Young Readers—Legends

Legendary to 1400
Beowulf to William Tell

Era Summary       Characters       Timeline       Reading Assignments      

Era Summary—Legends

Robin and Little John
European history is rich with legendary heroes,—many of whom are based on real people. William Tell, Roland, St. George, and El Cid, for example, are all based on genuine historical characters, although there is much debate about the extent to which their stories are fictionalized. Others, heroes, such as Beowulf, Siegfried, King Arthur, and Guy of Warwick are based on literary works. Most legendary characters of Europe have long-standing oral as well as written traditions, and the names of the great heroes are immortalized in battle cries and minstrel's songs, as well as children's stories.

Legends are universally popular with young children, and the Young Readers collection includes over a dozen books based primarily on folk heroes, mostly from the Told to the Children series. In addition to fictional legendary heroes, many mythical stories having to do with authentic historical figures such as Richard the Lion-hearted, Barbarossa, or Charlemagne are also part of European folklore. There are also dozens of stories about quirky town-folk, enchanted objects, and despicable villains.

These tales allow a closer look at some of the more turbulent times in Europe's history viewed through the entertaining lens of popular folklore. The Young Readers section on Legends, is therefore, an important part of a Children's introduction to European history, and is just as important as "real" history in terms of developing students' cultural literacy.

The Young Readers Study Questions having to do with legends are based on selected chapters from several books including Scudder's Book of Legends, Evan's Old Time Tales, Lansing's Page—Esquire—Knight and volumes from the Told to the Children series.


Character/Date Short Biography


~ 1200 BC
Primary character of the Norse Epic, The Niebelung.
~ 1000 BC
Legendary hero of the Irish folklore.
St. George
Patron saint of England. Soldier who killed a dragon and died a martyr's death.
King Arthur
Legendary king of the Britons.
Sir Galahad
~ 500
Knight of the Round Table. Considered the noblest and worthiest of knights.
Sir Gawain
~ 500
Knight of the Round Table. Famous for his encounter with the Green Giant.
~700 A.D.Legendary Swedish hero, Beowulf defeated the monstor Grendel for King Hrothgar who ruled the Danes.
d. 778
Nephew of Charlemagne and legendary hero of his wars. Died at Roncesvalles.
Guy of Warwick
~ 1000
Popular hero of Chivalry, who supposedly lived in Saxon England. Fought ogres and dragons as well as marauding Danes.
El Cid
Legendary Spanish hero of chivalry. Loyal to Alfonso VI in spite of treachery. Conquered Valencia.
Robin Hood
~ 1200
Leader of a legendary band of benevolent bandits who stole from rich and gave to the poor.
William Tell
Swiss Folk Hero who shot an apple off his son's head and murdered a tyrannical Governor.

Middle Eastern

~700 A.D.Legendary Persian Sailor, who experienced many fantastic adventures on seven different voyages.
~700 A.D.The legendary character who found a magic lamp, married a princess, and defeated an evil sorcerer.


AD YearEvent
300 St. George fights a dragon, then becomes a martyr.
425 Beowulf fights Grendel and returns home to become king.
501 Siegfried fights the Dragon Fafnir and begins his adventures.
520 Rise of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.
780 Roland is killed at the Battle of Roncevalles Pass.
1000 Guy of Warwick, after many adventures, marries his lady-love Felice.
1000 El Cid conquers Valencia.
1190 Robin Hood and his Merry Men reside in Sherwood Forest during reign of Richard the Lion-heart.
1330 William Tell shoots an apple off his son's head.

Recommended Reading—Legends

Book Title
Selected Chapters (# chapters)
Scudder - Book of Legends    entire book
Macgregor - Stories of King Arthur's Knights Told to the Children    entire book
Marshall - Stories of Guy of Warwick Told to the Children    entire book
Marshall - Stories of Robin Hood Told to the Children    entire book
Marshall - Stories of William Tell Told to the Children    entire book
Lansing - Page—Esquire—Knight    entire book
Marshall - Stories of Roland Told to the Children    entire book
Marshall - Stories of Beowulf Told to the Children    entire book
Baldwin - Stories of Don Quixote    entire book
Macgregor - Stories from Pilgrim's Progress Told to the Children    entire book
Macgregor - Stories of Siegfried Told to the Children    entire book
Babbitt - Jataka Tales    entire book
Babbitt - More Jataka Tales    entire book
Steedman - Stories from the Arabian Nights    entire book