The Fantasy of the Middle Ages

An Epic Journey through Imaginary Medieval Worlds

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Pub Date 19 Jul 2022 | Archive Date 18 Oct 2022
Getty Publications, J. Paul Getty Museum

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This abundantly illustrated book is an illuminating exploration of the impact of medieval imagery on three hundred years of visual culture.
From the soaring castles of Sleeping Beauty to the bloody battles of Game of Thrones, from Middle-earth in The Lord of the Rings to mythical beasts in Dungeons & Dragons, and from Medieval Times to the Renaissance Faire, the Middle Ages have inspired artists, playwrights, filmmakers, gamers, and writers for centuries. Indeed, no other historical era has captured the imaginations of so many creators.

This volume aims to uncover the many reasons why the Middle Ages have proven so flexible—and applicable—to a variety of modern moments from the eighteenth through the twenty-first century. These “medieval” worlds are often the perfect ground for exploring contemporary cultural concerns and anxieties, saying much more about the time and place in which they were created than they do about the actual conditions of the medieval period. With over 140 color illustrations, from sources ranging from thirteenth-century illuminated manuscripts to contemporary films and video games, and a preface by Game of Thrones costume designer Michele Clapton, The Fantasy of the Middle Ages will surprise and delight both enthusiasts and scholars.

This abundantly illustrated book is an illuminating exploration of the impact of medieval imagery on three hundred years of visual culture.
From the soaring castles of Sleeping Beauty to the bloody...

Advance Praise

“A fascination on every page. This bright and bold exploration of medievalism is not just a collection of stories told and reimagined in every new age, but a rich tapestry in its own right. Inclusive, illuminating, and filled with insight.”

—A. R. Capetta & Cory McCarthy, authors of the bestselling Once & Future series

 "Whether you're a storyteller looking for inspiration, an art historian, or simply a lover of beautiful things paying homage to other beautiful things, Fantasy of the Middle Ages is a lush and thoughtful exploration of why this period continues to affect our art today in both obvious and surprising ways.”

—Kiersten White, New York Times bestselling author of the Camelot Rising Trilogy

“With wit and verve, The Fantasy of the Middle Ages explores the perennial popularity of the medieval world in the modern imagination from Tolkien to Game of Thrones. Grollemond and Keene convincingly demonstrate how storytellers of all kinds utilize the rich imagery of the Middle Ages to create an alternative fantasy space, almost a playground, where their own contemporary fears and anxieties can be more safely probed, and paradigms subverted. From the Pre-Raphaelites to Nintendo’s Legend of Zelda, we remain enamored with our own fantasy medieval worlds and the consequences of this infatuation continue to remake and reshape the material culture of the twenty-first century.”

—Kristina Pérez, author of The Sweet Black Waves Trilogy

 “The fascination with magic and the Middle Ages has captured imaginations for generations, and ours is no different. Grollemond and Keene take us through the tropes and imagery that first built the fantasy of medieval times and follow it through to our own modern day retellings with vivid illustrations, thought-provoking commentary on the past and current social context, and careful deconstruction of what was truly historical and what has become legend. An intriguing read for anyone who has wondered at the origins of legends like Robin Hood, King Arthur and the Round Table, and the magic and myth of fairies, princesses, wizards, and kings.”

—Jenny Elder Moke, author of Hood 

“A lavishly illustrated book full of delights and surprises: King Arthur’s knights, talking animals, music, movies, maps, and Renaissance fairs all make an appearance, alongside insights into race, gender, and sexuality, both in the medieval past and today. The authors even offer glimpses of vast, premodern worlds beyond Europe and Christendom—in this book, your grandad's European Middle Ages is wholly remade by new ideas and new pleasures in how the past is recovered today.”

—Geraldine Heng, author of The Invention of Race in the European Middle Ages and The Global Middle Ages: An Introduction 

"This lively and engaging book highlights the key role that visual culture has played in constructing modern (mis)understandings of the so-called Middle Ages. Delightful images of everything from precious antiquities to contemporary film stills support the authors’ insightful analyses. Direct and nuanced engagement with issues around race, gender, sexuality, and other questions of diversity make The Fantasy of the Middle Ages essential reading for anyone curious about how we come to know the material cultures of the past as well as the present.”

—Maggie M. Williams, Executive Director, The Material Collective

“A fascination on every page. This bright and bold exploration of medievalism is not just a collection of stories told and reimagined in every new age, but a rich tapestry in its own right...

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ISBN 9781606067581
PRICE $29.95 (USD)

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Featured Reviews

I really enjoyed this book, especially as someone who has a degree in Medieval Studies! I really enjoyed the approach that this book took, with relating modern media to the middle ages, and with the 19th century gothic revival. It also goes over the influences that medieval history has on modern media, especially with shows like Game of Thrones, and movies like King Arthur by Guy Ritchie. This book covers important topics such as race, gender roles, and "media" of the medieval period as well. It was an enjoyable read and I found the images and their descriptions to be very helpful.

This book is an excellent choice for someone with no medieval background but is also advanced enough for someone with some background knowledge. I could easily see this book being the basis of a university course - it's definitely something I wish I had while studying!

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This book shows fantastic pictures from the middle ages and shows the parallels between modern stories and middle-aged tales and legends. A great read for the middle-age and fantasy enthusiast.

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The Fantasy of the Middle Ages by Larisa Grollemond and Bryan C Keene is a lavishly illustrated and very informative book.

This beautiful book looks at the period often called the Middle Ages and how it has been used and portrayed through history. This juxtaposition of what we now know of the period with the often inaccurate representations of it (sometimes for blatantly racist use) makes for fascinating reading. The authors also make a point of taking a more, though not comprehensive, global view of both the period and the later reimaginings.

Whether a reader is primarily interested in the pictures and artwork, the medieval history, or the popular culture history she will come away with a new appreciation for what really was as well as the creative ways in which ideas have morphed and come down to us in our present time.

Highly recommended for those interested in history as well as those interested in simply having a stunning book to display on their coffee table. It will certainly invite comments and conversation at your next get together.

Reviewed from a copy made available by the publisher via NetGalley.

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<i>The fantasy of the Middle Ages</i>: the title made my fantasy-loving brain click hell yes! And it did not disappoint!

This book talks about the history of fantasy in the middle ages. There are both examples from the middle ages compared to the fantasy that have been through the years after.

As a fan of Game of Thrones, I loved reading particularly about that. It was also interesting to read about other media of this time period.

I think this book would be a great book to have and look through every now and then. It can definitely be read from the first to last page, but also you can use it to read whatever chapter that interest you at the moment.

With illustrations, and thorough text, this book is a good read if you are interested in the subject such as fantasy, the middle ages, and history in general. It can be heavy if you are not that interested in the subject. Just a heads up. Other than that: happy reading!

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This book was so interesting! I loved seeing the art from the Middle Ages, but what was even more interesting was seeing how those times have been used and depicted in present day. I had never really made the connection between medieval times and present day fantasy, but it now seems so obvious! If you're either a history or a fantasy lover I think you'd really enjoy this one!

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