Merry Medievally Speaking 2021 to all those interested in the reception of medievalia in postmedieval times! For this message, I thought I’d share with you an example of seasonal medievalism I gleaned from Jan Ziolkowski’s magisterial reception history of the medieval Juggler of Notre Dame, here from volume 6, War and Peace, Sex and Violence (2018). It shows the expected links of medievalism to (medieval) Christianity, but much more:
Otto Blechman retold/redrew the juggler narrative in 1953 (The Juggler of Our Lady). Freshly graduated from Oberlin, the young artist was offered to design a “graphic novel” on a Noel theme. He was Jewish and apparently knew little about the Christian holiday. However, as part of the ubiquitous nature of postmedieval medievalia, he and some of his friends were familiar with the story of the juggler, which seemed to have enough of a connection to fulfill the publisher’s mandate for a book that would sell as a seasonal gift. Although the young artist could very well have secularized the story into a parable of his own life (the juggler performing to a world full of indifference for his art and dedication), he decided not to obliterate the religious theme involved. Armed with the outlines of medieval culture in Will Durant’s influential cultural history, specifically the volume on The Age of Faith, he resolved to situate the juggler’s story in a medieval monastery, but managed to ecumenize it so that it became attractive and acceptable to a larger audience: it could speak to those with a nostalgia for such a simpler “age of faith” as much as to those only deploring the general lack of spirituality in the twentieth century. Blechman’s imaginative and unassuming transmutation was adapted into a nine-minute animated version in 1957, with a voiceover by none other than Boris Karloff. Here is this brilliant heart-warming adaptation, provided by YouTube. Enjoy!
Denominators: medievalism, médiévalisme, Mittelalter-Rezeption, medievalismo, reception study, juggler figure, R.O. Blechmann, The Juggler of our Lady