- Neomedievalism in the Media: Essays on Film, Television and Electronic Games by Carol L. Robinson and Pamela Clements, eds
This edited volume was produced in association with the Medieval Electronic Multimedia Organization (MEMO), a body that was founded in 2002 at the International Congress on Medieval Studies at Western Michigan University. Carol L. Robinson’s Introduction ruminates upon the meanings [End Page 313] of medievalism and divides the phenomenon into ‘modernist medievalism’ (describing fictions that explicitly juxtapose the stresses of modern life with the simpler mode of life in the Middle Ages), ‘postmodernist medievalism’ (describing fictions that are fragmentary and attempt fidelity to medieval rather than modern values), and ‘neomedievalism’ (covering narratives that feature the medieval and ‘purport to merge (or even replace) reality as much as possible’) (p. 7).
In addition to Robinson’s Introduction, the book contains fifteen essays, a Preface by Richard Utz, and an Epilogue by Terry Jones (the medievalist and member of the Monty Python comedy team). Although the studies are all interesting to some degree, the audience at which this book is aimed remains shadowy. This review considers a small selection of the essays, covering a range of popular cultural media.
‘The Use of Nature: Representing Religion in Medieval Film’ by Christopher Roman examines three films – Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, Franco Zeffirelli’s Brother Sun, Sister Moon, and the less well-known Anchoress, directed by Chris Newby – based on the life of the historical anchoress Christine Carpenter, who was walled into a church in Surrey in 1329. Roman’s conclusion is that the ‘heroes of each film are Othered by the institutions of the Church’ (p. 77), which is important, as neo-medievalism invokes the medieval aesthetic while maintaining the expectations of individualistic modernity.
Jennifer de Winter’s ‘Neomedieval Anime and Japanese Essence’ is significant as it engages with the idea that the term ‘medieval’ is applicable in cultures other than European. De Winter’s argument is that Japanese anime artists favour European and Chinese medieval settings. She asserts that this is because ‘the medieval on those two continents existed in an idealized time: Europe with chivalry, kingdoms, and romance, and China with a high court culture that was linked to military and social power in a way quite different from Japan’s’ (p. 94).
Several essays deal with neo-medievalism in the context of television, and the new research area of online communities and computer games is also discussed. Lauryn Mayer’s ‘The New Scriptoria: Neomedievalism and Online Communities’ examines two communities, The Frilond Campaign and The Dragon’s Inn, both collaborative text-based communities that generate neomedieval narratives. Clay Kinchen Smith’s ‘The Name of the Game: Misuses of Neomedievalism in Computerized Role-Playing Games’ investigates games such as Maple Story, Everquest, and World of Warcraft, with an eye to the replication of negative stereotypes of race and class (themes that are also central to KellyAnn Fitzpatrick’s article on the game Magic Online). [End Page 314]
The range of popular cultural forms investigated in this volume is extensive, and some of the scholarship is very good. The presentation of the text, however, is old fashioned and amateurish, with occasional incorrect hyphenation and other infelicities that are probably indications of a lack of professional production editing. This collection is nevertheless recommended to all who are interested in the intersections between medieval and current popular culture, particularly those scholars and students working on computer games and online environments, chiefly because there is very little scholarship on those topics and the essays in Neomedievalism in the Media are respectable contributions to an emergent field.