References Jokinen, A. (1996) Heroes of the Middle Ages. [online] Available: http://www.luminarium.org/medlit/medheroes.htm http://www.luminarium.org/medlit/medheroes.htm
Tolkien and Beowulf Saw his work on Beowulf as his major achievement Key problems of interpretation - Monsters – are they symbols and allegories in our own psychologies, or just monsters? Literature or History? - Tolkien's point: treat it as a poem, not an archeological dig Can we understand a poem so far out of its social context? - We are not A-S society with the assumed understandings of values, references to other stories, visual images etc. That is the challenge of literature - can it tell a/its story to many audiences?
Influences on modern epic fantasy Lord of the Rings: Various groups – Riders of Rohan (AS society), orcs (Grendel), elves, dwarves, wizards (druids) Languages and poetry Demonized, externalized threat to society Duty-bound heroes doing what is needed Genre: Medievalism – swords’n’sorcery, wizards’n’warriors Lonely hero on epic quest to save the world Languages and literate emphases – runes, inscriptions Objects of power – rings, swords, magic Whole worlds and cosmologies
The epic hero Undertakes role as duty to others, not as a personal achievement Strong sense of social morality, including code of behaviour to enemies Only becomes hero when needed, may be unwilling Does not necessarily have social status prior to heroics, but may achieve it. Considers it a consequence, not an aim, in heroics. If mistakes are made, community suffers. Wyrd and comitatus as code of behaviour
The chivalric hero Change over 500 years from c. 800s to c. 1300s Undertakes role as personal challenge, to achieve redemption, reputation, ultimate standards Strong sense of social morality, including code of behaviour to enemies Strives hard to attain hero status in the eyes of peers and society If mistakes are made, learn the lesson and try harder next time Chivalry as code of behaviour
Changes in these social attitudes Christianity as strong moral code More stable communities and nations, and communication between them Less threat to community, more focus on individual Chivalry Respect for others, courtesy and charity Courtly Love Romantic devotion to idealised lover Often unconsummated, even secret from lover
Arthur’s origins Possibilities: Celtic–Welsh hero resisting Romans (c. 1 st century) Romanised Celt resisting Saxons (c. 4 th -5 th century) Saxon resisting Vikings (c. 7 th -9 th century) Alternative to French Charlemagne romances (c. 8 th - 10 th century) English nation resisting Normans (c.11 th -12 th century) Various English kings wanting to be identified with him – (c. 12 th -15 th century) Elements that can be traced from Wales, Cornwall, Celtic myths, Saxon kingdoms, Norse sagas, Brittany, France, Christian legends etc. etc. etc.
Arthur’s origins Main sources and variants: Geoffrey of Monmouth / Nennius / William of Malmesbury / Wace / Layamon - early writers (History or literature?) Chretien de Troyes - medieval romances (French) Thomas Malory - first printed collection (English) Tennyson - Idylls of the King - Pre-Raphaelites TH White - modern novelists
Arthurian cycles Groups of stories around specific themes: Arthur the King – Right vs Might, the nation builder Merlin – Celtic and pre-Christian magic Courtly Love – the trials and tragedies of romance Individual heroes – Lancelot, Gawain The Grail – Christian redemption
Arthur as history Literature or History? C.f. Tolkien's point about Beowulf: treat it as literature, not an archeological dig Trouble is: a)The stories contains so much everyday social detail not available elsewhere b)The Arthurian tales have gone through so much adaptation, evolution, interpretation, that there is no single or standard version
Arthur versions The sword in the stone TH White - heavily influenced by current politics on the eve of WW2 - war, totalitarian states, might vs right Part of 5 book series (The Once and Future King & The book of Merlyn) telling the major Malory story. Arthur – at the crossing places Kevin Crossley-Holland - expert in British folklore and history Uses those two aspects to emphasise Arthur’s humanity, and chivalric choices