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…