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5529Re: [mythsoc] Why the middle ages are so popular in fiction

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  • David S. Bratman
    Mar 8, 2002
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      Actually, these days fantasy is set in all kinds of milieus. A genericized
      late 18th century seems to be very popular in romances fiction (deriving
      from Jane Austen, perhaps?) and that's spilling over into fantasy, for
      instance.

      But a genericized medievalism does seem to be very popular in fantasy, yes.
      I suspect that the main reason is because the authors are following the
      example of earlier authors who did the same thing. Which only puts the
      question back a stage.

      The main reason that the classic fantasy texts have a medieval feel is
      because they were written by authors who were most moved by medieval
      literature. In Tolkien's case, Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Eddas and so
      forth, and also fairy tales, not always exactly medieval but certainly
      pre-industrial in feel. William Morris, more specifically than Tolkien,
      held medieval values as a virtue and was thus drawn to that period. A
      number of other authors, as someone mentioned, were specifically drawn to
      Arthurian texts.

      I say "medieval values", rather than the medieval era itself, to try to
      head off the usual excluded-middle objection that if you like the medieval
      era you must approve of disease and lack of plumbing. The most intense
      modern medievalists call their organization the Society for Creative
      Anachronism for the very reason that they take what they want from
      medievalism and leave what they don't want: they like being creative, and
      they don't mind being anachronistic.

      But not all classic fantasies are as medieval as they might look. Tolkien
      has echoes of classicism: Gondor should remind you a bit more of Ancient
      Egypt than, say, the Holy Roman Empire; and the Valar resemble the Greek
      gods as much as the Norse. Dunsany's early stories have an extremely
      ancient air to them, reminding me of something Sumerian or thereabouts
      rather than medieval Europe, and his geographic imagination was always
      leading to the Middle East. Peake's Gormenghast is deliberately a riot of
      differing times, but its center appears to be somewhere around the 17th
      century.

      By the way, I agree with Pauline that "antimodernist" fits Tolkien better
      than "Luddite" which means not environmental protection nor romantic
      medievalism, but a fear of progress for reasons of economic self-protection.

      David Bratman
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