Australian Popular Medievalism explores medievalism in contemporary adult popular fiction by means of a dataset of annotated bibliographical records for novels published between 1995 and 2010, rating the directness and penetration of medieval ideas and images.
In 1995, HarperCollins launched their fantasy imprint Voyager and published Sara Douglass's first novel Battleaxe. Because fantasy fiction accounts for more than half of this research, I felt this text was an appropriate 'ground zero' for the project, while also fulfilling a goal for the popular fiction tagged to be 'recent'.
The choice was made, very early in the study, to limit the form to novels. This decision was partly practical: to track down hundreds of short stories would be time-consuming and, as short stories exist mostly in small-press, low print-run collections, the law of diminishing returns applied. The novel is the mainstay of the popular fiction market.
The other choice made was to limit the study to adult novels. Again, part of this decision was practical. The volume of children's books published every year was prohibitive, and it would have meant tracking down picture books for preschoolers, school readers, any book about fairies or fairy tales, and so on. A side-effect of this choice became the lack of coverage of young adult fiction, in particular some very interesting writers working with medieval ideas such as Alison Croggon, Garth Nix, Isobelle Carmody, and Catherine Jinks whose Pagan Chronicles are set during the Crusades. In this regard, the project is not as comprehensive as it might have been. This presents just one avenue for future research within the subset.
Australian Popular Medievalism does not include works of literary fiction. It is designed for the researcher who may know little or nothing about Australian popular fiction.
Dr Kim Wilkins
Fantasy fiction, the most evident forum for medieval images and ideas, seemed the most logical starting point. Subsequently, the project moved its focus to historical fiction, then worked through the other genres including thriller, science fiction, and romance until we were seeing the same titles appearing repeatedly and decided we had reached saturation point.
Medievalist texts were identified and rated by the interrogation:
— Were the representations of the medieval direct (as they are in historical fiction) or indirect (as they are in, say, fantasy fiction)?
— Was the penetration of medieval ideas (called 'importance' in the subset) high, medium, or low?
A medievalist fantasy novel like Kate Forsyth's The Tower of Ravens (2004) for example, would receive a rating of 'high indirect' (HI). That is, the penetration of ideas is high (e.g. castles, towers, medieval dress) but the representation was indirect, indicating here that the setting was imaginary. A thriller such as Nathan Burrage's Fivefold, would receive a rating of 'low direct' (LD) because, while largely set in contemporary times, it features a frame narrative set in 14th century Yorkshire.
These ratings are, to an extent, arbitrary on several counts – does a romance novel with a hero surnamed Knight and many puns about rescue qualify as 'low indirect', or not belong on the subset at all?
Work will continue over the coming years to keep the research up to date and respond to input from scholars and writers.
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