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Mythology in the Middle Ages

Heroic Tales of Monsters, Magic, and Might

by Christopher R. Fee

 

The trappings of the Medieval Hero are woven from vibrant strands of mythology, folklore, and legend. Such Heroes speak to us in a language of adventure and wonder of the fears, burdens, and challenges we all encounter, and their glorious victories and valiant defeats still offer readers today words of hope and encouragement as we embark upon our own adventures. Archetypes endure over time, survive the demise of specific cultures, and indeed continue to flourish to the present day precisely because they tap into the dreams and nightmares shared by all humanity, the life-journey common to us all, and a more or less universal mode of human expression. The works of such authors as Tolkien, Rowling, and Riordan in many ways remain closer to this mother lode of storytelling than does most contemporary Western literature.

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Cover image for Mythology in the Middle Ages

January 2011

Praeger

Pages 281
Volumes 1
Size 6 1/8x9 1/4
Topics World History/Religion

Placing heroes from a wide range of medieval traditions shoulder to shoulder, this title provides the opportunity to examine what is common across medieval mythic, legendary, and folkloric traditions, as well as what seems unique.

Myths of gods, legends of battles, and folktales of magic abound in the heroic narratives of the Middle Ages. Mythology in the Middle Ages: Heroic Tales of Monsters, Magic, and Might describes how Medieval heroes were developed from a variety of source materials: Early pagan gods become euhemerized through a Christian lens, and an older epic heroic sensibility was exchanged for a Christian typological and figural representation of saints. Most startlingly, the faces of Christian martyrs were refracted through a heroic lens in the battles between Christian standard-bearers and their opponents, who were at times explicitly described in demonic terms.

The book treats readers to a fantastic adventure as author Christopher R. Fee guides them on the trail of some of the greatest heroes of medieval literature. Discussing the meanings of medieval mythology, legend, and folklore through a wide variety of fantastic episodes, themes, and motifs, the journey takes readers across centuries and through the mythic, legendary, and folkloric imaginations of different peoples. Coverage ranges from the Atlantic and Baltic coasts of Europe, south into the Holy Roman Empire, west through the Iberian peninsula, and into North Africa. From there, it is east to Byzantium, Russia, and even the far reaches of Persia.

Features

  • Each chapter begins with historical context, includes examination of key terms, and ends with suggestions for further reading
  • A chronology and bibliography are also included

Highlights

  • Collects and compares heroic narratives from across medieval Europe, North Africa, and the Near East
  • Shows how medieval heroes were developed from a variety of source materials, some mythic, others legendary or folkloric
  • Examines medieval concepts concerning the nature of divine will and justice and how the mandates and judgments of God might be rendered discernibly in the world of men
Author Info

Christopher R. Fee is Johnson Distinguished Teaching Professor in the Humanities at Gettysburg College, Gettysburg, PA. Fee earned his doctorate in English language at the University of Glasgow. He is the author of Gods, Heroes & Kings: The Battle for Mythic Britain.

Reviews/Endorsements

Reviews

""Christopher Fee intends the multicultural juxtaposition of medieval heroes to convey a sense of narrative continuity across civilizations and common cultural ancestry. Explicitly claiming its intended audience to be ' nonspecialists ' , the book advances trends towards globalization and internationalism by broadening the popular understanding of ' medieval' to include non-Western European societies. As a reference book, it might be compared to a modernized Bullfinch’s Mythology—one with twenty-first-century values and an updated bibliography. Fee’s enthusiasm for the material is contagious, and the summaries of medieval tales make for entertaining reading. This book will most likely inspire readers who are new to medieval studies to seek out the primary-source material and read it more closely. "—Speculum, A Journal of Medieval Studies

"This work will be a useful entrée to this genre, particularly for the lesser-known tales from the Islamic (e.g., Persian, Turkish, and Arabian) world. Summing up: recommended."—Choice

"Each exciting and moving hero tale comes through effectively and pointedly without excess or skimping. . . . [I]f you teach or just enjoy hero tales, get a copy of Professor Fee’s book for your library and perhaps one for yourself as well: you will be glad to have it, and you will go back to it for ideas for teaching, additional readings, and class discussions."—Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Teaching (SMART)

Endorsements

"Professor Fee has written what is quite simply the definitive work on medieval mythology. The work is more comprehensive than any book that has preceded it. Fee has included not only the European myths--such as those of the Celtic, Norse and Iberian peoples--but myths of the Byzantine, Russian, and Muslim worlds as well. In so doing he has brilliantly revealed the parallel paths taken in humanity's cultural dreams and has expanded our understanding of the universality of those dreams and of the concept of myth itself."—David A. Leeming, Emeritus Professor of English and Comparative Literature, University of Connecticut, Storrs, and author of The Oxford Companion to World Mythology

"Christopher Fee leads the reader into the enchanting world of medieval myth and storytelling in a fascinating manner, subtly balancing a well-written narrative and scholarly knowledge with the overall context of the great variety of heroic myths of Indo-European origin. Stretching from the Old Norse tradition to those of Ireland and Wales, Russia, Spain, and the Middle East, and extending ultimately to that of ancient Persia, the book presents a wonderful survey of overall similarities and themes--such as monster-slaying and fatal duels between father and son--while also paying full respect to the great variety represented by these tales. Fee's method of guiding us through this enormous range by means of the use of common waypoints both enhances our understanding of the constant struggle of locating humans in a diverse and changing world and invites modern readers on a journey through the medieval world."—Viðar Hreinsson, Chairman of the Board of the Reykjavik Academy and Founder of the Svartárkot Centre; Editor of The Complete Sagas of Icelanders, Including 49 Tales. (Reykjavi´k: Leifur Eiri´ksson Pub, 1997.)

"This is an extremely useful introduction to comparative mythology, designed for the high school and college classroom. At every level, from the engaging prose style to the helpful further reading, Fee has kept students in mind."—Stephen J. Harris, Associate Professor of English, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and author of Race and Ethnicity in Anglo-Saxon Literature (Routledge, 2003), and Misconceptions about the Middle Ages (Routledge, 2008).

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