Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

A Matter – the 12th-century French poet, Jean Bodel, was the first to use the term, describing the Arthurian legends (see Arthur) as the Matter of Britain – is an accumulated network of Myths, Legends and Fables about a nation or a culture. A Matter is understood by those who write or sing it, or who listen to recountings of it, or who read it, etc., as the true Story of that nation or culture. Whether it is factual is secondary. It is likely to contain or refer to a Myth of Origin; it is likely to describe the father of the nation or culture as a Hero.

Because it incorporates either a Myth of Origin (which usually involves a God or Pantheon), or a line of descent from the days of that myth, a Matter points to the past, incorporating sanctioning myths about that past. A Matter will normally also incorporate large elements of the supernatural.

Several Matters can be identified, beyond the Matter of Britain. There is the Matter of Troy and Classical Greece, which is as close as can be to a Matter written by the enemy; the Matter of Hellenistic Greece, telling of Alexander the Great and his companions; the Matter of Rome, which focuses on its founding; the Matter of France, which focuses on its defence at the time of Roland (d778); the Matter of America, which is in essence a frontier myth; the Matter of each country of Latin America, being divers myths of origin, usually composed in Magic-Realism terms by novelists like Miguel Asturias or Gabriel García Márquez; and there is a fantasy Matter, which may be called the Matter of the World as unfolded in the Instauration Fantasy. There is, oddly, no Matter of Arabia (see Arabian Fantasy). [JC]

Susan Shwartz argues that there is indeed a Matter of Araby, citing Malcolm Lyons's talk at the Dumbarton Oaks Center for Byzantine Studies, "The Land of War: Europe in Arab Hero Legends", and Hadia Dajani-Shakeel's "The 'Franks' in Medieval Arabic Poetry". This, Shwartz says, is all pretty new material for Western scholars, and suggests strongly a fantasy-imbued Matter.

The relationship between Matters and medieval travel writing is not brought out in the entry. See Mary B Campbell's The Witness and the Other World: Exotic European Travel Writing, 400-1600 (1988).

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.