Gods, Heroes, and Kings: The Battle for Mythic Britain

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9780195134797: Gods, Heroes, and Kings: The Battle for Mythic Britain
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The islands of Britain have been a crossroads of gods, heroes, and kings-those of flesh as well as those of myth-for thousands of years. Successive waves of invasion brought distinctive legends, rites, and beliefs. The ancient Celts displaced earlier indigenous peoples, only to find themselves displaced in turn by the Romans, who then abandoned the islands to Germanic tribes, a people themselves nearly overcome in time by an influx of Scandinavians. With each wave of invaders came a battle for the mythic mind of the Isles as the newcomer's belief system met with the existing systems of gods, legends, and myths.

In Gods, Heroes, and Kings, medievalist Christopher Fee and veteran myth scholar David Leeming unearth the layers of the British Isles' unique folkloric tradition to discover how this body of seemingly disparate tales developed. The authors find a virtual battlefield of myths in which pagan and Judeo-Christian beliefs fought for dominance, and classical, Anglo-Saxon, Germanic, and Celtic narrative threads became tangled together. The resulting body of legends became a strange but coherent hybrid, so that by the time Chaucer wrote "The Wife of Bath's Tale" in the fourteenth century, a Christian theme of redemption fought for prominence with a tripartite Celtic goddess and the Arthurian legends of Sir Gawain-itself a hybrid mythology.

Without a guide, the corpus of British mythology can seem impenetrable. Taking advantage of the latest research, Fee and Leeming employ a unique comparative approach to map the origins and development of one of the richest folkloric traditions. Copiously illustrated with excerpts in translation from the original sources, Gods, Heroes, and Kings provides a fascinating and accessible new perspective on the history of British mythology.

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About the Author:


Christopher Fee is Assistant Professor of English at Gettysburg College and author of Torture and Text in Anglo-Saxon England. David A. Leeming is Emeritus Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Connecticut at Storrs. His books include Myths, Legends and Folktales (OUP, 1999), Mythology (OUP, 1998), and, with Jake Page, God: Myths of the Male Divine and Goddess: Myths of the Female Divine (both OUP, 1996).

From Library Journal:

Elegant contributions to the vast literature on mythology, these well-informed and thoroughly documented studies enhance our understanding of this elusive topic. Originally a series of lectures, Leeming's Myth is divided into four complementary essays covering myths and religious faith, creation stories, gender, and hero stories. The essays investigate the role of ancient beliefs in modern culture, clarifying the relationship between myth and fact and showing how myths evolve and endure in the works of noted authors (Yeats, Woolf), scientists (Einstein), environmentalists (Thomas Berry), and others. Attentive to the subjects' complexities, this book is nonetheless comprehensible to nonspecialists. In Gods, Heroes, and Kings, Leeming teams with Fee to delineate the complex patchwork of belief systems found in the British Isles. The authors, both academic authorities with many previous publications on the topic, offer a thoroughgoing and instructive overview of the isles's many folkloric traditions, including rites, legends, and beliefs drawn from Anglo-Saxon, Judeo-Christian, Germanic, and Celtic traditions. The topics covered include deity types, sacred objects, heroes, gods, and creation and apocalyptic theories, and the work's documentary value is nicely enhanced by the inclusion of excerpts from original sources. This richly illustrated work is destined to become the fundamental history of British mythology. Excellent and solid, these substantial tomes are recommended without pause for all appropriate collections. Richard K. Burns, MSLS, Hatboro, PA
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Publisher: Oxford University Press, 2004
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