Empire of Magic

Medieval Romance and the Politics of Cultural Fantasy

Geraldine Heng

Columbia University Press

Empire of Magic

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Pub Date: October 2004

ISBN: 9780231125277

536 Pages

Format: Paperback

List Price: $34.00£29.00

Pub Date: July 2003

ISBN: 9780231125260

536 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $95.00£79.00

Pub Date: July 2003

ISBN: 9780231500678

536 Pages

Format: E-book

List Price: $33.99£29.00

Empire of Magic

Medieval Romance and the Politics of Cultural Fantasy

Geraldine Heng

Columbia University Press

Empire of Magic offers a genesis and genealogy for medieval romance and the King Arthur legend through the history of Europe's encounters with the East in crusades, travel, missionizing, and empire formation. It also produces definitions of "race" and "nation" for the medieval period and posits that the Middle Ages and medieval fantasies of race and religion have recently returned.

Drawing on feminist and gender theory, as well as cultural analyses of race, class, and colonialism, this provocative book revises our understanding of the beginnings of the nine hundred-year-old cultural genre we call romance, as well as the King Arthur legend. Geraldine Heng argues that romance arose in the twelfth century as a cultural response to the trauma and horror of taboo acts—in particular the cannibalism committed by crusaders on the bodies of Muslim enemies in Syria during the First Crusade. From such encounters with the East, Heng suggests, sprang the fantastical episodes featuring King Arthur in Geoffrey of Monmouth's chronicle The History of the Kings of England, a work where history and fantasy collide and merge, each into the other, inventing crucial new examples and models for romances to come.

After locating the rise of romance and Arthurian legend in the contact zones of East and West, Heng demonstrates the adaptability of romance and its key role in the genesis of an English national identity. Discussing Jews, women, children, and sexuality in works like the romance of Richard Lionheart, stories of the saintly Constance, Arthurian chivralic literature, the legend of Prester John, and travel narratives, Heng shows how fantasy enabled audiences to work through issues of communal identity, race, color, class and alternative sexualities in socially sanctioned and safe modes of cultural discussion in which pleasure, not anxiety, was paramount. Romance also engaged with the threat of modernity in the late medieval period, as economic, social, and technological transformations occurred and awareness grew of a vastly enlarged world beyond Europe, one encompassing India, China, and Africa. Finally, Heng posits, romance locates England and Europe within an empire of magic and knowledge that surveys the world and makes it intelligible—usable—for the future.

Empire of Magic is expansive in scope, spanning the eleventh to the fifteenth centuries, and detailed in coverage, examining various types of romance—historical, national, popular, chivalric, family, and travel romances, among others—to see how cultural fantasy responds to changing crises, pressures, and demands in a number of different ways. Boldly controversial, theoretically sophisticated, and historically rooted, Empire of Magic is a dramatic restaging of the role romance played in the culture of a period and world in ways that suggest how cultural fantasy still functions for us today.

Heng offers a broad-reaching study of the intellectual and cultural origins of medieval romance... She is especially good at isolating and explaining the historical points of contact between West and East.


Her observations about literature, which are everywhere cogent and show the presence of a subtle and wide-ranging sensibility

John Block Friedman, Kent State University, Speculum

Empire of Magic is a book that will set the terms of debate on medieval postcolonialism for some time to come. It is a must read.

Laurie A. Finke, Arthuriana

Empire of Magic is on of the most thorough - and thoroughly engaging - examples to date in the emerging theoretical field of "postcolonial medievalism."... Heng's Empire of Magic is a "must read."

e 3w Review of Books

Empire of Magic is a... fascinating study of medieval romance.

Forum for Modern Language Studies

The best book about medieval romance that I've ever read.

Winthrop Wetherbee,, Avalon Foundation Professor in the Humanities, professor of English and Comparative Literature, Cornell University

This work of rare scope and ambition challenges all prior accounts of the origins and distinctive development of medieval English romance. Heng understands romance not as a flight from history, but as a genre meeting history head on.... Her accounts of geographies known to and imagined by medieval English romance... map nascent English nationalisms in ways beyond the reach of traditionally insularist Middle English criticism. And the central imaginative context traced through Empire of Magic—between Christendom and Islam—predicts (through a heady admixture of racial, biological, religious, and linguistic categories) our own unfolding present.

David Wallace, Judith Rodin Professor and chair of English, University of Pennsylvania

Geraldine Heng has written an extraordinary and elegant book. Empire of Magic sews together in powerful, probing, and provocative ways the literary and historical, medieval pasts and modern presents, Crusades and the postcolonial, religion and race, the tradition of romance with the romance of tradition. No longer will we be able to think of these terms as separate categories.

David Theo Goldberg, director, University of California Humanities Research Institute

Fearless and provocative... Heng's scholarship and sweep are admirable. This is a must-read.

Christine Chism, Studies in the Age of Chaucer
Introduction: In the Beginning Was Romance
History as Romance: The Genesis of a Medieval Genre
1. Cannibalism, the First Crusade, and the Genesis of Medieval Romance: Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain
Popular Romance: A National Fiction
2. The Romance of England: Richard Coer de Lyon and the Politics of Race, Religion, Sexuality, and Nation
Chivalric/Heroic Romance: Defending Elite Men and Bodies
3. Warring Against Modernity: Masculinity and Chivalry in Crisis; or, The Alliterative Morte Arthure's Romance Anatomy of the Crusades
Family Romance/Hagiographic Romance: A Matter of Women (and Children)
4. Beauty and the East, a Modern Love Story: Women, Children, and Imagined Communities in The Man of Law's Tale and Its Others
Travel Romance/Ethnographic Romance: Mapping the World and Home
5. Eye on the World: Mandeville's Pleasure Zones; or, Cartography, Anthropology, and Medieval Travel Romance

Finalist for the 2004 Modern Language of Association award for First BookFinalist, 2004 Modern Language Association's First Book Award

About the Author

Geraldine Heng is director of medieval studies at the University of Texas at Austin and associate professor of English and Comparative Literature. Her articles have appeared in PMLA, differences, Genders, and the Yale Journal of Criticism.