Fantastic Creatures

of the Middle Ages: An Introduction

Once upon a time I thought it was a good idea to build up a book gradually from the lectures I have been giving, to audiences of science fiction and fantasy fans. There have been three so far: “Medieval Angels”, at Mancunicon (Eastercon in Manchester, 2016), “Medieval Dragons” at Worldcon 75 in Helsinki, August 2017, and “Medieval Unicorns”, which I gave at Follycon (Eastercon in Harrogate, 2018). But if I wait until I have a book’s worth, it will probably never happen. So here they will be, linked from this page: the first three lectures in the series. These will not be the texts exactly as I gave them, as I did not have a text: I just spoke to slides. In place of the slides there are in most cases links to items on the web, and there will be more about the ways in which the medieval traditions surrounding these fantastic creatures have been adopted and adapted by modern writers of fantasy. And each one will end with an annotated list of those modern fantasy stories that deal with these fantastic creatures.

A warning: these will not be stable pages: they will be edited, expanded, updated, amended, as I see fit.

A word about my purpose. I have interests in medieval studies (that was my career, up to  retirement and beyond) and in fantasy (that was what got me into medieval studies, in the first place, in that reading The Lord of the Rings in the early 1960s was what kindled my interest in the Middle Ages). And I have long had an interest in the medieval roots of modern fantasy, and the ways in which modern fantasy writers draw on and embellish medieval traditions. It is no accident that two of the founders of modern fantasy, J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis, were both professional medievalists, and that a number of other fantasy writers had training in some aspect of medieval studies. (Both Susan Cooper and Diana Wynne Jones, indeed, were taught by Tolkien.) So these pages will be a study of one aspect of the medieval roots of fantasy, and of the ways that modern fantasy writers have developed medieval tropes. The intended audience is not medievalists, but readers of fantasy: a far larger group!

I am not sure where to go for my next talk, after unicorns. Do I go with another animal, like the phoenix, or do I start looking at one of the other races: elves, fairies, dwarfs, giants, were-people? Whatever I decide, I shall announce it here!