- Why an Issue on “The Medieval in Children’s Literature”?
As Clare Bradford notes in The Middle Ages in Children’s Literature, “the medieval is indeed everywhere” (1). This has certainly been my experience, for when I was in graduate school, I drove some of my professors up the figurative wall with my constant search for any signs of the medieval, no matter the genre or chronological period. More recently, when I taught an honors undergraduate seminar on the topic of “Medievalism in Children’s Literature,” well before the end of the semester, my students, too, were finding traces of the medieval everywhere, and not just in the assigned readings. One student was astounded to discover that many of the superstitions of her childhood had origins in the medieval period, and another student began to find elements of medieval architecture in the modern buildings that she passed nearly every day. Although my students perhaps noticed them for the first time, these traces of the medieval were certainly not the first they encountered. As Bradford notes, many children are exposed to the medieval early in life “through cartoons, picture books, artefacts and practices ranging from fairy-themed parties to Shrek” (Bradford 2). Part of the allure of the medieval, as Tison Pugh and Angela Jane Weisl note in Medievalisms: Making the Past in the Present, is its magic: “It continues to enthrall for its pageantry and its manners, for its ideals of courtly love and chivalry, for its literary and artistic accomplishments” (1). Maria Sachiko Cecire echoes this idea, adding that the magic of the medieval is “the power of ‘little things’ to re-enchant modern life” (5).
This special issue is devoted to exploring the medieval in children’s literature, but it is not looking for instances of literature written during the medieval period specifically for children. Rather, the essays in this issue focus on medievalism, a scholarly field which, as Pugh and Weisl note, “refers to the art, literature, scholarship, avocational pastimes, and sundry forms of entertainment and culture that turn to the Middle Ages for their subject matter or inspiration, and in doing so, explicitly or implicitly, by comparison or by [End Page 301] contrast, comment on the artist’s contemporary sociocultural milieu” (1). In other words, these five essays explore late-twentieth- and twenty-first-century creations which invoke the medieval in some way and for which the primary audiences consist of children and young adults.
Because medievalism as a field can be difficult to define, let me take a moment to clarify what it is not. First, medievalist texts do not set out to teach about the Middle Ages.1 While the five contributors to this issue will address a variety of aspects associated with the European Middle Ages—such as castles and King Arthur—their goal is not to educate about actual medieval history or culture. Rather, as Bradford notes, “medievalist texts, whether fantasy, non-fiction or fiction, are not ‘about’ the Middle Ages so much as ‘about’ the cultures and times in which they are produced” (2). That is, when we examine medievalist texts, despite their frequent settings in distant lands filled with castles, knights, and damsels in distress, we are typically not looking for evidence of historical authenticity. Closely related to this notion of medievalist texts as authentic reproductions is the idea of the source hunt. There is value in tracing an author’s influences back to specific medieval texts, but while the authors in this issue will reference texts created during the medieval period, their primary goal is to place the medieval into conversation with the modern. Each author is more interested in viewing the medievalist text as a mirror for modern society. When we look past the medieval trappings, we find embedded within these modern narratives insights into our own contemporary society.
At first glance, the first essay in this issue seems to offer what Bradford describes as “continuist understandings of the Middle Ages” in which the commonalities and connections between past and present are highlighted (41). Carol Jamison, in “Blood Ties, Blood Sacrifice, and the Blood Feud in Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur and...