Master of Arts
This thesis examines representations of the medieval in popular fantasy film and television. Emphasizing costume design, this paper explores themes of identity, nation, past and present. Analysis is organized through three case studies, Andrew Adamson’s The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005), Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) and David Benioff and D.B. Weiss’ Game of Thrones (2011-2019). Each work demonstrates different strategies for constructing the past and referencing history to authenticate fantastic worldbuilding. They exist within broader traditions of medievalism and exploring present concerns through the veil of the past. Despite overt anachronism and invention, their foregrounding of historically-based aesthetics contributes to popular imaginings of the past and constitutes a type of historical engagement. This thesis explores the implications of this style of historical representation as it relates to constructions of personal, cultural and national identities.
Summary for Lay Audience
This thesis examines the relationship between fantasy and history as it pertains to the use of medieval aesthetics in popular fantasy film and television. Discussion is organized around three case studies, Andrew Adamson’s The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005), Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) and David Benioff and D.B. Weiss’ Game of Thrones (2011-2019). Each chapter begins with an analysis of the role history plays in the construction of the fantasy world and how the fantastic past is located in relation to the present. This is followed by an in-depth examination of the costumes and their function within the context of the film as well as how they relate to the world of the viewer. This process reveals the ways in which ideas of history and nation are visually constructed onscreen. Costume plays an essential role in these constructions because clothing is intrinsically linked to time, place, culture and identity.
Although the case studies share many similar generic conventions (focus on political turmoil, set in a pseudo-medieval Britain, etc.), each demonstrates different approaches toward historical representation. Despite their imaginative historical settings, each case study exists as a modern cultural work that uses the past as a site to explore ideas and anxieties of the present. Therefore, part of the value of these works is their ability to convey information about the audiences for which they were made and the social climate of the 2000s.
The popularity and financial success of all three productions demonstrates the effectiveness of this type of storytelling and audiences’ willingness to engage with these narratives. However, alterations from source material and controversies surrounding production (in particular the reception of Game of Thrones) highlight a need to update generic conventions to suit changing social norms. Visual culture plays a significant role in determining popular ideas about the past as well as informing present-day notions of individual, cultural and national identities. These products do not exist in isolation but work within broader traditions of storytelling and historical engagement that shape and reaffirm audiences’ worldview.
Lafortune, Avery, "Clothed in History: Costume and Medievalism in Fantasy Film and Television" (2020). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 7198.