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An Author’s Journey: What is Literary Epic Fantasy? (4) The Sources: #14-15 (Arthurian Legends, 17th & 18th Century Literary Uses of Middle Ages)

3.12.14 An Author’s Journey: Some Inspirations & Influences, Part 4.9: What is Literary Epic Fantasy?  (4) The Sources: #14-15 (Arthurian Legends, 17th & 18th Century Literary Uses of Middle Ages)

A.J. Carlisle's Inspiration for Epic Fantasy: Sources based in Medieval Myths & Legends (The Sword in the Stone)

A.J. Carlisle’s Inspiration for Epic Fantasy: Sources based in Medieval Myths & Legends (Talismans: “The Sword in the Stone”)

Good Afternoon, Everybody!

We’re finally at #14-15 of the Medieval Sources that an epic fantasist should feel free to draw upon in crafting a compelling, original tale:

(14) the medieval themes that informed the Arthurian legends and which were codified into Western Canon by later fantasy writers; themes of

  • Carbonek, Castle of the Fisher King & the Holy Grail (Alan Lee)

    Carbonek, Castle of the Fisher King & the Holy Grail (Alan Lee)

    monarchial rule & use/abuse of authority & power (patriarchal & matriarchal)

  • martial prowess & territorial conquest (fights, tournaments, and warfare)
  • emotions of love & hate (courtly romance & Mordred)
  • romance, with attention to faithfulness & adultery (betrayal) (Lancelot & Guinevere)
  • utopian society (Camelot)
  • supernatural talismans & fantastic creatures (Excalibur, dragons, faeries)
  • chivalric ideals (Knights of the Round Table)
  • the medieval quest (the Holy Grail)
  • magic & supernatural (Merlin, Morgan le Fey)
  • the inevitability of Destiny (Sword in the Stone begins the story, Cad Camlan & Mordred end it)
  • the medieval Celtic/Welsh “Otherworld” (Avalon, Annen Verden)
Arthur's Camelot (Alan Lee)

Arthur’s Camelot (Alan Lee)

Spenser's The Faerie Queen (art by Walter Crane)

Spenser’s The Faerie Queene (art by Walter Crane)

(15) the works of “traditional literary” 17th and 18th century playwrights, poets, and authors who used the Middle Ages so effectively for their creation of fantastic Otherworlds that their works’ imagery became part of western society’s reference for “fantasy” (Shakespeare‘s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Edmund Spenser‘s The Faerie Queene, John Milton‘s Paradise Lost, etc.).

Land of Arthurian Legends (Sunrise in Wales)

Land of Arthurian Legends (Sunrise in Wales)

Le Morte d'Arthur — The Battle of Cad Camlan, Arthur vs. Mordred (art by Arthur Rackham)

Le Morte d’Arthur — The Battle of Cad Camlan, Arthur vs. Mordred (art by Arthur Rackham)

Now, while allowing for the absence of Australia & Oceania, North & South America in this suggested redefining of terrains and peoples, I think that this kind of approach to epic fantasy at least remains true to the period that Tolkien created for the genre in medieval Europe & the Mediterranean Basin (500-1500 A.D.)  and introduces a completely changed landscape for storytelling within the genre.

That’s the best kind of “reboot,” isn’t it?  Keep the essentials of what made epic fantasy great in the 20th Century, but lend it an infusion of new vitality that will keep the form relevant as we make our way into the 21st.

Shakespeare's A Midsummer's Night Dream, "The Meeting of Oberon & Titania" (Arthur Rackham, 1905)

Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream, “The Meeting of Oberon & Titania” (Arthur Rackham, 1905)

So, we’ve got scope & setting, sources…what am I missing?  Oh, right.  Characters.

Next Time:  Carlisle’s Definition of Literary Epic Fantasy continues — Universalizing Characters on All Fronts!

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