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An Author’s Journey: What is Literary Epic Fantasy? (4) The Sources: #10 (Troubadour Culture)

3.10.14 An Author’s Journey: Some Inspirations & Influences, Part 4.9: What is Literary Epic Fantasy?  (4) The Sources: #10 (Troubadour Culture)

A.J. Carlisle's Inspiration for Epic Fantasy: Medieval Courtly Romance

A.J. Carlisle’s Inspiration for Epic Fantasy: Medieval Courtly Romance

Good Morning, Everyone!

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

Sophia’s groaning about this latest series of blogs that feature my suggestions for how to redefine the “epic fantasy” genre; she says that they’re getting too “professorial,” but I counter with the fact that I’m trying to think through a series of issues that have been bothering me as a life-long fantasy literature enthusiast — that is, the near complete regurgitation of all things J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis when writers approach that nebulously defined “epic fantasy” genre.

Medieval Worlds: C.S. Lewis, Prince Caspian (Concept Art)

Medieval Worlds: C.S. Lewis, Prince Caspian (Concept Art)

And, she’s left the room…great.  Another “agree to disagree” moment in the relationship.  Well, I’m not being simply obstinate here because I don’t like to criticize a problem without offering some kind of solution, & these series of blogs have been a way for me to both (1) situate where my books in The Artifacts of Destiny fall in the epic fantasy field and (2) offer suggestions to creators & fans about how we can reboot and universalize a genre that for too long has recycled stories, themes, and styles created at Oxford University where Tolkien and Lewis taught in the early to mid-20th century!

I’ve only got a few more sources from the medieval period (roughly 500-1500 A.D.) that I think will help redirect the genre into an innovative direction, so let’s get on with it!

Chrétien de Troyes, "Perceval, le Conte du Graal" (Ferdinand Leeke, 1912)

Chrétien de Troyes, “Perceval, le Conte du Graal” (Ferdinand Leeke, 1912)

(10) the Goliardic poetry, chansons de geste, troubadour culture, medieval romances, and rise of a “chivalric ethic” in southern France of the 12th-13th centuries (e.g., Eleanor of Aquitaine’s court, etc.)  If writers familiarize themselves with some of the literary sources that remain from the High Middle Ages, they’ll find wellsprings of inspiration that could contribute to many original & new tales:

Troubadours & the Archpoet

Troubadours & the Archpoet

GOLIARDIC POETRY:  Part of a great burst of Latin creativity that occurred in northern Europe (France & England) with the transformation from cathedral schools to what we know as universities, “Goliardic poetry” was one of the first forms that really got popularized among faculty and students.  The term “Goliardic” comes from the word “Goliath” in the Old Testament, but which also was a word for the Devil/Satan in the Early Middle Ages.  This type of poetry included a variety of topics that any fantasist worth his or her weight in salt could include in their stories:  drinking songs, love songs, nature songs, songs on the joys of youth, and even “protest literature” against the Church!

"The Death of Roland" (from the Chanson de Geste, The Song of Roland; art from 15th c. ms)

“The Death of Roland” (from the Chanson de Geste, The Song of Roland; art from 15th c. ms)

THE CHANSON DE GESTE:  This medieval form called the “heroic epic” began in the 11th Century with epic works such as The Song of Roland, The Song of William, etc.  Really began with The Song of Roland’s tale of the Frankish Emperor, Charlemagne, and his rearguard’s battle against the Basques at Roncesvalles in 778; the imagination of the troubadours transformed this minor setback into a major event in the ongoing war against Islam. In the tale, Roland doesn’t sound the horn because of his dignity, but by the time he does decide to sound it, the deaths of everyone involved are ensured…

(Relatively) Unrequited Love: Lancelot & Guinevere (E.B. Leighton)

(Relatively) Unrequited Love: Lancelot & Guinevere (E.B. Leighton)

TROUBADOUR LYRIC POETRY: In 12th/13th c. southern France (Provence, Toulouse, and Aquitaine), many traveling minstrels were patronized by nobility (William IX of Aquitaine, his granddaughter, Eleanor, et al) who wanted to hear songs about the following themes:  idealization of women, male gallantry & courtesy, undying devotion, agonized & unrequited love, etc.   Influence was widespread and influenced many forms of writing in the high and late medieval period.

Tristan & Isolde (Edmund Leighton, d. 1922)

Tristan & Isolde (Edmund Leighton, d. 1922)

COURTLY ROMANCE: The troubadour tradition began to have effects outside  of France, & we see the rise in northern Fr., Germany, and England of “courtly manners,” urbane speech, and romantic ideals start to appear in other literatures (in England, the expansion of the King Arthur legend under Geoffrey of Monmouth; in France, the work of Chretien de Troyes in Tristan & Iseult, and Lancelot and Guinivere, etc.). The most common theme for the writers of courtly romance was a casting back to some remote, almost utopian and idealized past (Trojans against the Greeks, Arthur and early Britons vs. the Romans, etc.).  Writers such as Chretien de Troyes transformed these pasts into a romantic present, with romantic love, chivalric quests, and dutiful religious sensibilities as the central themes (e.g., Christian purity, loyalty to one’s lord, etc.)!

Medieval Courtly Romance- St. George & the Dragon (Art by John Howe)

Medieval Courtly Romance- St. George & the Dragon (Art by John Howe)

Again, I’m not suggesting that epic-fantasy writers use these sources whole-cloth in their works, but becoming familiar with them & including aspects might make for a dynamic story that at least “rings true” with the reader and will provide material for weaving much more original content than I’m currently seeing in too many fantasy works that claim the title of “epic fantasy” without bothering to do the legwork in researching the period that made the genre so fascinating in the first place!

Next Time: Carlisle’s Redefining of Epic Fantasy continues with more mining of medieval sources…

 

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