“What do we do? Hop on a bus to medieval times?”:Medievalisms of Robin of Sherwood and Charmed

“What do we do? Hop on a bus to medieval times?”: Medievalisms of Robin of Sherwood and Charmed

Roderick McDonald

Neomedievalism in the Media: Essays on Film, Television and Electronic Games, 119-147 (2012)


Television, Narrative Structure and the Three Medievalist Narrative Styles The common appearance of medieval content on television reveals the ease with which the medieval can be used in a modern cultural context and the utility of medieval material to sustaining a contemporary world view. The uses of such material in fictional narratives are many and varied, and yet they all tend to share a popular notion of what it is to be ‘medieval’, a notion that commonly manifests as a simplistic reduction of what is understood as medieval in more academic circles. In this paper I analyse and compare elements of medievalism to be found in the narrative styles of the first season of the British ITV production Robin of Sherwood (1984-1989), and the first and fourth seasons of the Warner Brothers production Charmed (1998—2006). There are many elements in common across these two very different narratives, and these elements highlight the shared medievalism of television fiction, and the cultural expectations that accrue around medievalist narratives.


Robin of Sherwood ran for three seasons in the UK, the United States and Australia, during the 1980s. It provided an enhanced re-telling of the canon of popular Robin Hood stories in a frame that conflated ancient British and popular Celtic mytho- religious images into an aesthetic of fantasy and other-worldliness, while grounding the narrative in medieval England. In broad terms, it came from a period in television culture when realist modernism was fully established. It was a narrative that relied on the viewer’s tacit agreement to engage with it on its own terms, terms that were established by the production: the [120] unselfconscious2 role of the mystical in a mythic past ‘reality’ and the suspension of disbelief concerning the fact that the mystical and magical material was germane to the physical narrative development. An acceptance on the part of the viewer of the characters and their narrative roles necessarily brought with it an acceptance that the mystic aspects of the milieu were logical and realistic reflections of this distant mystic past.

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