Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Medieval Madness

This interesting story "Knights of the Faculty Lounge" by John Gravois from today's Chronicle of Higher Education explores the connection between scholarly medieval studies and recreational medievalism, whether in the flesh - Society of Creative Anachronism - or online - MMORPG's. According to Gravois, most trace the burst in interest in medievalism to Tolkien's popularity in the 1960's Says Gravois:

And so in Tolkien, modern academic medievalism and fantasy culture share a common ancestor — as it happens, one who clearly favored the academic side of the family. Tolkien, who originally wrote his fantasy books for a tiny circle of colleagues and kin, called his fans "my deplorable cultists." So the uneasy coexistence started with gramps.

That's one way to answer the question of how fantasy got associated with the medieval. But Mr. Kline [Daniel T. Kline, a professor of medieval and Renaissance English at the University of Alaska at Anchorage,] answered the Canadian student's question differently. Mr. Kline, along with several other scholars of the middle ages, has begun thinking about fantasy literature and role-playing games as actual revivals of medieval literary forms.

Arthurian legends, he and others say, had a similar open-ended narrative structure built of quest after quest, a similar relationship to an ahistorical imagined past (Sir Thomas Malory wasn't writing about his present either), and a similar kind of open authorship (there were hundreds of medieval Arthurian yarn spinners). Unlike more modern forms, the medieval approach to storytelling is one that lends itself perfectly to fantasy worlds that can be endlessly constructed, reconstructed, and traversed. "The grail quest never ends," said Mr. Kline.

Which might explain the huge popularity of the other world.



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