Empire of Magic: Medieval Romance and the Politics of Cultural Fantasy

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Geraldine Heng

Synopsis Empire of Magic offers a genesis and genealogy for medieval romance and the King Arthur legend through the history of Europe's encounters with the East in crusades, travel, missionizing, and empire formation. Jackson University of Nebraska Press, Read preview Overview. Ramsey Indiana University Press, Barron University of Wales Press, Published by Cambridge University Press. Format: Paperback. There is little disputing that "romances" of all kinds are born from clash of cultures and are shaped by political and social agendas of the day.

The question is how different, or if at all, the medieval European romances were compared to their counterparts in Sassanid Persia, Abbasid Arabia, or Medieval China from Tang to early Ming, or for that matter, the ancient eras of many civilizations. I'm hardly an expert on comparative mythologies and romances, but even I've come across enough romances from these cultures to be aware that many of the themes Heng raises are in fact far older and far more universal: the same themes, if only in slightly different guises, show up everywhere.


They are hardly a European thing. I suspect that many authors who assert such claims do so because they lack familiarity with other cultures and their stories, and when they see linkage between the stories that they know--invariably the Western ones--and flaws of the modern West, assume fallaciously that the two are uniquely linked.

This is a peculiar version of Eurcentrism that that a cynical historian of early modern history well-known for his biting humor joked about: Westerners think the West is uniquely evil because they are familiar only with the follies of the West.

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The more things change The title probably should have been "Twisted Anglocentrism," rather than Eurocentrism at large. Garden variety academic nonsense. Take a few texts and shove them through the deconstructive meat grinder so you get the entirely predictable conclusions you want. In this case: medieval romance is an ideological disguise for Europe's guilt over its invasion and conquest of the Middle East.

How do we know this? Because there are some accounts of the First Crusade that depict cannibalism, and later in Geoffrey of Monmouth's history there is a chapter in which King Arthur fights a giant that eats people. If you find this persuasive, and you like all the usual academic affectations that make the prose miserable to wade through, you'll like this book. There are so many studies of medieval romance that are far, far better. One person found this helpful. If you have any interest whatsoever in Medieval Romance then this is a book for you. Whether your interests are historical, cultural, or structural this book has a theory to match.

I will caution this book has little to do with Chaucer or other prototypical Medieval standards, but that is precisely why I found the read so refreshing.

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In this book you will find a stunning and coherent analysis of five different Romances teachers too often place on the additional course reading lists, if at all, and it is exactly this newness of study that I must encourage you to delve into. Empire of Magic explores these texts with the passion of a true enthusiast, and it works through the pieces with the thoroughness of a learned, careful mind. The analysis builds a multitude of spiraling theories and possibilities ranging from mental warfare cannibalism to the impact cannibalism could've made on race relations to how race relations might have influenced the writer to dream up acts of cannibalism to write about.

BUT hey! If cannibalism doesn't do it for you then you might enjoy a different analysis of King Richard the Lion Heart and cannibal in some romances And why did his contemporaries like him so much despite the almost ruin of the country because of his constant warring?

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My favorite section takes a careful look at Mandeville Travels, and the question is raised as to whether Sir John actually ever traveled any further than his local library. Again, I encourage you to read the book to find out. Not just the mental currency that colleges everywhere are getting by on by charging high prices, but the currency of being current despite the book being about Medieval texts.


The issues addressed in this book are issues that we face today in society all around us, and the theories this book offers about Medieval societies and their symbiotic relationships to their texts of information and entertainment line up to our society with chilling resonances. This book, with careful research, inspiration, and study, makes these Medieval romances as relevant and debatable as the movie coming out this Friday, and you, with an easy click of a button, can bring it all to your place of residence, which I highly recommend.

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