Brocéliande (also known as Breselianda, Bersillant, Berthelien, Berceliande, Brecheliant, Broceliande) is a legendary enchanted forest that had a reputation in the medieval European imagination as a place of magic and mystery. Brocéliande is featured in several medieval texts, mostly related to the Arthurian legend and the characters of Merlin, Morgan le Fay, Lady of the Lake, and some of the Knights of the Round Table. It first appeared in literature in the Roman de Rou chronicle by Wace in 1160 and today is most commonly identified as Paimpont forest in Brittany, France.
Brocéliande is a place of legend due to its uncertain location, unusual weather, and its ties with Arthurian mythology, most notably the tomb of the legendary figure of Merlin. According to these accounts, the forest sheltered the enchanted Vale of No Return, the magical fountain of Barenton, and the place of Merlin's retirement, imprisonment or death.
The etymology is uncertain. The oldest known form, Brecheliant, could be based on the Celtic Brec'h (hill), followed by a man's name. The later form of Brocéliande could be derived from bro (meaning country in Breton), but it is necessary to wait for Chrétien de Troyes to find this variant. A popular etymology breaks it down into "broce" for forest and "liande" for heath.
Medieval historical accounts
First known mention of Brocéliande is found in Roman de Rou, a v. 1160 chronicle Anglo-Norman poet Wace, 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 (Brecheliant), about whom there are many legends ("ceux de Brecheliant dont les Bretons disent maintes légendes..."), along with the Breton knights. Wace gives the name of the fountain of Barenton ("La fontaine de Berenton/sort d'une part lez le perron...") and describes how hunters scoop water from it and wet a stone in order to summon rain; he also mentions rumors of fairies and magic. Wace travelled to Brittany in search of these wonders, but found nothing notable and left disappointed: "I saw the forest and the land and looked for marvels, but found none. I came back as a fool and went as a fool. I went as a fool and came back as a fool. I sought foolishness and considered myself a fool."
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. Its unusual weather alone is noted in a handful of texts: Giraldus Cambrensis's c. 1185 expeditionary account, Topographia Hibernica, Alexandre Neckham's c. 1195 work on nautical science, De naturis rerum, and 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 the late 12th or early 13th century, Robert de Boron first associates the figure of Merlin with Brocéliande in his poem Merlin. It is also featured in several episodes of the prose adaptations and continuations of the poem, the Vulgate Cycle (Lancelot-Grail), notably in the stories of Merlin and Viviane. Later, Morgan le Fay traps many unfaithful knights in her Vale of No Return within Brocéliande until they are freed by Lancelot.
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 Arthur battles a strange bull-like animal, really a shapeshifting mage knight. The dating of Jaufré is debated and may have been written as early as 1183 or as late as 1225-1228. Later, Brocéliande also appears in context of Arthurian knights in Huon de Méry's allegorical poem Tournoiement Antecrist as well as in other texts such as Claris et Laris, where it is the site of Morgan's fairy castle, and Brun de la Montagne.
Early source works provide unclear or conflicting information on the exact location of Brocéliande; different hypotheses exist to place Brocéliande on the map. According to Wace, Brocéliande is in Brittany. Since the 15th century (Jean Cabaret d'Orville), Brocéliande has been linked by some to the forest of Lorge near Quintin in Brittany. Since around 1400 (Ponthus et Sidoine, where the forest is named Berthelien) and commonly in modern times, Brocéliande it is 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.
Brocéliande has continued to appear throughout the modern Arthuriana, in works such as the 19th-century poem Idylls of the King by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and in later works such as Edwin Arlington Robinson's 1917 poem Merlin and Alan Seeger's 1916 poem Brocéliande.
- Jean Lorrain wrote the play Brocéliande (1898), about Myrddhin (Merlin) and Viviane (Nimue/Elaine); as in many of the earlier Arthurian works, Brocéliande is the location where Viviane entraps Merlin inside an oak tree.
- In Bernard Cornwell's Arthurian trilogy The Warlord Chronicles, Broceliande is one of two British (Celtic) kingdoms that form modern-day Brittany, the other being Armorica.
- Brocéliande serves as the location of Robert Holdstock's fantasy novel Merlin's Wood.
- The 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.
- Brocéliande 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 short stories in 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.
- It appears in the 2010 film Robin Hood as the place where Robert Loxley is ambushed by the French.
- In Michael Swanwick's The Dragons of Babel, Broceliande is a train station where a bomb was dropped in a war between two kingdoms.
- 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.
- Cassandra Clare's series The Mortal Instruments features a forest named Brocelind in the fictional Shadowhunter nation of Idris.
- Broceliande is the name of a forest in Joan Aiken's young adult novel The Stolen Lake, which, despite taking place in a fictionalized version of South America, has a strong Arthurian theme.
- The Witcher novel series by Andrzej Sapkowski features an ancient forest inhabited by magical beings known as Brokilon to humans and Brokiloén in the Elven language.
- It is also referenced in Destiny 2's DLC Black Armory. An aptly named Niobe's Torment puzzle defeated the entire community of Destiny gamers for nearly twenty four hours using this word.
- A forest called the Brecilian Forest is inhabited by elves and filled with magical ruins in the video game Dragon Age: Origins.
- In C. S. Lewis's That Hideous Strength, the tomb of Merlin is located in the fictitious Bragdon Forest.
Notes and references
- Lupack, Alan. The Oxford guide to Arthurian Literature and Legend, (New York, NY: Oxford University Press USA, 2007), page 437.
- Barrier, Philippe (1991). Forêt légendaire: contes, légendes, coutumes, anecdotes sur les forêts de France (in French). C. de Bartillat. ISBN 9782905563422.
- Deshayes, Albert (1999). Dictionnaire des noms de lieux bretons (in French). Chasse-marée/ArMen.
- « 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. »
- "e cil devers Brecheliant/donc Breton vont sovent fablant/une forest mult longue e lee/qui en Bretaigne est mult loee"
- Roman de Rou, Part III, lines 6329-98.
- "Brecelianensis monstrum admirabile fontis"
- "La Fontaine de Barenton dans le « Chevalier au Lion » - Encyclopédie de Brocéliande". broceliande.brecilien.org (in French). Retrieved 2018-06-02.
- "Brocéliande dans le Lancelot-Graal - Encyclopédie de Brocéliande". broceliande.brecilien.org (in French). Retrieved 2018-06-02.
- "L'origine littéraire du Val sans Retour - Encyclopédie de Brocéliande". broceliande.brecilien.org (in French). Retrieved 2018-06-02.
- "Breselianda dans le Jaufré - Encyclopédie de Brocéliande". broceliande.brecilien.org (in French). Retrieved 2018-06-02.
- Eckhardt, Caroline D. (May 2009). "Reading Jaufré: Comedy and Interpretation in a Medieval Cliff-Hanger". The Comparatist. 33: 40.
- "Claris and Laris | Robbins Library Digital Projects". Retrieved 2018-06-03.
- Bellamy, Félix (2002). Brocéliande et les romans de la Table Ronde. Arbre d’Or, Geneva.
- "Brocéliande en forêt de Lorge - Encyclopédie de Brocéliande". broceliande.brecilien.org (in French). Retrieved 2018-06-02.
- 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.
- 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.