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8-08-2015, 14:23

ROMANCE OR REALITY?

The idea of a castle inspires us to dream of magical places far away and long ago. We owe our romantic image of the Middle Ages to the fantasies of authors like Sir Thomas Malory (c. 1416–71) in the fifteenth century, Edmund Spenser (1532–99) in the sixteenth century, or Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809–92) in the nineteenth century. They wrote about wonderful characters like King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, Queen Guenevere and Sir Lancelot, Morgan le Fay, and fairy queens and swan maidens. Through their eyes we see heroic knights battling demons, magicians, witches, and dragons. Their warriors are not young thugs, trained killers who were destined to die of festering wounds. These knights of romance are handsome youths dedicated to truth and goodness and the defense of virtue as personified by beautiful damsels in distress. Transformed by gleaming armor, his miraculous sword in hand, the gallant knight rides through the deep dark forest mounted on his mighty white steed, ready to face down every imaginable peril—dragons, serpents, or, best of all, an evil knight in polished black armor ready to fight to the death. Triumphant, our hero frees the impotent aged king and helpless queen, who in gratitude give him their only daughter as his bride and at least half the kingdom as his reward. Heroic themes of yesteryear still resonate in popular culture: Robin Hood confronting the sheriff of Nottingham; the Lone Ranger, astride his horse Silver, bringing justice to the Wild West; and Sir Gawain facing the perils of the forest and an enchanted castle. We even have our own contemporary “knights in shining armor,” for example, the football quarterback, masked by protective “armor” decorated with heraldic colors and symbolic emblems and animals, who leads his team of loyal companions against an oncoming horde intent on breaking through his defenses while preventing him from taking over their home territory. Our hero eventually needs more than a warhorse, faithful squire, and shining armor. He must have a base of operations—a castle. Castles pepper the medieval landscape—the knight’s own stronghold, his lord’s castle, and the castles of friends and enemies. Naturally the castles of romance are no ordinary fortresses, but architectural fantasies with a jumble of walls, towers, and fortified gates rising on the crest of a hill or clinging to a cliff overlooking a swiftly flowing river. A moat and drawbridge block the approach to the castle. Massive doors and the sliding grill of a portcullis defend its entrance while flanking towers provide surveillance points, and their vaults hide murder holes.

 

 

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