The wonderful thing about the world of blogs and tweets is that the reader gets to decide when to stop and explore. The following list of the top 10 Medieval Stories of 2010 caught my eye, not just because it brought me face to face with the digitally-reconstructed image of a Medieval Knight from a fourteenth-century Scottish castle.
As a student of literature, I was particularly interested in the ninth entry: an analysis of the life cycle of historical novels with medieval settings by Shaun Tyas: “Historical Novels and Medieval Lives,” in Recording Medieval lives: Proceedings of the 2005 Harlaxton Symposium, 2005, 273-299.
Shaun Tyas started out collecting historical novels as a private hobby and soon realize that this body of 5,092 novels with medieval settings begs exploration. The standard bibliographies for this genre list fewer than 20% of items identified by Tyas, though Tyas does cast a wider net by including all extended prose fiction, multi-period historical novels and children’s books, written in or translated into English. Although most literary historians considered this particular genre “finished” by the mid nineteenth century, Tyas shows via graphs and timelines that medieval settings thrived in the emerging children’s literature after 1850 and became a staple for adult fiction after 1968 with a dip in popularity for both children and adults between roughly 1920 and 1960. Shaun Tyas provides numerous examples of novels with medieval settings in a variety of genres from around 1700 to the present: modern rewrites of medieval stories (Thomas Peacock: Maid Marion. 1822), science fiction (Poul Anderson: The High Crusade. 1960), fantasy fiction (Freda Warrington: The Court of the Midnight King. 2003), Gothic novels (Horace Walpole: The castle of Otranto.1764) , detective fiction (Edward Frankland: The Murders at Crossby. 1955), and women’s romantic fiction (Belinda Grey: The Proxy Wedding. 1982), to cite just a few examples. The article is well worth reading for its detail on three hundred years of engagement with medieval settings by writers and readers.
Scholars are often uncomfortable dealing with historical novels because (popular) fiction takes liberties with historical truths. However, since the best examples of a genre can lead to unexpected reading pleasures, here are several recommendations by Tyas for historical novels that are well researched and lend themselves to prosopographic studies: Alfred Duggan: The Conscience of the King; Brian Bates: The Way of Wyrd; Josephine Tey: The Daughter of Time ; Anya Seton: Katherine; Hilda Prescott: The Man on a Donkey; Irving Stone: The Agony and the Ecstasy.
For additional suggestions, check out the subscription database NoveListPlus; enter a fiction title you have enjoyed and the database will suggests future reads based on your past preferences.
If you are wondering about what kind of anatomical information might be needed to design the face of a virtual knight, this upcoming exhibit curated by CMRS faculty member Professor Valeria Finucci promises an interesting perspective on the history of medicine: Animated Anatomies: The Human Body in Anatomical Texts from the 16th through 21st Centuries . This exhibit will open on April 15 will be divided between the Perkins Gallery and the Medical Center Library.
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