This essay examines the racial formation of Mongols in The King of Tars, a fourteenth-century Middle English romance, in relation to the Syrian geopolitics and Latin European historiographical records that inspired its composition. Because the romance features overt instances of racialized physiognomy, such as skin color changing across confessional lines and the normalization of whiteness for the Christian body, scholars have overlooked how race operates in the text in less visible ways. Critical interest has largely focused on the familiar, oppositional binary of Christendom versus Islam that characterizes the crusade romance genre, thus emphasizing how the text demonstrates a racialization of religion in the period. However, by analyzing the romance in relation to its historiographical source material, this essay reveals how the less visible, yet still present, Mongol figure — represented principally through the Princess of Tars — operates within a nexus of eastern alterity that drives the colonialist fantasy of Muslim conversion and genocide. The essay coins the term “exotic ally” to describe this particular racial construction of Mongols and capture how a romance that is often read through a white-black and Christian-Muslim binary of racial-religious conflict is engaged in a much more complex process of racial thinking.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Cultural Studies
- Language and Linguistics
- Linguistics and Language
- Literature and Literary Theory