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Elf Queens and Holy Friars: Fairy Beliefs and the Medieval Church

– tekijä: Richard Firth Green

JäseniäKirja-arvostelujaSuosituimmuussijaKeskimääräinen arvioKeskustelut
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In Elf Queens and Holy Friars Richard Firth Green investigates an important aspect of medieval culture that has been largely ignored by modern literary scholarship: the omnipresent belief in fairyland. Taking as his starting point the assumption that the major cultural gulf in the Middle Ages was less between the wealthy and the poor than between the learned and the lay, Green explores the church's systematic demonization of fairies and infernalization of fairyland. He argues that when medieval preachers inveighed against the demons that they portrayed as threatening their flocks, they were in reality often waging war against fairy beliefs. The recognition that medieval demonology, and indeed pastoral theology, were packed with coded references to popular lore opens up a whole new avenue for the investigation of medieval vernacular culture. Elf Queens and Holy Friars offers a detailed account of the church's attempts to suppress or redirect belief in such things as fairy lovers, changelings, and alternative versions of the afterlife. That the church took these fairy beliefs so seriously suggests that they were ideologically loaded, and this fact makes a huge difference in the way we read medieval romance, the literary genre that treats them most explicitly. The war on fairy beliefs increased in intensity toward the end of the Middle Ages, becoming finally a significant factor in the witch-hunting of the Renaissance.… (lisätietoja)
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This is easily the best book I have seen on its rather specialized subject since the chapter "The Longaevi" in C.S. Lewis's The Discarded Image. The subject is the attitudes of medieval people towards the fairies or elves, by and large not cute little winged Tinkerbells (though that concept did exist) but much more often human-sized beings distinguished from humans by being very long-lived, if not immortal, and possessing magical powers, and often living in a land of fairie abounding the fruits, flowers, palaces and castles, though also often including terrible dangers.
Most were also extremely attractive and were reputed to make full use of that attraction in having sex with humans. Green endeavors to apply a modern "theoretical" gloss to his subject by appealing to Gramsci and others in making the case that the tales of human interactions with these beings often represented a resistance by the "little tradition" of the common people against the "great tradition" of the learned elite, which generally classes these beings as demons and condemned interaction with them --ultimately contributing to the witch hunts of the early modern era. On the whole, I find this theoretical framework not entirely convincing. There is no doubt that there were learned writers who condemned fairies as demons, but there were also plenty of writers for the secular elite, and even some churchmen, who were prepared to regard them as more harmless. This seems to have been true from Walter Map through Chaucer down to Shakespeare, in short all through the period, as Green's own examples demonstrate. For me, the delight in this book is not in its debatable argument but simply in enjoying the vast range of tales about the fairies collected here, mostly fictional but including a certain number of allegedly true accounts. ( )
  antiquary | Jun 8, 2017 |
This book has much to say to scholars of English, Latin and other European literatures as well as historians of religion and ideas, and is written with beautiful clarity. It is engaging and fun, communicating a strong sense of enjoyment of the textual treasures Green has assembled. Other readers will find their own favourites, but by way of an encouragement to buy this book or order it for your library, I must direct you to my own, on page 112. There, you will learn what protective magic you might achieve by putting a baby into a sieve with its father's underwear.
 

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In Elf Queens and Holy Friars Richard Firth Green investigates an important aspect of medieval culture that has been largely ignored by modern literary scholarship: the omnipresent belief in fairyland. Taking as his starting point the assumption that the major cultural gulf in the Middle Ages was less between the wealthy and the poor than between the learned and the lay, Green explores the church's systematic demonization of fairies and infernalization of fairyland. He argues that when medieval preachers inveighed against the demons that they portrayed as threatening their flocks, they were in reality often waging war against fairy beliefs. The recognition that medieval demonology, and indeed pastoral theology, were packed with coded references to popular lore opens up a whole new avenue for the investigation of medieval vernacular culture. Elf Queens and Holy Friars offers a detailed account of the church's attempts to suppress or redirect belief in such things as fairy lovers, changelings, and alternative versions of the afterlife. That the church took these fairy beliefs so seriously suggests that they were ideologically loaded, and this fact makes a huge difference in the way we read medieval romance, the literary genre that treats them most explicitly. The war on fairy beliefs increased in intensity toward the end of the Middle Ages, becoming finally a significant factor in the witch-hunting of the Renaissance.

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