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The Middle Ages as Fantasy

The Middle Ages as Fantasy

The following video is from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Seminars in Historical Methodology. This classroom discussion, led by Professor Anne McCants, was filmed in 2004 and deals with the topic “The Middle Ages as Fantasy.” It discusses the famous writers J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis and the influence of medievalism on their storytelling.

Topics covered in this video include:

  • Tolkien’s academic style is not all that dissimilar to his academic style.
  • Cantor’s assessment of the Narnia series.
  • Capitalism and Tolkien: Marxist school of thought in the ’70s said that Tolkien phenomenon was so popular and profitable, it must be a manifestation of capitalism.
  • How do you square Bynum with the Medieval sensibility of Lewis’s “Discarded Image” or Tolkien’s made up world?
  • Popular exposure to Medieval culture: do modern people “get” Medieval references?
  • Modern scientific models / beliefs vs. Medieval understanding of the universe.
  • Lewis’s characterization of the Medieval mindset.
  • Is Lewis inconsistent in his theory that theology is separate from the general cultural model? Modern science vs. religion.
  • Is Tolkien writing a story, or is he writing history? Is it more scholarly than a work of fiction?
  • Braudel: the impact of the German prisoner of war experience, a longing for something that was not modern (early modern), and a strong attachment to place. How is this similar to the Lord of the Rings series?
  • Why do many people believe that World War I had such an incredible cultural impact, compared with previous wars?
  • Was there anything heroic about World War I? What is the difference between a World War I hero and a Beowulf-style hero?
  • Heroism in the Lord of the Rings: who is the hero in the Lord of the Rings?
  • How are Tolkien’s and Lewis’s intense experiences with Christian theology reconciled in their writings?
  • Heroism and death: what happens after life? Where do Anglo-Saxon narratives fit in Tolkien’s world?
  • Tolkien’s world is masculinist and violent. What would Tolkien say? How do women affect peace in Beowulf?
  • Tolkien and the “Germanic Ideal”: ancestry, heritage, race, and World War II. Tolkien’s opinion of Hitler and his ideas. Tolkien vs. Braudel on these topics with respect to World War II as a “world gone mad.”

Click here to learn more about the course Seminar in Historical Methods

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