Aladore is a haunting tale, so limpid and gentle in the telling that one is tempted to read it simply for pure enjoyment. Henry John Newbolt’s pastiche of the style made popular by William Morris employs a rich, though archaic, language that contributes to the beautiful flow of this allegorical account of a medieval quest for love and the meaning of life.
Aladore contains many allusions to Christian fellowship and theology. Ywain and the hermit break bread together and bathe in a mountain stream, acts comparable to the rites of communion and baptism. Ywain continually is torn between the fellowship and peace of the hermitage and the lure of his will-o’-the-wisp desire. This tension is reminiscent of the pull between religious life and the knightly quest—“The bird calls Come!’; the saint whispers Stay!’ ”—that is depicted so compellingly in “The Knight’s Tale” in Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales (1387-1400). This problem is never resolved completely in the novel. At one point, the reunited lovers are startled in a garden by a spy slithering away in the grass, like a serpent invading their Edenic paradise. During the climactic battle, Ywain willingly sacrifices himself, in the manner of Jesus Christ, to save his brothers in the final Armageddon.
This deceptively simple allegory is notable for the fact that it is (except for the somewhat juvenile Greenwood tales of G. P. Baker) the only significant medieval fantasy published between the death of William Morris in 1896 and the end of World War I. Newbolt clearly is familiar with Morris’ work and uses the same style of language, indefinable time period, and medieval trappings. That such a tale, with its emphasis on brotherly love and Christian fellowship, should appear on the eve of World War I is ironic. Newbolt, who later wrote the official history of the navy in that conflict and was knighted for his efforts, never wrote another novel.