I came across a fascinating paper by Courtney Booker (first published in 2004) which describes how modern minds have a somewhat distorted view of the Middle Ages. Rather than internalizing the pervasive religiosity which defined the Medieval era, we seem to have a view of the time as being driven by a sort of secular chivalry.
What makes it particularly apropos for my purposes is that it traces the responsibility for this popular attitude regarding the Middle Ages through Tolkien, then to Gygax and Arneson’s D&D (citing heavily from Lawrence Schick’s Heroic Worlds), early computer games such as “Adventure”, and finally through Peter Jackson’s adaptation of Lord of the Rings (which were quite current at the time the paper was originally published). Ms. Booker takes the de rigueur side-trips through James Dallas Egbert III, the “Satanic Panic” of the 1980’s (even citing my favorite radio evangelist and over-the-phone exorcist, Bob Larson), and B.A.D.D. Her final conclusion is that:
…the popular conception of the Middle Ages is now largely Tolkienesque, it is a conception that will be increasingly based on Jackson’s high-definition “CGI” of Tolkien’s novel, with all the baggage—the history, possibilities, and constraints—that CGI brings with it.
It’s a fascinating thesis, albeit one that will quickly become dated when the next big pseudo-Medieval fantasy epic hits the big screen to replace Jackson’s films in the collective imagination, but it’s a great read, if you’re used to the academic style.
Thanks to Medievalists.net for pointing this out! (Currently gracing my blog roll, to the left.)