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“My Other World”: Historical Reflections and Refractions in Modern Arthurian Fantasy

  • Philippa Semper
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)

Abstract

The significance for modern fantasy writing of the medieval world in general and the Arthurian legend in particular is well documented; as one scholar notes, “one can hardly call to mind a fantasy work in any genre or media without calling up the medieval (and usually the Arthurian).”1 Yet, the relationship between “the medieval” and “the Arthurian” is complex. Many authors have attempted to write Arthur as historical fiction, setting their work in the fifth-sixth centuries when the “real” Arthur is supposed to have lived, rather than the twelfth or fifteenth, when the most famous medieval Arthurian texts were composed. Dan Nastali has characterized this as “Arthur without fantasy,” since it seeks to present a historical past, albeit an imagined one.2 So prevalent is this approach that Snyder has claimed that “nearly all of the contemporary Arthurian authors, from the late 1970s on, prefer the historical approach to Arthur.”3

Keywords

Thirteenth Century Modern Reader Reading Pointer Alternate History Historical Fiction 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Laurie A. Finke and Martin B. Shichtman, “Out of Mind, Out of Sight,” Arthuriana 17.4 (2007): 104.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Dan Nastali, “Arthur without Fantasy: Dark Age Britain in Recent Historical Fiction,” Arthuriana 9.1 (1999): 5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Christopher A. Snyder, “The Use of History and Archaeology in Contemporary Arthurian Fiction,” Arthuriana 19.3 (2009): 114.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Amy J. Ransom, “Warping Time, Alternate History, Historical Fantasy and the Postmodern uchronie québécoise,” Extrapolation: A Journal of Science Fiction and Fantasy 51 (2010): 275.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 6.
    Guy Gavriel Kay, “The Fiction of Privacy: Fantasy and the Past,” Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts 20 (2009): 247.Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    See, for example, Susanna Clarke’s magical reimagining of the early nineteenth century in Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (London: Bloomsbury, 2004). For a full discussion, see Karen Hellekson, The Alternate History: Refiguring Historical Time (Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 2001).Google Scholar
  7. 8.
    N. J. Higham, King Arthur: Myth-Making and History (London: Routledge, 2002), 223.Google Scholar
  8. 9.
    See further Andrew Blake, “T. H. White, Arnold Bax and the Alternative History of Britain,” in Impossibility Fiction: Alternativity, Extrapolation, Speculation, ed. Derek Littlewood and Peter Stockwell (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1996), 25–36;Google Scholar
  9. François Gallix, “T. H. White and the Legend of King Arthur: From Animal Fantasy to Political Morality,” in King Arthur: A Casebook, ed. Edward Donald Kennedy (New York: Routledge, 1996), 281–98;Google Scholar
  10. Aaron Isaac Jackson, “Writing Arthur, Writing England: Myth and Modernity in T. H. White’s The Sword in the Stone,” Lion and the Unicorn 33 (2009): 44–59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Kevin Crossley-Holland, Arthur: King of the Middle March (London: Orion, 2004), back cover.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Kevin Crossley-Holland, Arthur: The Seeing Stone (London: Orion, 2001), front matter.Google Scholar
  13. 15.
    Malory, Works, ed. Eugene Vinaver (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971), 676 and 649.Google Scholar
  14. 19.
    Kevin Crossley-Holland, Arthur: At the Crossing Places (London: Orion, 2002), 362.Google Scholar
  15. 27.
    Kevin Crossley-Holland, The King Who Was and Will Be (London: Orion 1998); republished as King Arthur’s World (London: Orion, 2004). While the 1998 edition contained “illustrations in colour by Peter Malone,” the 2004 edition has line drawings by Hemesh Alles who also illustrated the Arthur trilogy. The cover design was reworked to correspond with the covers on the three books of the trilogy too.Google Scholar
  16. 33.
    Mary Frances Zambreno, “Why Do Some Stories Keep Returning? Modern Arthurian Fiction and the Narrative Structure of Romance,” Essays in Medieval Studies 26 (2010): 120.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 39.
    P. R. Grillo, “Was Marie de France the Daughter of Waleran II, Count of Meulan?” Medium Ævum 57 (1988): 269–74.Google Scholar
  18. 45.
    Patricia Clare Ingham, Sovereign Fantasies: Arthurian Romance and the Making of Britain (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001), 3 and 9.Google Scholar
  19. 46.
    See Jacqueline De Weever, “The Saracen as Narrative Knot,” 4–9; Peter H. Goodrich, “Saracens and Islamic Alterity in Malory’s Le Morte Darthur,” 10–28; Meg Roland, “Arthur and the Turks,” 29–42; Donald L. Hoffman, “Assimilating Saracens: The Aliens in Malory’s Morte Darthur,” 43–64; Maghan Keita, “Saracens and Black Knights,” 65–77, all in Arthuriana 16.4 (2006). See also Meg Roland, “From ‘Saracens’ to ‘Infydeles’: The Recontextualization of the East in Caxton’s Edition of Le Morte Darthur,” in Re-Viewing Le Morte Darthur: Texts and Contexts, Characters and Themes, ed. K. S. Whetter and Raluca L. Radulescu (Woodbridge: Brewer, 2005), 65–77.Google Scholar
  20. 47.
    Compare, for example, the Arthurian story in Susan Cooper, The Grey King, (London: Puffin, 1977); as Zambreno points out, “the importance that Susan Cooper gives to the individual’s free choice … speaks more to a modern world than a medieval one—but the legend easily opens up to express that concept” (124). For an examination of race in relation to modern fantasy, seeGoogle Scholar
  21. Brian Atterby, “Introduction: Race and the Fantastic,” Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts 21 (2010): 334–37.Google Scholar
  22. 48.
    J. R. R. Tolkien, The Two Towers (London: Harper Collins, 1999), 229 and 241. The function of the two is different; the palantírs are used to see what is happening in other locations, and for communication.Google Scholar
  23. 51.
    Crossley-Holland, King Arthur’s World, 19; J. R. R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring (London: Harper Collins, 1999), 478. Crossley-Holland’s characterization of Merlin as “prophet and enchanter, trickster, shape-shifter and wise guide” aligns Merlin more traditionally with Gandalf, but could also apply to Sauron’s earlier dealings with the Númenóreans.Google Scholar
  24. 53.
    The Fellowship of the Ring, dir. Peter Jackson (New Line, 2001), DVD.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Gail Ashton and Daniel T. Kline 2012

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  • Philippa Semper

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