Discuss the Different Approaches to Gender in the Mists of Avalon...

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Discuss the Different Approaches to Gender in the Mists of Avalon and the Fellowship of the Ring (the Book, or the Film, or Both). Are There Any Similarities at All Between These Two Medievalist Projects?

By | Jan. 2013
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As noted by Umberto Eco in “Dreaming of the Middle Ages”, one

representation of the middle ages is that of philological reconstruction which can be

“…applied either to great historical events or to the imperceptibility of underlying social

and technological structures, and to the forms of everyday life”(71). By utilizing the

middle ages in this fashion, it is possible for authors to critique and comment upon the

prevalent ideological structures in their own time by using the middle ages as a

mythological foundation for further reconstruction, analysis, and even play. Stemming

from this is the popular trend in literary criticism to attribute an author’s attitudes and

intentions within their works to the major cultural movements taking place during the

time of their writing. Through this framework it would seem that Marion Zimmer

Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon and J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy are by-

products of the post-modernist and modernist movements respectively. However, an

overlooked perspective is that of the cultural movement influencing the reader of these

works. One area in which this view is particularly relevant is representations of gender

in both of these novels, and Peter Jackson’s cinematic retelling of The Lord of the Rings.

By analysing both the author’s portrayals of gender in these works and the perception of

their works by modern audiences, it is possible to better understand the ways in which

cultural movements influence not only the writing, but also the consumption of popular

medievalist fiction.

One of the most prevalent themes of post-modernism is deconstruction, in which

an author “…seek[s] to distance [the reader] from and make [them] sceptical about

beliefs concerning truth, knowledge, power, the self, and language that are often taken

for granted within and serve as legitimation for contemporary Western culture”(Flax,

41). In The Mists of Avalon,...