I used to be a medievalist, but now I’m a fantasist. Try saying that next time someone you don’t want to talk to at a party traps you in a corner. If they give you a look of blank incomprehension you can escape in the confusion, but if not you can reassess your flight instinct.[i] The truth is that lots of medievalists are fantasists too – not that we all run around in chain-mail pretending to be Lord Jan of Unanderra or such-like – but lots of scholars of the Middle Ages are interested in fantastika as well, as readers, writers, and scholars. I heard Jeffrey Jerome Cohen speculate recently that people become medievalists because there are more jobs in it than in studying fantasy literature (and etc). Five years ago that might have been true, but as being ‘relevant’ becomes more and more important to universities – in research and teaching – it’s a trend that could well change. To rely completely on anecdotal evidence, like I said before, I used to be a medievalist and now I’m a fantasist. My PhD was about Middle English romance and postcolonialism,[ii] but 4 ½ years of working in every department from education to nursing later, I’ve just started a 3 year postdoc studying popular fantasy.
The project is called Imagining Diversity: Race and Ethnicity in Popular Fantasy and it’s a Discovery Early Career Researcher Award funded by the Australian Research Council. I’ll examine representations of race and ethnicity in fantasy literature, film, tv, and video-games, to explore the genre as a type of popular culture that reflects but also shapes Western social norms. Fantasy has long had a bad reputation - for outright racism at worst, and Eurocentricity at best. It’s easy to dismiss as uninteresting or undesirable on those grounds, but there is more going on. And even it is at times what might be termed monochrome, the nature of that single colour is worth thinking about, because lots of people like it, lots of people see it, read it, and play it, and we learn from our culture. This blog is part of my exploration of the ifs and whats and hows and whys. I’m hoping people will find it, and that if they do they will find something of interest, may be even of enough interest to comment – or that they’ll get in touch with me.
This blog isn’t just about the project itself though. It’s also about the experience of being an early career academic working in full time research in Australia. In the meantime, fantasy and medievalism actually aren’t so far apart of course; it’s often difficult to have the former without the latter. To illustrate, and since no blog is complete without a lolcat, here’s one that’s been tagged ‘viking,’ but has all kinds of fantasy layers as well.