Brocéliande is a notable place of legend because of its uncertain location, unusual weather, and its ties with Arthurian Romance, most notably a magical fountain and the tomb of the legendary figure Merlin.
Early source works provide unclear or conflicting information on the exact location of Brocéliande; different hypotheses exist to locate Brocéliande on the map.
- According to Wace, Brocéliande is in Brittany. In modern times, Brocéliande is most commonly considered to be Paimpont forest in Brittany.
- Some scholars think that Brocéliande is a mythological place and has never existed.
- Jean Markale notes that while the forest itself is legendary, it is part of the "remainder of the immense forest that covered the entire center of Brittany until the High Middle Ages." He goes on to point out that the notion of a magical forest in France has its roots in the writings of Lucan who describes a numinous, magical forest full of ominous happenings in Gaul.
Medieval historical accounts
- Brocéliande is a land of peoples with many legends according to the Roman de Rou, which covers the history of the Dukes of Normandy from the time of Rollo of Normandy to the battle of Tinchebray. Wace numbers the Bretons from Brocéliande, about whom there are many legends, along with the Breton knights: "ceux de Brecheliant (sic) dont les Bretons disent maintes légendes..." Wace also gives the name of the fountain of Barenton: "La fontaine de Berenton/sort d'une part lez le perron..." Wace describes how hunters scoop water from the fountain and wet a stone in order to summon rain. He also mentions rumors of fairies and magic; he travels to Brittany in search of these marvels, but finds nothing notable.
Brocéliande is briefly mentioned in one historical text:
- in Bertran de Born's 1183 poem dedicated to Geoffrey II, Duke of Brittany – the duke to whom Brocéliande belonged.
Brocéliande's unusual weather alone is noted in a handful of texts:
- in Giraldus Cambrensis's c. 1185 expeditionary account, Topographia Hibernica.
- in Alexandre Neckham's c. 1195 work on nautical science, De naturis rerum.
- in William the Breton's c. 1215 poem Philippide.
- in the 1170s, Chrétien de Troyes mentions the forest of Brocéliande in his Arthurian romance, Le Chevalier au lion. While in Brocéliande, Yvain pours water from a spring into a stone, causing a violent storm to erupt. This in turn summons the knight Esclados le Ros who defends the forest.
- in Jaufré, the Arthurian romance of unknown authorship composed in Catalonia, the forest of Brocéliande is near King Arthur's palace and the site of a mill where King Arthur battles a strange bull-like animal. The dating of Jaufré is debated and may have been written as early as 1183 or as late as 1225-1228.
- in the late 12th or early 13th century, Robert de Boron associates the wizard Merlin with Brocéliande in his poem Merlin, also known as the Estoire de Merlin, or the Vulgate or Prose Merlin.
- in the early 13th century, Brocéliande appears in context with archangels and Arthurian Knights in the medieval poet Huon de Méry's allegorical poem Tournoiement Antecrist.
By the timeframe of 1230–1240, the forest of Brocéliande is established as part of Arthurian legend, having appeared in multiple writings.
Brocéliande continues to appear throughout the Arthurian canon, in works such as Alfred, Lord Tennyson's 19th century poem Idylls of the King and 20th century works including Edwin Arlington Robinson's 1917 poem Merlin and Alan Seeger's 1916 poem Brocéliande. Jean Lorrain wrote the play Brocéliande (1898), in which the love between Myrddhin (Merlin) and Viviane (Nimue/ Elaine) is treated. As in many of the earlier Arthurian works, Brocéliande is the location where Vivien entraps Merlin inside an oak tree.
It is mentioned repeatedly in Andre Norton's Here Abide Monsters using the formula 'Avalon, Tara, Brocéliande, Carnac'.
The name was an inspiration for J.R.R. Tolkien's fictional realm of Beleriand in Middle-earth. The name Broseliand was used in the early sketches of The Silmarillion (1926 to 1930). It is also the setting of Tolkien's poem The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun.
Several of the short stories of Sylvia Townsend Warner's collection Kingdoms of Elfin (many of which appeared in The New Yorker in the 1970s) are set in Brocéliande or mention it, among several other enchanted forests where Townsend's Elfin folk live.
Vanni Santoni's novel Terra Ignota - il Risveglio features a magic forest named Brocéliande.
Sarah Singleton's book The Poison Garden features a magic garden called Broceliande.
The ABC television series Once Upon a Time features Brocéliande in the season 5 episode "Siege Perilous" as the location of a magical toadstool needed for a potion to free the sorcerer Merlin from his imprisonment in a tree. The lake in the center of Brocéliande is filled with possessed suits of armor known as Phantom Knights.
- « Mil chent et soisante anz out de temps et d'espace/puiz que Dex en la Virge descendi par sa grace/quant un clerc de Caen, qui out non Mestre Vace/s'entremist de l'estoire de Rou et de s'estrasce/qui conquist Normendie, qui qu'en poist ne qui place/contre l'orgueil de France, qui encor les menasce/que nostre roi Henri la congnoissë et sace. »
- Lupack, Alan. The Oxford guide to Arthurian Literature and Legend, (New York, NY: Oxford University Press USA, 2007), page 437.
- Pelan, Margaret, "L'influence de Wace sur les romanciers français de son temps", p. 56, cité par A.-Y. Bourgès
- Markale, Jean Merlin: Priest of Nature, (Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions International, 1995), page 121.
- Markale, Jean Merlin: Priest of Nature, (Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions International, 1995), pages 120-121.
- "e cil devers Brecheliant/donc Breton vont sovent fablant/une forest mult longue e lee/qui en Bretaigne est mult loee"
- "Brecelianensis monstrum admirabile fontis"
- Eckhardt, Caroline D. (May 2009). "Reading Jaufré: Comedy and Interpretation in a Medieval Cliff-Hanger". The Comparatist. 33: 40.
- Tolkien, JRR. as his horse bore him o'er the land to the green boughs of Broceliande,, (Welsh Review, 1945).
- Eckhardt, Caroline D. (May 2009). "Reading Jaufré: Comedy and Interpretation in a Medieval Cliff-Hanger". The Comparatist 33: 40-62.
- Lupack, Alan (2007). The Oxford guide to Arthurian Literature and Legend (1st paperback ed.). New York, NY: Oxford University Press USA. ISBN 0-19-921509-X.
- Markale, Jean (1995). Merlin: Priest of Nature (1st English translated ed.). Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions International. ISBN 0-89281-517-5.
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French studies concerning Brocéliande as a place:
- Broceliande as Broualan near Dol, « Thèse Kerfontaine »
- Broceliande in the Maine, « Thèse Payen-Bertin »
- Broceliande as Paule, near Carhaix, «Thèse JC Even»https://web.archive.org/web/20110714034723/http://marikavel.com/broceliande/broceliande.htm