Middle English translation, and seven independent Middle English translations of the latter!)

      I really enjoyed the richly annotated and glossed edition of the B text of Piers Plowman by A.V.C. Schmidt – though I don’t think I ever read it right through – and which seems (if I understand correctly) to be available online:

      as is the Everyman reprint of the Attwater translation, in the Internet Archive (though a couple pages of the preface are missing -which may be ominous where the rest is concerned).

      Both of these, by way of ‘back up’, etc., beyond the difficult business of choosing paper copies of things!

      Liked by 1 person

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        Oops!: “one Middle English translation of the former”. (Medieval English folk who wrote in both Latin and English are a distinct but not uncommon kind of ‘English authors’!)

        Liked by 1 person

    • I’ll take that into account. Thanks so much!


  3. Hannah says:

    Re Tess’s Butcher-Acevedo’s “enough spiritual “literacy” to understand the fine distinctions …”:
    Maybe add CS Lewis’s “The Discarded Image” to his “The Allegory of Love” ?


    • dalejamesnelson says:

      Yes. I think Discarded Image would be a much better choice than Allegory of Love.

      If we’re talking about books middle school kids might really read, though, what about the Scribner Illustrated Classic, with paintings by the great N. C. Wyeth — The Boy’s King Arthur. (I hope the title wouldn’t stir up the national educational watchdogs.)

      As I recall, quite a bit of it is taken right from Malory, adapted for 20th-century readers. It’s not Middle English, but could be a good way to attract young readers to the Matter of Logres and dispose them favorably towards the original.


      • Hannah says:

        Yes, that would much more likely attract them -> anything that will open their 21st century eyes to the real medieval world. Here some quotes of what I mean:
        – Lewis’s comparison in The Discarded Image of the medieval worldview with a stage: the audience in the dark looking into very colourful and lively scenes full of music on the stage, while in (post-)modern worldviews we look out into a dark, silent, impersonal and cold universe.
        – And a quote from CS Lewis’s Introduction to ‘The Hierarchy of Heaven and Earth’ by D.E. Harding: …………. The advance of knowledge gradually empties this rich and genial universe: first of its gods, then of its colours, smells, sounds and tastes, finally of solidity itself as solidity was originally imagined. As those items are taken form the world, they are transferred to the subjective side of the account: classified as our sensations, thoughts, images or emotions ……….


  4. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Rachel Trickett, who had gone on to become the Principal of St. Hugh’s College, told us at the Lewis Society how she arrived at Oxford as an undergraduate admiring Lewis before he was widely famous because she had read The Allegory of Love in school.

    If I may use its presence to justify recommending another book ‘about’ mediaeval literature… it is the volume on Middle English Literature for the Oxford History of English Literature, by that sort of young Inkling who succeeded Lewis is his Cambridge professorship, J.A.W. Bennett, which was completed by Douglas Gray (my old Malory seminar professor!) after Bennett’s death. I see has some fairly inexpensive-looking second-hand copies (though I’m not sure just how that works of what the total cost would be).


  5. Pingback: A Weekend of Reading to Change Your Literary Life | A Pilgrim in Narnia

  6. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Just ran into this while looking up something else:

    Old English Poems, Translated into the Original Meter, Together with Short Selections from Old English Prose by Cosette Faust and Stith Thompson (1918):


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