Otherworlds: Fantasy and History in Medieval Literature

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9780198746003: Otherworlds: Fantasy and History in Medieval Literature

This book offers a new perspective on the "otherworlds" of medieval literature. These fantastical realms are among the most memorable places in medieval writing, by turns beautiful and monstrous, alluring and terrifying. Passing over a river or sea, or entering into a hollow hill, heroes come upon strange and magical realms. These places are often very beautiful, filled with sweet music, and adorned with precious stones and rich materials. There is often no darkness, time may pass at a different pace, and the people who dwell there are usually supernatural. Sometimes such a place is exactly what it appears to be--the land of heart's desire--but, the otherworld can also have a sinister side, trapping humans and keeping them there against their will.

Otherworlds: Fantasy and History in Medieval Literature takes a fresh look at how medieval writers understood these places and why they found them so compelling. It focuses on texts from England, but places this material in the broader context of literary production in medieval Britain and Ireland. The narratives examined in this book tell a rather surprising story about medieval notions of these fantastical places. Otherworlds are actually a lot less "other" than they might initially seem. Authors often use the idea of the otherworld to comment on very serious topics. It is not unusual for otherworld depictions to address political issues in the historical world. Most intriguing of all are those texts where locations in the real world are re-imagined as otherworlds. The regions on which this book focuses, Britain, Ireland, and the surrounding islands, prove particularly susceptible to this characterization.

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About the Author:

Aisling Byrne studied at University College Dublin and St. John's College, Cambridge. She has published on the transmission and translation of romance, on writers such as Gerald of Wales and Thomas Malory, and on themes such as marvels, feasting, chivalry, and territorial politics.


"This is an admirable book, readable, interesting, and impressively extensive in its range of references across a large swathe of medieval English, French, Irish, and Latin romance and history. Taking on the complex idea of "otherworld," it conclusively demonstrates that there
are as many otherworlds as there are texts, each one referring intertextually to others and to key influences such as the Bible. By a process of close comparison and analysis, the book demonstrates the significance of romance otherworlds as avatars of the "real world" and its driving concerns. For scholars of medieval romance, this is an important book that will need to be read and assimilated before any further discussion of the supernatural otherworld can be attempted." --Helen Fulton, Studies in the Age of Chaucer

"Since Howard Rollins Patch published The Other World (1950), no booklength analysis has emerged on the topic. Byrne admirably fills this scholarly void. Elegantly written, smoothly argued and highly informative, Otherworlds is the first book that anyone who wishes to learn about medieval otherworlds should read." --Kathy Lavezzo, Modern Philology

"Aisling Byrne's fine study of medieval Otherworlds takes our engagement with the concept of the archipelagic in new and exciting directions." --Robert Rouse, postmedieval

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