Study Guide

King Horn

King Horn Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Horn, the fairest youth ever born, is bright as glass and white as a flower; his color is rose-red, and he has no equal in any kingdom. When Horn is fifteen years old, his father, King Murry of Suddene Isle of Man, is killed by invading Saracens. His mother, Queen Godhild, finds refuge under a rock, where she prays for Horn’s safety. Because of Horn’s fairness, the Saracens spare him, setting him adrift with twelve companions, among them his brother Athulf and the wicked Fikenhild, on a ship that they expect will sink. The youths land safely on the shore of Westernesse, where good King Aylmar receives them kindly and takes a special liking to Horn. Aylmar’s daughter, Rymenhild, is also attracted to Horn and asks the steward, Athelbrus, who is in charge of Horn’s instruction, to bring him to her room. Disturbed at this command, Athelbrus brings Athulf instead. Mistaking him for Horn, Rymenhild tells Athulf that she loves him. When she discovers that Athelbrus tricked her, she threatens to have him hanged, whereupon Athelbrus brings Horn to her. Rymenhild asks him to marry her, but Horn refuses, saying that he is a foundling and unworthy. At this rebuff, Rymenhild falls in a swoon. Horn takes her in his arms, kisses her, and asks her to have her father make him a knight so that he might marry her.

King Aylmar knights Horn and permits him to knight his companions. As soon as Horn is knighted, Rymenhild wants him to marry her; but Horn says that he must first prove his merit as a knight. Rymenhild gives him a ring engraved with her name and tells him that if he looks at the ring and thinks of her, he will overcome all enemies. On a handsome black steed, Horn sets forth on his quest. He quickly finds and slays at least one hundred Saracens. The next day, Rymenhild tells him that she dreamed that a great fish escaped from her net. The significance of her distressing dream is clear when Fikenhild, envious of Horn, tells King Aylmar that Horn is planning to kill him and marry Rymenhild. He says that Horn is at the moment in bed with Rymenhild. Aylmar, rushing into his daughter’s chamber, finds Horn embracing Rymenhild. The king orders Horn to leave the castle. Before departing, Horn instructs Athulf to guard Rymenhild. He tells Rymenhild that he expects to be back in seven years; if he does not return by that time, she is to take another husband.

Horn goes to Ireland, where he meets two princes, Harild and Berild. He tells them that his name is Cutberd, and they take him to their father, King Thurston. The time is Christmas. Soon a giant comes from...

(The entire section is 1053 words.)

King Horn Bibliography (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Barnes, Geraldine. Counsel and Strategy in Middle English Romance. Cambridge, England: D. S. Brewer, 1993. Barnes discusses the nature and functions of kingdoms and advisory bodies described in romances. Includes research on the audiences of the romance.

Cannon, Christopher. “The Spirit of Romance: King Horn, Havelok the Dane, and Floris and Blancheflour.” In The Grounds of English Literature. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. As part of his study of early English literature, Cannon analyzes King Horn and other medieval works to demonstrate how they were influences for subsequent English writing.

Cooper, Helen. “Magic That Doesn’t Work.” In The English Romance in Time: Transforming Motifs from Geoffrey of Monmouth to the Death of Shakespeare. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. Cooper makes several references to King Horn in her study of recurrent motifs in English romantic literature of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Most references are in the section on magic, while other citations are listed in the index.

Knight, Stephen. “The Social Function of the Middle English Romances.” In Medieval Literature: Criticism, Ideology, and History, edited by David Aers. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1986. Knight divides the medieval romance into three subgenres and describes each in detail.

Ramsey, Lee C. Chivalric Romances: Popular Literature in Medieval England. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1983. Provides background on the history and development of the medieval romance. Ramsey discusses elements common to all romances and includes information on the genre’s audience.

Riddy, Felicity. “Middle English Romance: Family, Marriage, Intimacy.” In The Cambridge Companion to Medieval Romance, edited by Roberta L. Krueger. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000. Riddy places King Horn within the context of the Middle English romance.

Spearing, A. C. Readings in Medieval Poetry. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987. Begins by discussing the relationship between self-perception and modes of language, then applies this material to various works, including King Horn. Spearing compares the medieval romance to twentieth century film.

Zesmer, David M. Guide to English Literature from “Beowulf” Through Chaucer and Medieval Drama. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1961. Includes a brief analysis of the romance and identifies the geography in King Horn.