Blending fantasy and history: swords, shields gain audience

Blending fantasy and history: swords, shields gain audience

Blending fantasy and history: swords, shields gain audience
April 17
01:39 2014

Obed Manuel // Senior Staff Writer

In the “A Song of Ice and Fire” book series, Eddard Stark faces off against the Lannisters, the scheming house of the Queen Cersei.

In “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, Frodo and Sam face the seemingly impossible mission of destroying the Ring of Power in the fires of Mount Doom.

Meanwhile, on the 3-D animated snowy mountains of “The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim,” a level 40 dark elf shoots arrow after arrow at an elder dragon.

All of these stories of magic, clashing swords and clattering shields pull their inspiration from medieval history and the dark ages. The genre has achieved numerous accolades, such as Emmy’s and Academy Awards, whether it is the story of King Arthur or HBO series “Game of Thrones,” the adaptation of “A Song of Ice and Fire.”

History professor Laura Stern said she does not usually entertain herself with those adaptations of historical elements because they often blend too much and miss the mark, but she can see why it is appealing to audiences.

“Maybe they like the barbarism of it or the raw warfare of it. It’s a completely different culture. I think that’s what people like about it,” Stern said. “The Middle Ages really is completely different in terms of its mentality. It’s a completely different society to learn about.”

Before the Renaissance, Stern said, the mentalities of groups were still relatively primitive—focused on survival and conquest.

In the Ice and Fire series, the principal territory is divided into seven kingdoms, much like Anglo-Saxon England was during the Dark Ages.

The main Anglo-Saxon kingdoms were Wessex, Sussex, East Anglia, Kent, Northumbria, Mercia and Essex.

During that time, Stern said, one of the biggest struggles the kingdoms faced was fending off invasions from mainland Europe, Danes and the Scots.

“Under Alfred, for the first time, you have England centered under Wessex. They did have to unite in terms of defense,” Stern said.  “Without that, there would have been no getting rid of the Danes.”

History graduate student Desirae Hamilton said that she has always been attracted to medieval history, so she enjoys seeing or reading stories that draw from that time.

“For me, I can go into a movie, even though I know it’s based on something historical, and just watch it and enjoy it,” Hamilton said.

Hamilton said that as a fan of “Game of Thrones”and “Lord of the Rings,” seeing patterns of history reflected in the stories is especially enjoyable.

“I’ve always liked the politics of history, and I like the maneuvering that you watch the different characters do. Tyrion [Lannister], for example, is really good at that stuff,” Hamilton said.

Hamilton said she has noticed that her friends and family who often enjoy “Lord of the Rings” also take a liking to “Game of Thrones.”

“It does help people get involved in the topics because they see it and say, ‘Well, I want to see what happened and how similar it is to what actually happened in history,’” Hamilton said.

Some students enjoy a participatory role as opposed to simply reading or viewing when indulging in this kind of genre.

Pre-studio art sophomore Brent Mallouf said he has actively participated in “Dungeons and Dragons” campaigns for about three years now.

Mallouf said that while Dungeons and Dragons has numerous variants now, the original version of the game had a tremendous medieval influence.

Mallouf said he enjoys the collaborative effort it takes to get through the challenges faced in storylines.

“The thing about Dungeons and Dragons that sets it apart is that it’s very versatile.

It’s an idea that develops as you play it,” Mallouf said. “The goal is to take yourself through a story and solve problems.”

English graduate student Dayna Epley said she has been following the “Game of Thrones” television series for about a year now and is also a fan of “Lord of The Rings.”

Epley said mixing fantasy and historical elements allows for a suspension of disbelief, so readers and viewers can enjoy the stories without thinking twice about the realistic quality.

“You can buy into the fact that these dragons exist. If this place is not real, you can pretend it is,” Epley said. “It kind of rewrites history in a fiction-type setting almost like saying ‘Let’s take history and make it better.’ Why not have dragons and white walkers?”

Epley, a member of the Popular Culture Association and American Culture Association, a group that studies trends in popular culture, said that the adaptation of these fantasy stories by large entertainment mediums has grown their audience.

“The fact that HBO and a lot of other TV stations and movie companies are coming out with these shows and are propagating fantasy and ‘geekery’ means that this culture is becoming way more mainstream,” Epley said. “The things that used to be geeky or nerdy have really come into their own.”

Feature photo: Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen and her dragon in the HBO series the “Game of Thrones”. Photo courtesy of the Game of Thrones Facebook page.

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