Why the fascination with the Middle Ages?
It’s a question I was asked today and it’s something I’ve wondered about as well.
I think it began in secondary school. I fell in love with historical fiction the minute I had my own library card. At the same time, the beginning of the 60’s, TV had just begun in Australia and so I was beguiled by the black and white historical cinema of the time. I’ve just found a copious list of 300 movies online www.erasofelegance.com/entertainment/medievalmovies.html and went through to find the ones I remembered from my youth:
A Challenge for Robin Hood (1968)
Alfred the Great (1969)
King Richard and the Crusaders (1954)
Men of Sherwood Forest (1954)
Rogues of Sherwood Forest (1950)
Sword of Lancelot (1963)
Sword of Sherwood Forest (1960)
Sword of the Conqueror (1961)
Tales of Robin Hood (1951)
The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
The Black Arrow (1985)
The Black Knight (1954)
The Flame and the Arrow (1950)
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1957)
The Magic Sword (1962)
The Pied Piper of Hamelin (1957)
The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men (1952)
It was quite an eye-opener to find so many Robin Hoods had been a part of my life! There was obviously a subliminal message there…
Then of course there was the serialised Robin Hood with Richard Greene and the French styled Thierry La Fronde: the King’s Outlaw and so on. At the cinema (what we in my youth called the Picture Theatre, or more euphemistically ‘the pictures’, or colloquially ‘the flicks’), there was El Cid, Camelot, The Lion in Winter, Becket and many more. Suffice to say that I loved sword fights and costumes, arrow flight and ‘men in tights’, well before I began university.
On the campus, it became obvious my love of history would become a major in my degree. In second year I had a lecturer, Father Rushton, whose love and enthusiasm for the medieval era was abundant. He had a way of talking about Peter Abelard, the Venerable Bede, of Bernard of Clairveux and Hildegarde von Bingen, of Eleanor and Henry and Richard and John that opened my eyes wide. It was a gradual thing, the move from fiction to fact. I loved every minute of it and thank the fates for the introduction of that priest into my life.
He taught me that the Middle Ages were the foundation stones of the Renaissance. That far from being Dark and Dirty, there was much that was enlightened and stunningly beautiful within the time frame.
Of course, the years marched on and I began to write fiction again, but seriously now, not as a hobby. I began with fantasy and of course traditionally fantasy is often set in a medieval-styled setting. Sometimes I use that style in my own fantasies, but sometimes I blend it with other timeframes, creating a world that reviewers claim is ‘eerily like our own’.
Before long though, one character from all those Robin Hood movies began to make himself heard, sitting in a corner of the study, his sword across his knees, asking why he couldn’t have a history written about him, why Hood, that arrogant thief, should garner all the limelight. After all, hadn’t I already formed a love for the Middle Ages? Wasn’t he a character deserving of a better place within the histories? (for history, write legend perhaps)
Thus Gisborne beguiled me and I began to create a fictional history from the legend as memories of Father Rushton’s vivid lectures sent me rushing back to the research texts.
I’m a believer in things that are meant to be … without doubt my journey along the pockmarked thoroughfares of the Middle Ages was pre-destined. It remains to be seen, after Gisborne’s story is told, whether I stay within the timeframe.
Age permitting, and despite the fact that I am jealous of anyone who writes about the silk and embroidery encrusted eighteenth century, I just might…
I grew up as a major Robin Hood fan, too. (And majored in Art History, specializing in medieval.) Those pictures from the old Richard Greene Robin Hood take me back…my favorite TV show in early childhood. I heard when I went to England that it was written mostly by American film writers–blacklisted by the horrors of the McCarthy era. So the idea of a little income-equalizing really appealed to them.
Hallo, Anne. Good to ‘see’ you. I’m no longer with MWiDP so don’t catch up with everyone as much as I used to.
The preponderance of so-called medieval movies and TV shows in my life must have had a subliminal effect on the interest that developed in the future. Even odd ones like Danny Kaye’s The Court Jester which has the most amusing sword fight. I can feel a blog-post coming on!
I had no idea there were that many Robin Hoods in abundance. Do you think it might be one of the most re-told stories?
I think it’s the idea of living without technology and truly having to work for your living that intrigue me. And the clothing… If I could I’d probably have a gown from every era. :}
Neither did I, Cathryn, until I started looking back and realising that so many of them had filled my life.
The nobility of the Middle Ages, the chivalry, knights, silks and satins, horses (huge when I was young) and sword fighting over a maiden’s hand … it all appealed. But could I do without a bathroom and decent heating, without chocolate, and with being dead by the time I am at the age I have just reached? No!
But there is an essence within the Middle Ages that tugs at my soul every time. Perhaps, like the writer Lucinda Brant who says she ‘lived’ in the eighteenth century, hence her love of it … I ‘lived’ in the Middle Ages. One day, as a blog post, I might try and ‘see’ who I was in those days. It might be fun!
I became a fan of the Middle Ages through movies, too. I was so gobsmacked by Olivier’s Richard III that I read everything I could lay my hands on about the Wars of the Roses, and came to Paul Murray Kendall’s brilliant series of histories and biographies of the period. He draws these people with great wit and enthusiasm. And the clothes are among history’s silliest.
Olivier’s Richard was phenomenal, I agree. But do you know, I think there are even better representations since then. I think too, that the BBC are doing a representation this year. I remember Fly High had something about it in her blog 2 weeks ago and I remember thinking, oh to be in the UK!
I love those old shows and movies. I remember watching Richard Greene as RH, but Errol will always be Robin Hood to me. No one has ever eclipsed him, and I imagine he was quite the thing in your neck of the woods.
But it was reading History of the English Speaking People’s which really piqued my interest in the period. I went on to study it extensively in college and became obsessed with Henry II and William Marshal. Still am.
I would love to read your description of silk and embroidery and the surrounding story. : D
Frenz, I love that you think Errol is the quintessential Robin. Can you recall that amazing sword-fight between he and Basil Rathbone? It’s one of my all time favourites.
Two years ago, our town had an Errol Flynn festival for his birthday and his ex-wife and son came out for it. (Errol went to the same school as my mum). It was great fun and there was an attempt at sword-fighting in the centre of town. It’s such a pity we don’t have serious re-enactors here as I imagine someone of the calibre of Terry Kroenung would have given us a real eye-opener.
Have you read Elizabeth Chadwick’s brilliant hist.ficts on William Marshall? Highly recommended!
Aaah, someone from the other side of the world who has heard of Thierry La Fronde! I was still living in French speaking countries back then and still have the mags about it (in French, of course)! 😀
Oh, and let’s not forget the 1980s British Robin of Sherwood that even inspired the movie with Kevin Costner… that’s my favorite version of that tale… 🙂