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5563Re: Re: Re: [mythsoc] Why the middle ages are so popular in fiction

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  • David S. Bratman
    Mar 11, 2002
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      At 10:53 AM 3/11/2002 , Alexei wrote:

      >Agreed, of course. I just thought that, even within Gormenghast itself, the
      >"riot of different times" includes periods much later than the 17th century
      >-- figures like Bellgrove and the Professors, for instance, evoke (at least
      >to me) the 19th or even the early 20th century.

      Indeed, which is why I wrote "a riot of differing times, but its _center_
      appears to be somewhere around the 17th century." (emphasis added) Some
      aspects are earlier, some are later. The Professors, in fact, evoke a
      stereotype which at the university level didn't really exist until the
      1860s or so (probably earlier at the public-school level, but I know less
      about that). Prior to that time the stereotypical English university
      professor was something quite different.

      >This is what made it
      >impossible for me as a reader to conceive of Gormenghast as existing in any
      >period in the past (however ill-defined -- though, as you point out, it could
      >never be mediaeval) rather than in the future. But different readers are
      >impressed by different aspects of a book's imagery, of course.

      One has to be careful about such interpretations. In the light of _Titus
      Alone_, and with the heavy emphasis on Gormenghast being encrusted, it
      seems clear that Peake intended evocations of later times to be clues of a

      But that doesn't mean they have to be. Most of _The Lord of the Rings_
      evokes times of which medieval is the very latest. The hobbits, however,
      "are" (in that sense) English village folk of the 1890s (see Letter 178),
      and their civilization proves it. But it would be a mistake to assume
      Tolkien was doing what Peake was doing and explain the Shire's anachronisms
      by actually setting the book in the 1890s or later.

      Tolkien was simply making the Shire as comfortable and homelike, by his
      standards, as he could, to ground it and to provide the most contrast with
      the rest of his story. It wouldn't be quite accurate to imagine Pippin in
      Gondor as an 1890s English country squire lad in the court of Rameses II,
      but it'd be close, and that is the scale of the contrast that Tolkien intends.

      Peake intended not so much contrast as a disconcerting riot of mixed
      impressions, at least as far as his setting goes.

      I don't conceive of Gormenghast as set in the past - indeed, it's best to
      think of the first two books as having no setting outside of the castle
      whatever - nor am I somehow unimpressed by the 19th/20th century
      references. There are medieval references as well. But the bulk of the
      evocation seems to be early modern period.

      Titus is, IIRC, the 77th Earl. At a standard rate of turnover for titles
      (average about 20 years), the castle is probably over 1500 years old. The
      17th-century style suggests that that's when the rituals began seriously to
      ossify, and it's probably been more than the 300-400 years since then (to
      our time) to the date of the story, if there is one.

      David Bratman
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