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Empire of Magic: Medieval Romance and the Politics of Cultural Fantasy

4 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0231125277
ISBN-10: 0231125275
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Editorial Reviews


Heng offers a broad-reaching study of the intellectual and cultural origins of medieval romance... She is especially good at isolating and explaining the historical points of contact between West and East.


Her observations about literature, which are everywhere cogent and show the presence of a subtle and wide-ranging sensibility

(John Block Friedman, Kent State University Speculum 1900-01-00)

Empire of Magic is a book that will set the terms of debate on medieval postcolonialism for some time to come. It is a must read.

(Laurie A. Finke Arthuriana 1900-01-00)

Empire of Magic is on of the most thorough - and thoroughly engaging - examples to date in the emerging theoretical field of "postcolonial medievalism."... Heng's Empire of Magic is a "must read."

(e 3w Review of Books 1900-01-00)

Empire of Magic is a... fascinating study of medieval romance.

(Forum for Modern Language Studies 1900-01-00)

Fearless and provocative... Heng's scholarship and sweep are admirable. This is a must-read.

(Christine Chism Studies in the Age of Chaucer 1900-01-00)


The best book about medieval romance that I've ever read.

(Winthrop Wetherbee,, Avalon Foundation Professor in the Humanities, professor of English and Comparative Literature, Cornell University)|

This work of rare scope and ambition challenges all prior accounts of the origins and distinctive development of medieval English romance. Heng understands romance not as a flight from history, but as a genre meeting history head on.... Her accounts of geographies known to and imagined by medieval English romance... map nascent English nationalisms in ways beyond the reach of traditionally insularist Middle English criticism. And the central imaginative context traced through Empire of Magic--between Christendom and Islam--predicts (through a heady admixture of racial, biological, religious, and linguistic categories) our own unfolding present.

(David Wallace, Judith Rodin Professor and chair of English, University of Pennsylvania)|

Geraldine Heng has written an extraordinary and elegant book. Empire of Magic sews together in powerful, probing, and provocative ways the literary and historical, medieval pasts and modern presents, Crusades and the postcolonial, religion and race, the tradition of romance with the romance of tradition. No longer will we be able to think of these terms as separate categories.

(David Theo Goldberg, director, University of California Humanities Research Institute)

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 536 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press (October 6, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0231125275
  • ISBN-13: 978-0231125277
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,625,438 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Geraldine Heng is Perceval Associate Professor of English & Comparative Literature at the University of Texas, Austin.

Her book, Empire of Magic, traces the development of European romance, & the King Arthur legend, in response to the the crusades, & Europe's myriad encounters with the Middle East, Asia, & Africa.

Her work focuses on literary, cultural, & social encounters between worlds, & webs of exchange between communities & cultures, especially when contact is expressed through gender, race, sexuality, & religion.

She also founded & co-directs the Global Middle Ages Project (G-MAP), the Mappamundi digital initiatives, & the Scholarly Community for the Globalization of the Middle Ages (SCGMA):

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By James Hammond on August 11, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Have you ever wondered where the legend of King Arthur originally came from? Why, after a thousand years, is this romance so popular? With insights on subjects as diverse as King Arthur, Chaucer, and 9/11; Geraldine Heng's book "Empire of Magic" is an absolute tour de force that illuminates the secret history of medieval romance. Indeed, "Empire of Magic" is so shocking and engaging that it almost reads like a detective novel of sorts. Heng shows us the hidden (and sometimes horrifying) connections between medieval literature and medieval history in a way that is both unsettling and unforgettable. After all, who but a great detective could have uncovered links between the legend of King Arthur and acts of cannibalism committed by Christians during the first Crusade?

This book is essential reading for anyone interested in literature, history, or the Middle Ages, and is an incredible treat for anyone who likes intellectually stimulating reading of any variety. You will be amazed that reading about literature can be this mind-bending and fun.

Pick up this book. You won't regret it.
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Format: Paperback
If you have any interest whatsoever in Medieval Romance then this is a book for you. Whether your interests are historical, cultural, or structural this book has a theory to match. I will caution this book has little to do with Chaucer or other prototypical Medieval standards, but that is precisely why I found the read so refreshing. In this book you will find a stunning and coherent analysis of five different Romances teachers too often place on the additional course reading lists, if at all, and it is exactly this newness of study that I must encourage you to delve into.

Empire of Magic explores these texts with the passion of a true enthusiast, and it works through the pieces with the thoroughness of a learned, careful mind. The analysis builds a multitude of spiraling theories and possibilities ranging from mental warfare cannibalism to the impact cannibalism could've made on race relations to how race relations might have influenced the writer to dream up acts of cannibalism to write about. BUT hey! If cannibalism doesn't do it for you then you might enjoy a different analysis of King Richard the Lion Heart (and cannibal in some the book to find out!) such as why he was such a popular King despite being away from England for almost the entirety of his rule? And why did his contemporaries like him so much despite the almost ruin of the country because of his constant warring? My favorite section takes a careful look at Mandeville Travels, and the question is raised as to whether Sir John actually ever traveled any further than his local library. Again, I encourage you to read the book to find out.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Joseph Michaels on August 11, 2010
Format: Paperback
After years of reading books about political theory and racial conflict, I have finally found a book that helps to make sense of racial identity and conflict in the post-modern 21st century. Ironically enough, the best book on the subject of post-modern race is a book about race in the Middle Ages. But don't be fooled - "Empire of Magic" has more intelligent things to say about race, nation, culture, class, terrorism, and Holy War than any other book I have ever encountered. In a way, this makes perfect sense. With America's War on Terror, still being fought against Islamist enemies in Afghanistan and Iraq, who better to ask about issues of racial and cultural identity than an expert on the history of cultural conflict between the Islamic East and the Christian West? Groundbreaking in its scope and impact, Geraldine Heng's book helps to show how the lessons of the Middle Ages can provide us with an incredible understanding of the conflicts and identity crises we're seeing today.

With this book, Heng has singlehandedly revolutionized the way that I think about race and identity. Heed my words: read this book immediately. You'll never see literature or history in the same way again.
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4 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 26, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Geraldine Heng has written an excellent resources that examines such topics as race, class, and gender in some of the lesser known texts of the Middle Ages (ie. not Chaucer). A wonderful resource for anyone wondering what good it would do to study anything medieval.
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