Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Icons of the Middle Ages: Rulers, Writers, Rebels, and Saints

Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Icons of the Middle Ages: Rulers, Writers, Rebels, and Saints

Article excerpt

Icons of the Middle Ages: Rulers, Writers, Rebels, and Saints. Ed. by Lister M. Matheson. Greenwood Icons. Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood, 2012. 2 vols. Acid free $189 (ISBN 978-0-313-34080-2). E-book available (978-034080-2), call for pricing.

This is not a work about iconography. The title can give that impression and the subtitle does not exactly clarify the contents. The word "icon" in the title functions the way it does in contemporary popular culture, in the sense that it might be used to refer to Elvis Presley or Michael Jordan.

In this sense, the word "icon" is entirely appropriate, as the work goes beyond biography to include the long cultural reception history for each of the work's medieval subjects, including their contemporary "iconic" status. For example, the entry about William Wallace begins with the scant evidence about his life, through Blind Hary's fifteenth century Wallace, all the way up to cultural responses to Mel Gibson's Braveheart (1995). Indeed, the work contains a few essays about legendary characters whose historical identity and even existence are in question, such as King Arthur and Robin Hood. At the other extreme are subjects such as Joan of Arc, about whom there is a relative wealth of historical evidence.

This difference in scope sets the work apart from works such as Encyclopedia of the Middle Ages (Fitzroy Dearborn, 2000). In that encyclopedia, the essay about Joan of Arc covers approximately one two-column page, focusing primarily on the historical Joan of Arc, while Margaret Joan Maddox's essay about Joan of Arc in Icons of the Middle Ages spans 32 pages, which includes 25 pages of biographical information and 5 pages of cultural reception, ending in a discussion of her continuing cultural influence in characters such as Xena Warrior Princess, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Joan of Arcadia. …

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