Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. He is the hero.

Raymond Chandler, ‘The Simple Art of Murder’


In The High Window, Raymond Chandler famously characterizes his detective hero Philip Marlowe as a ‘shop-soiled Galahad’.  This phrase is one of many details that have led scholars to identify resonances between Chandler’s works and characteristics of a much older genre: Arthurian romance.  Such a connection might at first glance seem incongruous; yet both film noir and medieval romance lend themselves to a certain Gothic or gothicised aesthetic, and the birth of both literary and filmic noir coincides with a surge in the popularity of such texts as Sir Thomas Malory’s Morte Darthur.  Moreover, as the above quotation from Chandler’s essay ‘The Simple Art of Murder’ illustrates, the protagonists of both romance and noir are called upon to confront a less-than-civilized world, one that they may not necessarily transform, but which will almost certainly work a transformation in them.

This is a call for paper proposals for ‘Knights Errant & Private Dicks: From Romance to Noir’, a session that will take place at the 2016 International Congress on Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo (12-15 May 2016).  This session will explore, to use John Ganim’s words, ‘an unlikely cross-pollination’ between two genres separated by centuries.  Among the many questions that papers may consider are the following:


  • To what extent does noir function as a kind of medievalism?
  • What comparisons might we draw between the chivalric hero and the hard-boiled detective?
  • Are hard-boiled and chivalric values challenged, reinforced, or subverted by these genres?
  • Do the structural and thematic conventions shared by both genres work in similar ways?
  • Can we identify an aesthetic shared by both medieval romance and noir?
  • How do the innovations of film noir—in scenography, sound design, and visual iconography—underline or problematize the conventions of romance?
  • How might reading medieval romance as proto-noir change our view of the most popular secular genre of the Middle Ages?


If you are interested in participating in this session, please email an abstract of 250 words to Mary Flannery ( no later than 1 September (or, for more information, send her a tweet: @15thcgossipgirl).