Thursday, 15 February 2018

Romanesque Fantasy

SO: I imagine readers of this blog have a notion of Gothic fiction and Gothic-themed fantasy. Regardless of any connection of this to Gothic fiction...

MysteriesOfUdolpho cp.jpeg
Many images courtesy of Wikipedia.

...Gothic architecture....

Reims Cathedral

....or the fiction or the architecture of the Goths.

Mausoleum of Theoderic.JPG
The Mausoleum of Theoderic in Ravenna

Let us say that it is characterised by (among other things) darkness, some level of decadence, a static culture or scenario in which the characters of the story find themselves, some air of the macabre and the potential for wonder and terror. (Maybe you think this is to over-egg the pudding; perhaps you feel it doesn't go far enough. If you have feel either way, you hopefully have a sufficient notion of the Gothic with which to proceed.)

Gothic architecture (and/or the revival thereof) played some role in conjuring this all up. Gothic architecture does not just mean 'Medieval'; it responds to a particular type and time. Maybe not a type and time as neatly defined as the reign of a King, but a type and time nonetheless.

What if one goes to the predecessor of Gothic architecture, the Romanesque? If you are not familiar with it, take yourself over to Wikipedia. Examples may appear throughout this post.

Maria Lach Abbey

Romanesque fantasy is not about decadence, nor is it static. It is robust and growing, rather than hesitant and newborn. There is expansion.

Romanesque fantasy might be among or inspired by the ruins of the past, but it transcends them. It is not bound by them, nor is it devoted to them.

The cultural, political or other vital institutions of the state in Romanesque fantasy are vital. They might be top-heavy, but they are not moribund. Their scope is broad, but not utterly permeable. New ideas are able to emerge, but not without a struggle - and not where they might threaten what has been won.

Crusades might occur; Inquisitions would not.

Romanesque fantasy is robust, rather than delicate. It is not perfectly agreeable to the human. However, it is not bewildering in scope, nor narrow in body.

The Romanesque hero is somewhat like Charlemagne: a conquerer and a builder. If the Romanesque
hero is on the back foot, or lesser in scope, he might be like Alfred the Great.

The interior of a tall octagonal church, rising in three rows of decorated arches. A large candelabra hangs above the central altar.
The Palatine Chapel of Charlemagne's Palace in Aachen

Conan the Barbarian is too primeval to be a Romanesque protagonist; Elric of Melnibone is too decadent. King Arthur is doomed to fail. Sir Galahad has his eyes set rather higher than heroism. Achilles is too much the fighter. John Carter is unmoored from his time and place. D'Artagnan is too much the rogue. If Prince Caspian is too rooted in Civil War in the book of the same name, he might be somewhat Romanesque in the Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Aragorn is not of Gondor in quite the way a Romanesque hero might be.

Speaking of Gondor, there is something definitely Romanesque about Minas Tirith - or might be in some tales from Middle-Earth. Note that Gondor's armies are varied, coming from a wide range of provinces and cultures (even forgetting allies such as Rohan) [See the arrival of the Captains of the Outlands, Dol Amroth, &c.]. It might be argued that Gondor's ruins define it too heavily,  but a Romanesque fantasy is not devoid of ruin (why else reference Rome?). However, ruin must not master that world, though it might harry it.
Related image
From Peter Jackson's motion picture adaptation
of The Return of the King. Interiors....
Peter Jackson's motion picture adaptation of Lord of the Rings certainly used something like Byzantine or Romanesque architecture.

...and exteriors. Gothic it isn't.

While searching for those, I found this relevant site. Consume at your leisure. 


The Romanesque hero cannot just be a warrior. He is a King or Lord, which may well have a martial aspect.

In Romanesque fantasy, there is work to be done, relatively nearby. Within your own continent, there are dangerous frontiers; pagan barbarians, unsettled land, threatened neighbours; something of that sort.
Trier Dom BW 1.JPG
Trier Cathedral

Exhaustion or deprivation in Romanesque fantasy is more likely to be as the result of being at the end of a supply line, or having struggled for a great cause.

The Romanesque might be bounded on one side with the Dark Ages and on the other with the Twelfth Century Renaissance.

Questions the Reader may ask: Is this really a relevant genre or just a silly intellectual game? Is it worth considering? Could it become something? Would you like to know more? Comment away.


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