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A Historic Look at Fantasy

Written by Tanja de Bie


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As Christianity grows in power, and turns its attention away from crusades against the outside enemy of Islam, it instead begins to focus on the enemy within, intensifying the level on which Christian religion is felt. Now the Christians themselves come under scrutiny and the Mother Church finds itself hunting heretics. What has not been properly incorporated in religion, now becomes more and more demonized. People believing in the mythical figures are in league with Satan, and hence less and less people openly acknowledge these fantasy images. It is a big irony that in an attempt to combat this heathen problem within, it was the Inquisition that has collected the most information on popular believes in the Middle Ages. The result is called the Witch Hammer and is a guide detailing how to recognize witches and those associated with them.

Scholars argue that with the advances of science, the thought took root that what could not be explained was not part of nature; (a form of acceptance common in the early middle ages), but instead unnatural and dangerous to the soul and so should be combated. So the introduction of rational thought in the Western Civilization took with it a most peculiar unrational behaviour as scare mongerers spread fear through the countryside. The most extensive witch hunts did not take place in the middle ages, but in the 16th and 17th century. Although in remote areas such as Eastern Europe, Scandinavia and the Gaelic speaking regions in Great Britain. Images of mythical figures we now see as fantasy, remained, they were eradicated in the modern parts of Europe and the United States by the 18th century. It is in this century that the Grimm brothers tried to capture these old folklore images by writing down the stories that accompanied them. We now recognize them as fairy tales.

Thus we come to the end of the circle, for in the 19th century Western Europe had forgotten most of the demonization that was associated with mythical figures. Instead they created a romantic view of the simple life of the middle ages; and images like dragons, knights, and fairies were a natural part of that. Fantasy, now reduced to folklore, became a thankful subject for an increasingly secular movement that sought to find national identity in ancient history. Writing his Lord of the Rings just before and after the Second World War, Tolkien was at the very end of this cultural movement that also sprung forth the Art Deco/Art Nouveau movement. From Tolkien it is but a small jump to our 21st century, where fantasy images are once again part of the collective memory of many youngsters.

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