Themes and Characters

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Fundamental to Baldwin's Story of Roland is the chivalric ethic, a code of knightly behavior emphasizing such virtues as courtesy, honesty, generosity, and mercy. The chivalric hero is expected to exhibit great courage, valor, and physical prowess, like his earlier counterparts in heroic literaturesuch as Beowulf, for examplebut he is also expected to exhibit refinement and courtliness. It is not unusual for the chivalric hero to be well-versed in foreign languages or the arts. He is often skilled in music, poetry, and such activities as hunting, falconry, and playing chess. Unlike earlier heroes, the chivalric hero is always expected to be modestself-effacingng, and a sincere Christian.

Charlemagne is the character around whom all the other heroes revolve. Charlemagne is a mighty and noble ruler whose concerns are not limited to his own realm. He must also protect all Christendom from his archenemies the Saracens, who were primarily Moors from Spain. Charlemagne does not always perfectly fulfill the chivalric ideal. He engages in several petty squabbles with some of the lesser rulers in the lands under his control, and his actions and decisions are sometimes challenged or criticized by his knights. To some extent he provides a foil for the capabilities and values of his finest knights, just as in Arthurian literature some of King Arthur's knights come to exceed even the king in their nobility and prowess.

Foremost among Charlemagne's...

(The entire section is 448 words.)