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The Year's Work in Medievalism






The past decade or so has witnessed a relatively steady stream of scholarly interest in the mundane medieval—in labor, local economies, and their influence upon wider cultural production.1 Despite this interest (and perhaps as a reaction to it), popular medievalism has continued to emphasize versions of the medieval that are decidedly more heroic—productions that are simultaneously (and paradoxically) more “realistic” and more “fantastic.” Labor plays, at best, a supporting role in these fantasies: while not absent, it rarely, if ever, has the same productive presence as it does in recent scholarly treatments of medieval economies. Inasmuch as popular medievalism allows for “work,” it does so only in the guise of courtly adventure and/or the feudal equivalent of middle management. In an essay written at the outset of the 2008 recession, we argued that these mechanics afforded audiences both an escape from and a displacement of labor- a means of imagining, albeit briefly, a time in which a day at the office consisted of vanquishing one’s foes and fostering dragons or nascent kingdoms.2 In this essay, we would like to revisit the practices that we described earlier in light of Bethesda Softwork’s 2011 role-playing game, Skyrim, which was released just as the United States began to emerge from the throes of the Great Recession into the current jobless recovery.3 Much of what we observed earlier is still very much present in Skyrim, but the game also expresses a persistent concern with unemployment and a marked nostalgia for labor, a nostalgia that it struggles to reconcile with its more heroic inclinations. Recognizing that, as Fredric Jameson writes, it is often through architecture that “modifications in aesthetic production are most dramatically visible, and that their theoretical problems have been most centrally raised and articulated,” our essay uses the architecture of Skyrim as a starting point from which to understand the fraught question of how labor continues to be constructed in popular medievalism, and what these practices signify for the more serious work of scholarly medievalism.4


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Original Publication Citation

Moberly, K., & Moberly, B. (2013). There is no word for work in the dragon tongue. The Year's Work in Medievalism, 28, 1-9.