In this present volume we go behind the work of these masters of their craft to that great mass of floating popular tradition from which the Arthurian epic gradually shaped itself, and of which fragments remain to throw here and there an unexpected light on certain features of the story, and to tantalise us with hints of all that has been lost past recovery. All who have any real knowledge of the Arthurian cycle are well aware that the Breton lais, representing as they do the popular tradition and folklore of the people among whom were current, are of value as affording indications of the original form and meaning of much of the completed legend of how much or how little value has not yet been exactly determine. An earlier generation of scholars regarded them as of great, perhaps too great, importance. They were inclined indiscriminately to regard the Arthurian romances as being but a series of connected lais. A later school practically ignores them, and sees in the Arthurian romances the conscious production of literary invention, dealing with materials gathered from all sources, and remodelled by the genius of a Northern French poet.
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