Paul Sturtevant Profile picture
Author: The Devil's Historians; The Middle Ages in Popular Imagination; that thing about the flails. Founder: @PublicMedieval. Makes very good eggs. he/him

May 27, 2021, 13 tweets

Hi #MAMG21! Thanks for coming to my paper: Fuck the Paladin and the Horse he Rode in On. Thanks to @cosyfanheater and Luiz Guerra for some early feedback on this. #DnD #DnD5e

1/ #MAMG21 “Paladins” are a stock figure in medievalist fantasy—whether that’s books, films, or games. But it was not always so. Though they have a long history (more below), the version we know sprang from the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (AD&D) Player’s Handbook in 1978.

2/ #MAMG21 Paladins are long overdue to be put out to pasture. This is for two core reasons: 1) they tie together holiness and violence, and 2) that violence is built on anti-Muslim bigotry, root and branch.

3/ #MAMG21 The and idea of the Paladin comes to us from the medieval story cycle “The Matter of France”, which is basically the French equivalent to the Arthurian legends. It centers around Charlemagne as its mythical king (though Charlemagne was real and Arthur wasn’t; @ me).

4/ #MAMG21 Charlemagne’s round table equivalent are his “12 Paladins”. The most famous story about them is The Song of Roland. The Song of Roland was a medieval work of historical fantasy; it was written in the 11th century, but it’s about the Battle of Roncevaux Pass in 778CE.

5/ #MAMG21 Like Le Morte DArthur (probably the most famous Arthurian story), Roland is a tragedy; by the end, despite personally slaying tens of thousands of enemies, Roland and the 12 Paladins are dead. And all those enemies? Muslims.

6/ #MAMG21 At least, it’s Muslims in the story (in reality, it was Basques serving some hot justice on Charlemagne for the destruction of their city’s walls). That’s the core trait that makes Roland’s Paladins “holy;” they didn’t cure the sick. They killed Muslims.

7/ #MAMG21 Fast forward to 1978. Paladins come to AD&D through fantasy lit that cribs from Roland. Not coincidentally, they arrive in AD&D with the 9-part alignment system; Paladins must be “Lawful-Good.” Only humans can be Paladins, perhaps a part of D&D's racialized morality.

8/ #MAMG21 As the decades go on, fantasy medievalisms combine the Paladin with the other icon of medieval anti-Muslim violence: Crusaders, particularly Templars—in name and in aesthetic. D&D 3.5 has Templar, Inquisitor, and Hospitaler prestige classes. But it’s not just in D&D…

9/ #MAMG21 It’s kind of understandable. Both Roland and the Crusades were born from 11th century attempts to justify violence—particularly against Muslims—within an ostensibly pacifist religion. And both have been intensely mythologized and re-adapted ever since.

10/ #MAMG21 Some recent mythologizing has been very ugly. Crusader memes are one right-wing tactic to attract an “edgelord” audience online; it’s radicalization in a jokey-joke hat. Paladins are often interchangeable with Crusaders; violence against “infidels” *is* the joke.

11/ #MAMG21 In D&D 5e, the core of the Paladin is its fusion of religion and violence: the Divine Smite. While D&D’s creators are trying replace religion with “oaths”, the words are still there: divine, sacred. The game mechanics reify the LG serial killer’s claims to godliness.

12/ #MAMG21What should we do? Banish, complicate, or mock “Paladins” in fantasy. In both function and aesthetics they invoke and excuse medieval atrocities by Christians, and give cover to bigotry today. They are a gross“Deus Vult” joke waiting to happen.

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