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Bisou\’s Bell

Welcome to My Green Vermont - A Blog by Eulalia Benejam Cobb.
By Eulalia Benejam Cobb

I put a bell on Bisou\’s collar today to help me keep track of her. The little bell has a nice ring, and tinkles gaily as Bisou charges around the house. And that reminded me of the little faery dog with the magic bell that Tristan sent as a gift to his love, Iseult the Fair.

According to legend, Tristan and Iseult fell madly in love when they drank by mistake a love philtre destined for Iseult and King Mark of Cornwall to share on their wedding night. The philtre made for much passion and tragedy, ecstasy and pain, with Mark\’s jealous courtiers forever seeking to betray the lovers to the King.

At one point, Tristan had to flee for his life and take refuge in Wales, where the Duke possessed an extraordinary little dog, a love-gift from a faery. The little dog wore a bell around its neck, and whoever came near it forgot all sorrow and pain.

And as Tristan stroked the little dog\’s soft fur and heard the clear tinkle of the bell, and felt how his anguish was soothed, he thought what a fine gift the little dog would make for Iseult. But the Duke of Wales, as you can imagine, was quite attached to the little dog,.

It happened that the land was being ravaged by a hairy giant named Urgan, and the Duke promised that he would give whomever should vanquish the giant anything he desired. Tristan promptly fought Urgan, and showed up at the Duke\’s castle with the giant\’s severed hand, and asked for the little magic dog as his reward.

The Duke blanched and offered his sister and half his land instead, but Tristan insisted, and finally got the dog, and sent it to Cornwall, to Iseult.

Iseult was delighted with the little dog, and had a kennel of gold encrusted with jewels made for it, and carried the dog in her arms wherever she went. And as she did so, she felt much better, and her sorrow and anguish at Tristan\’s absence grew less.

But one day she found out that the little dog and its bell were faery, which is why she\’d been so much less depressed. Iseult did not want to be happy while Tristan suffered, so she took off the bell and threw it into the sea.

The legend does not say what became of the little dog. But it is well known that Cavalier-type spaniels were around as early as the Middle Ages, and I ask you, what other dog could Tristan\’s fairy gift have been, if not a Cavalier?

6 Responses

  1. I love the story of Tristan & Iseult/Isolde. I'd not heard of it until I saw the film a couple of years ago, however. Don't recall a fairy dog with a bell in it though. I like your version better.

  2. Dona (waxwing), The French scholar Joseph Bedier compiled all the bits and pieces of the Tristan legend into a wonderful narrative. It's available in paperback, in an English translation: \”The Romance of Tristan and Iseult as retold by Joseph Bedier,\” translated by Hillaire Belloc (Vintage Books, 1965). You can probably get it used from Amazon.

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