“Getting Medieval”: Medievalism in Contemporary Popular Culture
Jean-François Champollion National University Institute (“Champollion University”), Albi, France
25-26 November, 2016
Today’s “pop” culture is rich with allusions to the Middle Ages, not only in literature and visual arts – as it always has been in past centuries (e.g., the pre-Raphaelites or Twain’s Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, Tolkien’s Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, etc.) – but also in graphic novels and comics, on the big screen and the little one, not to mention the computer screens of electronic gamers as well as amusement parks, festivals and fairs.
But how much of what is presented in a medieval context – either as actual “remakes” of old accounts or simply loosely employing a medieval setting or theme – accurately reflects the Middle Ages, and to what extent do these medieval constructs change or distort the reality of the age? When changed, to what extent is the epoch romanticised as, for example, an idealized Camelot where “the rain may never fall till after sundown?” To what extent is it vilified, making the expression “to get medieval on [somebody]” suggest a horrific vengeance? How do these constructs inform our understanding of the Middle Ages, and how important is it (if at all) to be entirely accurate? Finally, to what extent do such alterations update the texts or tales, keeping them alive and evolving, and why is it a perennial favourite, replayed year after year, decade after decade, indeed, century after century?
This conference hopes to respond to some of these questions by opening a dialogue between various disciplines: literature, history, historical linguistics, visual arts, cinema, theatre, television, etc., in order to study the enduring popularity of medieval themes and the ways in which medieval tales and texts are transmitted, preserved, distorted, renewed and built upon in the creation of new, decidedly modern popular culture in Europe, North America and the world of the 21st century.
This conference hopes to explore ways in which medieval texts, tales and traditions are used (or abused!) and used to fashion entirely new works that ultimately form part of contemporary pop culture in its own right, not only in the modern age, but in ages past. It might also address ways in which authors from the Renaissance until now (e.g., Spenser, Shakespeare, Yeats, etc.) have contributed to our modern conception of the Middle Ages, both myth and reality.
Some aspects to consider might include the importance of accuracy in portrayals purportedly based on actual texts (such as the Vikings series, or various remakes of Beowulf), and to what extent is liberal treatment acceptable, even to be encouraged? To what extent is received wisdom, often quite dubious, employed in original works with a medieval feeling or theme, though not necessarily a medieval setting like Game of Thrones or Harry Potter?
In addition to the works listed above, the conference is open to any proposition addressing the use of medieval works or themes in any aspect of popular culture in any subsequent age, leading to its entrenched place in the pop culture of today – not only in fiction and art, but in any form of entertainment or representation. Finally, the value of both medieval literature and culture, as well as popular culture, and the interdependence of both, is to be explored.
Please send proposals of 100-250 words for 20-minute papers (in English or French) to firstname.lastname@example.org along with a brief CV before 31 July, 2016 for full consideration.