Abstracts

As part of my scholarly work, I have published some few papers and presented a fair number more. While the published papers are in publication and should be read where they are published, and the presented papers may or may not be under revision to be sent off for publication, so that they ought not to be made available in full, abstracts for them can easily be posted for public viewing.

Each abstract, linked below, is presented with the title of the paper, a brief description of the paper’s context (in italics), and the abstract itself. Many of the abstracts are reposted from an earlier online venture I maintained all too abortively; they are presented here for ease of reference, and that they are reposted is noted in their description.

Geoffrey B. Elliott
2 November 2016


“Closed-Lipped Howls”

The following abstract was submitted to the South Central Modern Language Association conference in 2009, and was accepted. As I recall, the paper for which it is an abstract was presented in the Fantasy and Science Fiction panel.

The abstract has appeared in other online venues.

The hybridization of humans and wolves appears in folktales and literatures across cultures and centuries. In many cases, the hybridization occurs within a single entity, as in the werewolf of European folklore or the gestalt creature of science fiction fame, and in just as many cases, the hybridized human/wolf is featured in an antagonistic role.

Contemporary fantasy fiction demonstrates movement in the lupine/human hybrid away from the commonplaces of single-body and antagonist. The Farseer and Tawny Man trilogies of Robin Hobb, the Wheel of Time cycle of the late Robert Jordan, and the Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin all feature bonded humans and wolves, each partaking in some measure of the nature of the others while remaining separate beings, and each figured as a protagonist or as the principal protagonist—although it cannot be said that the characters in question are accepted in their societies. Notably, all three authors portray their human/wolf bonds as psychic projections; dream, sensation, and thought are shared between wolf and man, and in some cases those projections cross the border between life and death.

In all three cases, the projection of wolf into man and man into wolf serves to engage and subvert the traditional Western European association of the wolf with savagery; while the animals remain animals and the humans human, the humans are more bestial and the animals more humane than is often depicted.

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“A Divergent Medievalism in Robin Hobb’s Farseer and Tawny Man Trilogies”

Below appears the abstract I submitted to the Tales after Tolkien panel at the 2013 International Congress on Medieval Studies. After drafting the paper, I realized that my idea was not the best to advance, but I did not have the time to make what occurred to me to be the best case. Revisiting the paper hopefully corrected my earlier errors.

The abstract has appeared in other online venues.

The main thrust of modern fantasy literature, beginning with Tolkien, presents a vision of what Douglas A. Anderson calls in his introduction to Tales before Tolkien heroic romance, acting in a tradition embodied in the medieval Arthurian narratives up to and including Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur. Although there are a number of prominent exceptions to the prevailing trend of fantasy literature (J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series comes to mind), a large portion of fantastic narratives occur in a common setting. The usual milieu is a feudal society with few gradations either of nobility or of the non-noble classes, in which a few sizable states enact conflict through armies generally reflecting Western Europe at approximately the time of the High Middle Ages. Tolkien’s Middle-earth corpus presents such a milieu, as do such popular fantasy arcs as that of Raymond E. Feist’s Midkemia, Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time, and George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire.

Although Robin Hobb’s Tawny Man trilogy deploys a number of the “standard” features of the common modern fantasy literature setting, it displays deviations from those features in several regards. Notable among them is the depiction of cultures deriving from other parts of the medieval than the most commonly evoked Continent of the Crusades, particularly that of the Out Isles. Presenting such a culture and its interactions with the “more advanced” society of the Six Duchies, one largely in line with civilizations typical of modern fantasy literature, affords Hobb’s series a more nuanced and more authentically medieval setting than those of many of her contemporaries.

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The Establishment of Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur as the Standard Text of English-Language Arthurian Legend

The abstract below is of my doctoral dissertation, The Establishment of Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur as the Standard Text of English-Language Arthurian Legend, which is held in the Edith Garland Dupré Library at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. It also appears in Worldcat and is available at ProQuest as an open-access document; I believe in collegiality and the dissemination of knowledge, although I do expect to be cited if you use materials I put together.

The abstract has appeared in other online venues.

The status of Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur as the canonical iteration of Arthurian legend in English is not in question. It is, however, insufficiently examined, with past explanations for its canonicity lacking detail and glossing over social, historical, and textual circumstances. Investigation of those circumstances reveals that for seven key editions of Malory’s text—Caxton’s 1458, de Worde’s 1498 and 1529, Stansby’s 1634, Chalmers’s 1816, Haslewood’s 1816, and Southey’s 1817—a confluence of editorial and printerly social stature, social contexts amenable to the materials discussed in Malory, and paratextual features provided in the editions positioned Le Morte d’Arthur such that it could be taken up by scholars and writers engaged with Victorian neomedievalist tropes as the standard text of English-language Arthuriana.

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“Here There Be Dragons”

The following abstract was submitted to the South Central Renaissance Conference in 2007, and it was accepted. I forget what panel it was on.

The abstract has appeared in other online venues.

The dragons featured in Beowulf and in cantos xi and xii of Book I of The Faerie Queene are eerily similar in the threats they pose to admirable kingdoms, their physical attributes, weaknesses, and the manner in which they die—at the hands of armor-clad noble-class warriors who are themselves similar in equipment and temperament and whose fights follow oddly similar paths. Though the correspondences between the dragons and dragon-slayers in the two works are not wholly exact, they are quite close, and that proximity invites explication; little if any work has been done comparing these aspects of the two English-language epics, let alone the more fantastical elements in them.

Through examination of the characteristics of the dragons in Beowulf and Book I of The Faerie Queene, albeit in a limited manner, the depth of their correspondence to one another becomes apparent, and invites speculation as to the source and results thereof.  The source may possibly be that Spenser was in some way familiar with Beowulf, though that is highly unlikely. Far more likely, even certain, is the implication of the correspondences between the Anglo-Saxon and early modern works; the existence of a distinct tradition of dragons in English-language literature, a tradition which extends from the Beowulf poet through Spenser to Tolkien and on into contemporary fantasy works, most of which are in English and nearly all of which reference, directly or obliquely, the works of Tolkien.

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“Keeping It Old-School on the New Faculty Majority”

The following abstract is slightly adapted from one submitted in response to a call for papers for the edited collection Ballad of the Lone Medievalist. The submission was accepted, much to my delight.

I am not the only medievalist in my English department at a Big 12 school—there is one other, tenured—but I am the only one in my area of the medieval, Middle English, and the only one among the contingent faculty. Typically assigned to teach first-year writing, literature surveys, and technical writing, I am only rarely in the position of having my areas of strength represented on program-standard syllabi. To help me remain grounded in the medieval in my teaching—which is one of the few ways contingent faculty can integrate their fields into their daily work—I deploy several strategies, which vary by the class taught.

After offering a brief introduction laying out my situation so that its generalizability can be assessed, I offer strategies for integrating the medieval into classes where it typically does not appear:

  • First-year composition
  • Introduction to Literature (in which assigned texts and prescribed syllabi tend to have a presentist bias)
  • Technical Writing

Each has met with no small degree of success in my own classrooms, with a number of the faculty where I have taught showing marked interest in the strategies. I expect that my fellow members of the precariat will be able to use or amend my strategies for their own situations, helping them to consolidate the work done for pay with the work done in the discipline, which is too often too little rewarded.

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“Knighthood Continued”

The paper for which the following abstract was written was presented at the 2011 International Congress on Medieval Studies.

The abstract has appeared in other online venues.

Scholars such as Badenhausen, Herman, and Smuts contend that the early Stuart dynasty in England largely rejected the chivalric forms and ideas that had pervaded Elizabethan England. The notion has something of common sense about it, given the emergent Commonwealth government and its concomitant rejection of older ideals of monarchal power. There is also some indication from the 1634 Stansby edition of Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur that the chivalric code had fallen into disrepute. Some historical and textual evidence, however, strongly suggests that knightly conduct was not as soundly rejected by Stuart England as is often supposed; much in Stansby’s text and its historical context addresses an ongoing chivalric rhetoric that extends at least to the execution of Charles I.

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“The Malorian Kay as Fredalian Figure”

The abstract below was submitted for the 2016 International Congress on Medieval Studies. After some irregularity, it was accepted, and the ensuing paper was presented on the Le Morte Darthur session at the conference. It seemed to be well received.

In a 2011 College English article, James Fredal expands on the ideas voiced by Harry G. Frankfurt in a 1986 Raritan piece and a 1995 monograph of the same name. Deviating from others in the field, he defines a particular social discursive construct—bullshit, abundant in public and private dialogue—in terms of its abusive power relations. He asserts that bullshit is commonly an utterance that reflects the utterer’s perception of superior enough status to set aside sincere cooperation, whether by offering it insincerely or by being overtly abusive.

Sir Kay the Seneschal, as he appears in Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, serves as an exemplum of Fredal’s idea. In his many abusive comments, many of them offered in what can only be called a sarcastic tone, he evidences the abuse of power—and ultimately undeserved power—that typify the utterances Fredal labels in his article. Examination of how his snarkiness functions can serve to offer firmer concepts of both sarcasm and how it interacts with the pattern Fredal establishes.

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“Manifest Destiny and Other Western Ideas in Robin Hobb’s Soldier Son”

The following abstract was submitted to the South Central Modern Language Association conference in 2010. It was presented on the Re-Creations of the American West in Popular Culture Special Session.

The abstract has appeared in other online venues.

In her Soldier Son trilogy, Robin Hobb establishes a fantasy milieu powerfully evocative of the American West during the late nineteenth century. Although the correspondence between her series’ nation of Gernia and the expanding United States is incomplete, it is explicit enough that it allows for the formation of a Tolkienan “inner consistency of reality,” one especially suited to an American audience and one which allows for postcolonial examination and critique of such dominant cultural attitudes as manifest destiny. This is particularly true of the first volume in the trilogy, Shaman’s Crossing, in which the primary features of the milieu are established, including its geography, history, and principal conflicts in which it is involved.

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“Manifestations of English Arthurian Legend in the Farseer and Tawny Man Trilogies of Robin Hobb”

The following abstract is for my MA thesis, which is held in the Edith Garland Dupré Library at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

The abstract has appeared in other online venues.

Fantasy literature currently suffers the general disdain of the academic community, which tends to view it as escapist, puerile nonsense. Fantasy literature, however, is every bit as subtle and nuanced as the genres of literature more commonly accepted by the academy as meriting critical consideration; it is fully capable of addressing the same issues, exhibiting the same qualities, and supporting the same sorts of readings as other forms of literature.

A critical reading of the Farseer and Tawny Man trilogies of Robin Hobb serves as a case study in support of the viability of applying critical techniques to fantasy literature. Such a reading, in this case analyzing the texts through a structuralist, intertextual approach, reveals Hobb’s texts to be reliant on selective inclusion of tropes present in Arthurian literature to negotiate the escapist nature of fantasy fiction and thereby foster Coleridge’s “willing suspension of disbelief” through establishing a Tolkienan “inner consistency of reality.” Coupled with brief suggestions of other critical approaches which Hobb’s texts support, the application of a structuralist, intertextual method to the texts suggests that they have literary merit in the traditional academic sense of the term. By extension, the successful application of critical theory to any fantasy text suggests the “literariness” of the genre as a whole.

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“Martial Methodology in Malory”

The following abstract was submitted to the South Central Modern Language Association conference in 2007, and was accepted. The paper for which it is an abstract was presented on the Old and Middle English panel.

The abstract has appeared in other online venues.

Malory’s iteration of Arthurian legend is perhaps the best-known to the general public and likely the most referenced work of Arthuriana. Accordingly, Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur has attracted a great deal of scholarly attention on a variety of subjects ranging from gender studies to the manner in which the chivalric code functions as a semiotic system for the interpretation of late medieval society. Certainly, the text of Le Morte does a great many things; among others, it tells many delightful stories, provides insight into a nuanced and seemingly unstable warrior ethos, and, perhaps most importantly, forms the basis for a number of other, later publications.

While these things are true and have been studied in great detail, Malory’s text does do one thing that has received little if any recent critical attention; it provides, if perhaps only in a cursory and superficial way, a sort of instruction manual for knightly combat. Though the explicit combat scenes in Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur are oftentimes repetitive, they are repetitive in certain particulars which, taken together, can be read as forming a method for the exercise of martiality.

While such an interpretation may not be the most fashionable, it would not fail to fit with the prevailing socio-political system in force during the middle and late 1400s, nor does it fail to fit with the author’s own aptitudes, if Vinaver’s introduction to Malory’s works is to be believed. War and the warrior ethos have already been demonstrated to have had a pivotal role in the historical events and literature of the time; examining the manner in which literature presents and prescribes the manner of executing it can only enrich current understanding.

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“Moving beyond Tolkien’s Medievalism: Robin Hobb’s Tawny Man and Farseer Trilogies”

I was fortunate enough to be able to get a chapter accepted to a publication edited by Helen Young of the Tales after Tolkien Society. The abstract below is what got me accepted.

The abstract has appeared in other online venues.

Although Robin Hobb’s Tawny Man trilogy deploys a number of the “standard” features of the common modern fantasy literature setting (what may loosely be termed the Tolkienan tradition), it displays deviations from those features in several regards. Notable among them is the depiction of cultures deriving from other parts of the medieval than the most commonly evoked Continent of the Crusades, particularly that of the Out Isles. The society Hobb depicts therein initially appears, and can be argued, to appropriate the Nordic cultures frequently represented in Tolkienan-tradition fantasy literature (notably in the Rohirrim in Tolkien’s Middle-earth and the Greyjoys in Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire). Upon closer examination, however, the Out Islands echo more clearly the First Nations peoples of the Pacific Northwest region of the United States and Canada.

The detailed depiction of features of cultures from outside those employed by the Tolkienan tradition merits study not only in itself and in its offering a more nuanced and therefore more authentic vision of the medieval than many of Hobb’s contemporaries, but in terms of what it indicates about the readership of mainstream English-language fantasy literature. That the mention of a raiding island culture in a fantasy series immediately brings to mind traditional depictions of Vikings—and even prompts formal argument in favor of that impression—bespeaks a decidedly Northern- and Western-European-centric bias, one likely to be present also among other academic readers and the more general fantasy readership.  Recognizing and negotiating that bias allows for a broader conception of what fantasy literature can do—and, as fantasy literature is often the avenue through which readers begin to investigate the medieval, it allows for a broader conception of what the medieval can be, helping to promote a cross-cultural understanding increasingly valuable in an increasingly interconnected and pop-culture-saturated world.

The chapter follows up on a line of inquiry initially advanced during the Tales after Tolkien sessions at the 48th International Congress on Medieval Studies. in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

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“No Advice Sans Knowledge”

The paper for which the following abstract was written was presented at the 2010 International Congress on Medieval Studies.

The abstract has appeared in other online venues.

Baldesar Castiglione’s Il Cortegiano concerns itself primarily with identifying and explicating the qualities necessary in an advisor to rulers. Much of the text discusses academic study and forms of etiquette as well as the necessity of sprezzatura, and rightly so. However, what is often overlooked in the text is the importance of military proficiency to a ruler’s advisor; many, if not most, of a ruler’s duties touch on or directly employ martial activities, and advisors cannot advise on subjects in which they have no knowledge. Castiglione recognizes this in his work, portraying it as one of the most important sets of knowledge an advisor can have.

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“Royal Evils in Robin Hobb’s Farseer Trilogy”

This abstract was written for a conference I could not pass up–Evil Incarnate: Manifestations of Villains and Villainy. The paper was presented at Case Western Reserve University in July 2014.

The abstract has appeared in other online venues.

Fantasy author Robin Hobb is noted for attention to the mundane details of her fictional milieus and the nuance with which she treats the favorable and unfavorable aspects of her characters’ psychologies and actions. Her Farseer novels serve as prime examples of her ability to shade both heroism and villainy, presenting both as inherently human and eminently understandable even as she embeds them in the usual fantastic constructions of eldritch energies, supernatural creatures, and the relics of ancient civilizations.

One of the major antagonists of the series, Regal Farseer, is depicted in such a way. Hobb portrays the usurping king as an almost psychopathic figure for much of the series before revealing him to be fundamentally childish and spoiled, almost a figurehead for other actors of greater cunning but less scope and a conduit through an ultimately greater antagonist revealed in the larger narrative arc of which the Farseer novels are part. Doing so reinforces the banality of evil and serves to remind readers that, even amid the most fantastic constructions, that it is the unquestionably petty, myopically, understandably human that fosters most of the anguish and suffering in the world.

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“A Tacit Satire in Stansby’s 1634 Le Morte d’Arthur

Below appears the abstract I submitted to the English I: Old and Middle English panel at the 2014 South Central Modern Language Association conference held in Austin, Texas.

The abstract has appeared in other online venues.

While the most famous and most heavily studied editions of Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur are the 1845 Caxton and the Winchester MS, they are far from the only versions of the text to have appeared in late medieval and early modern England. The last of them was the 1634 Stansby edition of the text, after which no further full edition was published until the Regency—yet the Stansby edition is relatively little studied. Most commentaries on it follow both Barry Gaines and Tsuyoshi Mukai in asserting that the work is a low-quality production, at odds with Stansby’s usual quality of work, and they largely set it aside in favor of “better” pieces.

Comments by David R. Carlson, however, and consideration of Stansby’s prior work and cultural context suggest that there may be reasons other than the usually asserted inattention and haste for the perceived low quality of the publication. It is possible to read the features of the 1634 Malory, both the paratextual and the textual, as offering a quiet satire on the topic of the monarchy. Doing so is more consistent with Stansby’s avowed tendencies to land himself in legal trouble and the awareness of station and situation that typifies much of his other abundant printing-house production than the common reading of the 1634 edition as riddled with errors only.

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“Tales after Tolkien: Shakespeare in Robin Hobb.”

Below appears the abstract I submitted for a Tales after Tolkien Society panel at the 2017 Southwest Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The abstract has appeared in other online venues, notably here.

The proposed paper seeks to explicate the use in Robin Hobb’s Elderlings corpus of features of character common in certain of Shakespeare’s fool characters, notably Touchstone of As You Like It and Feste of Twelfth Night. (Other fools in the Bard’s corpus may also be invoked.) An explication of parallels among the characters will speak directly to the enduring social cachet of the Bard and to a particular type of trickster figure that the Bard and Hobb both instantiate, pointing out yet another way in which the literatures of past centuries can be made to speak to current situations.

It also extends the work of the Tales after Tolkien Society in a more general sense. The Society is dedicated to examining the continuing medievalism of works of popular culture, looking at how the medieval continues to manifest in mainstream works, following a pattern prominently evidenced in Tolkien. As a post-Tolkien author—and one who credits Tolkien with influencing her approach to literature in a contribution to Meditations on Middle-earth—Hobb’s work is ripe for treatment by the Society. In refiguring Shakespearean characters, her work moves forward from Tolkien’s medievalism as it is itself a movement forward from Tolkien.

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“Unchurched: On the Relative Lack of Religion in Tolkienan-Tradition Fantasy Literature”

Below appears the abstract I submitted to the Tales after Tolkien panel at the 2014 International Congress on Medieval Studies. I presented the paper, and it was well received.

The abstract has appeared in other online venues.

Fantasy literature is perhaps the genre of fiction that most frequently and most prominently refigures the medieval. The main thrust of fantasy literature, that following in the tradition of J.R.R. Tolkien, tends to neglect or minimize one of the defining features of Western European medieval culture: religion. While priests and faiths are present in the inheritors of the Tolkienan tradition, and scholarly attention has been paid to the religious overtones embedded in a number of key fantasy works, centralized, international, and (nominally) monotheistic churches are largely absent. There are other organizations that take something resembling the cultural place of The Church in medieval Europe within various fantasy milieux, admittedly, such as Jordan’s Aes Sedai or Kerr’s dweomer-workers. Their treatment, however, and the absence of major international religious powers suggests that Tolkienan-tradition fantasy literature assumes an audience distrustful of major religious structures—an attitude not inconsistent with the literary audience of the Middle Ages so often invoked by fantasy literature.

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“Which Way I Fly Is Middle-earth; Myself Am Middle-earth”

The following abstract was submitted to the South Central Modern Language Association conference in 2011 as part of the Borrowings from the Past: Reception Studies Special Session. Since I chaired the panel, the abstract was in no danger of being rejected. It had previously been accepted at another conference, but could not be presented due to scheduling conflicts.

The abstract has appeared in other online venues.

Much of the scholarly attention which has been devoted to Tolkien since the publication of The Lord of the Rings has focused on the Northern European derivation of the characters, cultures, and terms in his works. Certainly, the author’s own comments regarding his articulation of language in the works—notably Appendix F in Lord of the Rings and several of the author’s notes which appear in “Cirion and Eorl and the Friendship of Gondor and Rohan” in Unfinished Tales—and his own professional background substantiate such an approach. Too, the assertions of such critics as Lin Carter support the Northern sources of Tolkien’s work.

While assertions of Northern European derivation of the Middle-earth corpus are valid (even the name “Middle-earth” evokes images of O­din and Thor), a number of other critics, such as John Gough, Kathleen E. Dubs, and Kathleen O’Neill, postulate that Tolkien’s works operate in a more Christian than Northern Pagan mode. Such critics, while not inaccurate in their assertions, have yet to adequately explore what may be one of the strongest parallels between Christian theological writings and parts of the Middle-earth corpus; the correspondences between Milton’s Paradise Lost and Tolkien’s creation narratives are prominent, but largely unexplored. Conducting such an exploration would serve to more fully ground Tolkien’s work in the English Christian context others have asserted as being present.

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“White Hats for White Plumes: The Western as Arthurian Romance Reimagined”

Below appears the abstract I submitted to the Tales after Tolkien panel at the 2015 International Congress on Medieval Studies. I presented the paper, and it was well received.

While its appeal has waxed and waned, the myth of the American cowboy is one that endures in the United States, continuing to appear in print and on screens big, small, and digital. Although individual depictions vary, some common features of the paragon of the Western man appear across decades and in the works of various authors and other artists. The cowboy is of European descent, most commonly of English extraction (although he necessarily associates with people of other ethnic backgrounds), frequently coming from a landed background and having military or militaristic experience. He is indelibly associated with life on horseback, and commonly carries weapons for use at long range and in close quarters. More to the point, he lives according to a strict code of honor, demanding self-reliance and grit in fighting and holding those who are less able to protect themselves in high regard; his honor calls for the cowboy to “ride for the brand,” being loyal even to the point of death to the landed owner of a particular mark or to the land and mark itself.

In this, the American cowboy is markedly similar to the knight of Arthurian romance. Not only is he akin to those who sit at the Round Table in his surface features, but in many cases, his narrative patterns follow those employed by Malory, the Gawain-poet, their forebears, or their Victorian medievalist successors, following a single character for a time in additive adventures that end up repeating their own tropes again and again. His appearances in the writings of such authors as William W. Johnstone exemplify the parallels neatly, demonstrating that the Arthurian knight continues to be refigured and reappropriated in the early twenty-first century.

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