Magic and the Supernatural in Medieval English Romance

April 2010
312 pages
23.4x15.6 cm
Studies in Medieval Romance
ISBN: 9781843842217
Format: Hardback
Library eBook

Magic and the Supernatural in Medieval English Romance

Corinne Saunders

The themes of magic and the supernatural in medieval romance are here fully explored and put into the context of thinking at the time in this first full study of the subject.
The world of medieval romance is one in which magic and the supernatural are constantly present: in otherwordly encounters, in the strange adventures experienced by questing knights, in the experience of the uncanny, and in marvellous objects - rings, potions, amulets, and the celebrated green girdle in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. This study looks at a wide range of medieval English romance texts, including the works of Chaucer and Malory, from a broad cultural perspective, to show that while they employ magic in order to create exotic, escapist worlds, they are also grounded in a sense of possibility, and reflect a complex web of inherited and current ideas. The book opens with a survey of classical and biblical precedents, and of medieval attitudes to magic; subsequent chapters explore the ways that romances both reflect contemporary attitudes and ideas, and imaginatively transform them. In particular, the author explores the distinction between the `white magic' of healing and protection, and the more dangerous arts of `nigromancy', black magic. Also addressed is the wider supernatural, including the ways that ideas associated with human magic can be intensified and developed in depictions of otherworldly practitioners of magic. The ambiguous figures of the enchantress and the shapeshifter are a special focus, and the faery is contrasted with the Christian supernatural - miracles, ghosts, spirits, demons and incubi.

Professor CORINNE SAUNDERS Saunders teaches in the Department of English, University of Durham.

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Table of Contents

Classical and Biblical Precedents
The Middle Ages: Prohibitions, Folk Practices and Learned Magic
White Magic: Natural Arts and Marvellous Technology
Black Magic: The Practice of 'Nigromancy'
Otherworld Enchantments and Faery Realms
Christian Marvel and Demonic Intervention
Malory's Morte Darthur
Epilogue: Towards the Renaissance


Saunders has done scholars of medieval magic a great service in exploring the literary sources in great detail. [This] is a fascinating and important work, useful to scholars and students working on the medieval supernatural and accessible for non-specialist readers. FOKLORE

A major work on a central subject and deserves to be widely read. MEDIUM AEVUM

Corinne Saunders succeeds in portraying the richness of this second or other world of romance. [...] She does so within the larger context of philosophy, religion, law, and folklore [...] magic and the supernatural play an important role in romance, a role expertly analyzed by Corinne Saunders. JOURNAL OF ENGLISH AND GERMANIC PHILOLOGY

Well written, wide-ranging and provides an exemplary introduction to thinking about magic in the medieval period. [...] It will be indispensable for the study both of medieval romance and of magic and learning in the English literary context. ARTHURIANA

This is a major work on a central subject and deserves to be widely read. MEDIUM AEVUM

Lively, engaging and well researched. [...] A valuable resource for those interested in medieval literature and culture. CHOICE
[A] rich and illuminating book, a book that should become standard reading on any of the various aspects of the supernatural in medieval romance for many years to come. REVIEW OF ENGLISH STUDIES

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