What makes King Horn worth studying? A little thing academicians like to term literary history. King Horn has for some time and likely will continue for an indefinite period to enjoy the status of being the earliest extant example of romantic chivalrous English verse. The exciting tale of invading hordes of Saracens killing King Murray of Suddene has been traced back to somewhere between 1225 and 1250 B.C.E.
The outrageously ostentatious overlaying of an excruciating layer of substratal utilization of language has an authorship attributed only to one mysterious personage named Thomas. Not much is known about this Thomas, but one thing is inescapably clear: whoever he was, Thomas quite clearly had a predilection for short rhyming couplets. What is astonishing about King Horn is how enjoyable the narrative about King Horn falling in love with Rymenhild and how his faithful companion Fikenhild betrays the young lovers in a shocking act of dastardly infidelity and, of course, the completely thrilling section in which Horn masquerades as a pilgrim in a last ditch Benjamin Braddock-esque attempt to prevent Fikenhild from marrying Rymenhild himself.
Just in case this slight summary ramps up the anxiety in a premature manner, be aware that one other aspect of Thomas as a writer of romantic verse is equally well-know: he was a fan of happy endings.
A French language version known as Horn Childe that follows essentially the exact same narrative line appeared around 1300 with a few alterations in the details surrounding the events. King Horn has influenced a number of different versions telling the story or expanding upon the story ever since. Of course, if nothing else, the epic romantic poem is worth keeping alive and well for no other reason than featuring a King named Murray.