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Winner of the Haskins Medal

The Haskins Medal

The 2020 Haskins Medal is awarded to Richard F. Green, Elf Queens and Holy Friars: Fairy Beliefs and the Medieval Church (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016) .

Committee members: Alastair Minnis (Chair), Ruth Evans, Michael Bailey

Richard Firth Green’s Elf Queens and Holy Friars is a masterpiece of fresh and meticulous research, and the capstone of a long and distinguished career. Its subject is medieval conceptions of fairies, defined as “that class of numinous, social, humanoid creatures who were widely believed to live at the fringes of the human lifeworld and interact intermittently with human beings” (p. 4). The widespread nature of fairy belief is here affirmed; Green postulates the pervasive existence of a pan-European cultural phenomenon. The deep-rooted power and influence of such lore is intimated by the extent to which the church sought to repress and rewrite troubling tales, reducing fairies to devils in disguise and trying to position them within an orthodox Christian universe. Revisionist readings of such attempts to control and contain fairy lore disclose a coherent body of beliefs which were resistant to re-purposing.

Professor Green has mastered an array of primary sources which are written in several medieval European languages, and many of which present enormous problems of interpretation. This book ranges with apparent ease from learned clerical texts of various genres to demonologies and pastoral manuals, chronicles, encyclopedias, and travel literature; there is nuanced discussion of medieval romances, together with ballads and the mystery plays. Green has much to say to students of English, Latin and other European literatures as well as historians of ideas and specialists in religious studies. Here is true maturity of thought, the result of a long-established interest in fairy traditions, a study which navigates with remarkable success the controversial cross-currents of “popular” versus “academic” medieval culture. Green’s contribution places him in the same eminent domain as Jacques Le Goff and Aaron Gurevich, whose disputes in this area have animated Medieval Studies. Elf Queens and Holy Friars offers scholarship of the highest order – and is a real pleasure to read.

 

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