Thursday, August 15, 2013

Challenge of the Middle Ages.

Stolzenfels Castle, in the background Lahneck Castle - Karl Bodmer

Fantasy writers are often guilty of one very specific sin. Okay not a sin. It's just a mistake on our part. And it's one I've committed in the past. It's really what drove me away from writing medieval fantasy altogether and focusing on more Victorian times. Eventually I came back to writing some Medieval stuff (with my friend Aubrey Hansen whose blog you can check out here But it wasn't until I overcame some of the mental difficulties that I had with writing the Medieval period. 

You see a lot of people getting Medieval times and ancient times confused. Often people think 'medieval times' means knights and castles while Ancient times means robes and sandals. Thought these are things associated with each time they aren't really what drives the core of that era. Medieval Times means more then just the outward symbols that they left behind. Medieval times had a religion, a spirit and deep and complex history that made it what it was. Writing in a world that in the middle ages is not easy! It's far easier to do ancient times. See in Ancient Times civilizations were dominated by one single Tradition. Be that Tradition paganism (as it often was), an Athenian Democracy, Judaism or Zoroastrianism. The world of the ancient times was a simpler world. Which makes them easier to build.

Medieval times however, were complex. It lived in the shadow of the great Roman Empire, and it was constantly striving to achieve a fraction of the glory that had come before. Before its collapse Rome had been the center of military, intellectual and cultural power. But culture had degraded. Power had shifted from the hands of an educated Roman elite to the warring half barbaric tribes of northern Europe that were only kept in check by The Church. There's a desperation in Roman times. Knowledge that they could do better. A semi post-apocalyptic feel to it ... if you will. This desire to go back to the glory of Rome is one of the driving forces of the Middle Ages and acted as a civilizing factor on otherwise barbaric warlord. That's one of the reasons The Church was such a power during that time. It was the glue that held the fragile European society together. Chivalry was an attempt to civilize the barbaric warrior class into a more Classical line of thinking. 

So ... my point is .... writing about medieval times is more then just knights and castles. Now if you want to put Knights and Castles in your fantasy world and ignore the driving factor behind the Middle Ages. Sure. Understand. But if you're looking to create and accurate image of Medieval times you should seriously consider looking into why the Medievals thought like they did. 

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