The Presence of the Past: A comparative analysis of medieval Arthurian romance and modern fantasy fiction
Terwisscha van Scheltinga, M.A.
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This thesis compares the role of the past in modern fantasy fiction and medieval Arthurian romance. Various scholars have pointed to the similarities between both genres, but, as far as I can tell, none of them has focused specifically on the way both genres treat the past. ‘The past’ refers in this respect to the past of the storyworld and of the characters. In a lot of fantasy novels, the past is very much 'alive', for instance through immortal characters, ancient curses or the presence of ghosts. The Arthurian story world is also full of reminders of the past, with tombstones waiting to be lifted, old customs which need to be broken or swords with an impressive history. The main question of this thesis is: To what extent does the role of the past in modern fantasy fiction resemble the way the past is used in medieval Arthurian romance? The question will be approached through three different themes: genealogy, prophecy and sources of the past. Context is provided by the examination of the respective medieval and modern concepts of the past, using primarily historiographical sources. Because of the great amount of texts in both genres, the decision has been made to take three representational works, one belonging to the Arthurian romance and the other two belonging to the genre of fantasy fiction. These works are the 'Lancelot-Grail' cycle for Arthurian romance, and as representatives of fantasy, 'The Lord of the Rings' by J.R.R. Tolkien and the 'Memory, Sorrow and Thorn' trilogy by Tad Williams.