The classic fantasy knight is a wonderful invention, simple in design and easy to write. They are heroes of the battlefield, loyal to their kings, and there is a lot we can learn from the Middle Ages by reading about them. Generally speaking, however, they are very far from the real medieval knight and if they were presented more realistically we could learn a whole lot more. Not every knight was a hedge knight or a knight errant. Most of them had their sh*t together. So how can we make our fantasy knights more like the real knights of the Middle Ages? If there’s one thing reading dry history books and attending university lectures has taught me, it’s how to answer that question! So here are four ways you can make your fantasy knights a whole lot more realistic and historically accurate! And, thank the good gods, none of them have to do with tournaments and damsels in distress!
Hopefully this discussion can help to answer the question “who were some of the first Germanic pirates and without getting too gritty in the details what are some cool things to know about naval warfare in the Early Middle Ages?”
Welcome to this tour through early medieval naval warfare and Dark Age maritime activity. Our exhibition will begin with a brief yet formal chronological jaunt along some of the many notable accounts of early Germanic piracy and Anglo-Saxon navy activity. Then we’ll explore Dark Age naval strategy and tactics before we conclude with a broad analysis of the material culture of early medieval naval warfare.
Faith to one’s lord and loyalty to one’s lord can mean the same thing in everyday speech, but like most words “faith” and “loyalty” also have secondary definitions depending on the context. Today, we’ll be exploring these secondary definitions within the context of a hero, warrior or knight in the Middle Ages. In order to examine the differences between heroic loyalty and chivalric faith in this medieval context, we must first clarify the differences between the heroic and the chivalric in medieval literature.
George MacDonald is often credited as being the first fantasy author. Although he was born in 1824 and his works are much older than J.R.R. Tolkien’s or Michael Ende’s, flaunting MacDonald as the founder of fantasy is misleading and doesn’t explain where fantasy really came from. Today I want to talk about the origin of fantasy in a broader narrative, starting with the oral storytelling traditions of the ancients and ending with Michael Ende’s The Neverending Story.
In a time before accurate guns, hawking and falconry were the best means of catching avian prey besides the odd “lucky bows-shot” or trapping, and falconers put many delicacies on the tables of aristocratic families. But because of the cost of equipment and the vast amounts of time needed to train predatory birds for hunting, hawking was deemed an “upper-class sport”. The female falcon was favored over the male hawk or tiercel because they were larger and fiercer. The kinds of quarry peregrines would catch were partridges, pheasants, cocks, ducks, bustards, geese, herons, snipes, cranes, mallards and larger falcons would even hunt rodents such as hares. Also, smaller predatory birds like the merlin were useful for hunting smaller birds like larks, and the lark tongue was a delicacy among nobles and wealthier townsfolk.
In the later Middle Ages, with the rise of universities and cathedral schools in urban areas across Europe, regulated organizations began to professionalize the trade of the surgeon or barber-surgeon (Siraisi 18). In Venice, there was a College of Physicians by 1316 which focused on a wide range of different medical practices (Siraisi 18). Bloodletting, however, was by far the most common medical practice throughout the Middle Ages, especially as it was less painful than cautery, and since all humors were believed to be in the blood, and since it was believed that by “disordered complexion” these humors could transform into unwanted secondary humors, bloodletting, or phlebotomy, allowed these unwanted humors to be removed from the body before the liver could produce more clean, pure blood (Siraisi 139).
For anyone who thinks long enough and doesn’t live in the jungle it’s impossible to deny that we’re moving into a new age. All the categories of time we capitalize today such as the Age of Discovery or the Age of Sail are products of humans not waiting for history to happen to them but of humans getting up out of their seats and making history happen to the world. A year ago I asserted that we’re living in the Second Renaissance, and in a newer post I even went as far as to say that we’ll soon be living in a Second Gothic Revival, for, like how classical Greece and Rome was the “golden age” of the First Renaissance, the Middle Ages is the “golden age” of the Second. Bear with me here.
Castles throughout the Middle Ages went through immense evolution, especially their defensive structures. This is because the defensive capabilities of the castle were its main reason for existing, and the castle needed to keep up with siege-craft technology which was evolving just as rapidly throughout the medieval period. In Late Antiquity, the Romans were masters of building defensive structures within several days while on campaign in Gaul and the British Isles. Such structures included walled barracks for the armies to sleep in and watchtowers known as burgus for defending roads and bridges, precursors to the Scottish pele which encompassed the border ‘twixt Scotland and England during the time of Robert the Bruce.
To examine how Venetian seapower grew to become an effective force in the Mediterranean, an examination of how Venice herself came to exist must be conducted. After understanding how and why the Venetian Arsenal was the leading European shipbuilding center in the Mediterranean by the sixteenth century, as well as how and why Venetian shipwrights and artillerists by the fifteenth century were world leaders in artillery- and naval-innovation, conceptualizing the outcomes of the conflicts that Venice played a role in such as the battle of Lepanto will be possible. By covering key medieval Venetian terms of vocabulary, a better picture of Venetian seapower can be envisaged. A picture of medieval Venetian seapower must be clear in order to determine how it has influenced the Mediterranean in the early modern period. To conclude, a theory attempting to scry what the Mediterranean may have looked like by the twentieth century if the Venetian Arsenal never existed will be presented.
Your identity and the outer world are in tandem, tugging on each other to shape the perception you hold of yourself. This means that your identity shifts as you steer your focus and concentration on different aspects of the outer world. Compare an American who collects guns and trucks and plays in the NFL to an American who collects books and swords and plays in Swordfish longsword tournaments; now quickly forgetting titular identities, do you think this difference of interest plays a role in their national and cultural identities? Without knowledge of medieval history, you might wonder how France became France and how Spain became Spain. If you know you’re Italian, you might read the works of the stilnovisti and fetch a sense of campanilismo.
Today, ghost stories are shared around campfires and bedsteads as sources of entertainment and have little to do with religion. In medieval times, however, these tales of ghosts haunting the living, though they may have been entertaining for some, revolved heavily around religious belief. Purgatory, a waiting terminal between Heaven and Hell, was where these ghosts were thought to reside. Therefore, to reveal how purgatory and other religious beliefs played an important role in forming the attitudes of medieval people, we may want to explore and analyze the common elements in these ghost stories further.
Whether it’s fantasy book covers, tabletop gaming or cinematography, to ask artists to be realistic let alone historically accurate would take away the very reason why many of these artists enter such beloved trades in the first place–creativity. Now with that out of the way, I still want to argue that there should be more realistic and historically accurate medieval-esque forms of entertainment in popular media for those of us who do appreciate it. Currently there’s very little of this. Non-medievalists mayn’t be able to spot all the inaccuracies but pedantic ones who do might be more entertained by TV shows that get things right.
It’s rather obvious that the classic fantasy wizard trope isn’t realistic, but YES, if done properly, a wizard can be realistic, especially in a story reflecting the Early Middle Ages, a time also known as the Dark Ages, during and after the steady decline of the Roman Empire. How so?
Before you hit me with “realism in fantasy only means consistency”, consider that ancient and medieval people knew what they were doing and their armor looks the way it does for very important reasons. Here I will be taking a brief look at a few popular fantasy tropes and compare them to historical reality to show you why much fantasy armor is impractical in real life.
In my quest to paint a perfect image of medieval times for myself, I, with wide eyes, enter such chansons de geste, or “poems of courage,” as that of The Song of Roland and can’t help myself from identifying a few misconceptions about life in the Middle Ages.
Though they may be filled with fantastical magic and myths, these chansons de geste, taking place in the 9th century, portray a much more realistic picture of medieval times compared to the majority of today’s medieval fantasy fiction. In the epic poems of Charlemagne, you’ll find small groups of courageous knights valiantly defending breaches in their towers with their shields against hordes of javelin-throwing Saracens. Sieges last for months, and knights are careful to arm themselves rightly in real, historical armor. But despite all this awesome realism, authors love to boon their storytelling with another sort of awesomeness–the fantasy trope. Aye, the trope, a cliché or misconception added for entertainment’s sake, is even highly abundant in the French medieval epic poems of Charlemagne!
If a masterpiece of artful and amazing prose on the human experience never reaches the public eye, is never praised by academics, never sells a single copy, is it still literature?
Who decides what is literature and what isn’t? Elitist assholes or literary experts? If you wish to skim through this blog post, I’ve bolded the juicy bits for your convenience. If you wish to read normally, please keep in mind that by “literature” I don’t simply mean “literate material,” but Merriam-Webster’s 3rd definition: “writings in prose or verse; especially : writings having excellence of form or expression and expressing ideas of permanent or universal interest.”
What we need to do to understand literary fantasy is make a line between realistic literary fantasy for adults, like A Game of Thrones, and unrealistic literary fantasy for children and young adults, like The Hobbit or Cinderella, because by doing this we’ll notice there’s a middle ground between these two extremes, and, for a reason I’ll explain, this middle ground isn’t considered literature. Bear with me if you can. This is just theory for the mind, so bring a bucket of salt and we’ll have some fun.
Millennials are no longer making the same unethical and environmentally-damaging mistakes made by our predecessors in the Industrial Revolution. Thinkers, noticing this change, like to call our current conditioning “post-modern.” They are right to do so because history is never static. She is contently and constantly on the move. We cannot be modern forever. The word, for me at least, conjures images of World War I and II. But on the other hand, “The Second Renaissance,” when uttered, augurs images of green energy and nations working together.
Like any artform fantasy is susceptible to change. Think of 60s rock-and-roll and compare it to modern rock, 90s cartoons compared to cartoons today. Just like how music is changing due to technology, fantasy is changing due to a flux of information on the internet. The re-discovery of medieval combat treatises is putting a heavy responsibility on the shoulders of everyone who works with medieval themes, especially writers. But as things change the more they stay the same.
It’s common for people to confuse magical realism with fantasy, but what, I ask, after understanding their differences, would they look like combined? Combined, would it simply be medieval historical fiction with some magic thrown in or would we be dealing with a whole new genre? You may find my conclusion very interesting.
First let me briefly describe what I find to be the extreme difference between the two genres.
Magical realism uses magic to bring the reader closer to reality, while fantasy uses the same to help the reader escape from it. Magical realism, in other words, brings us closer to truth. Fantasy, by its design, takes us away from truth. This is exactly why much magical realism is considered literature and why much fantasy is not. Literature, for reasons of academic growth, urges us to think in order to understand the meanings behind things in our own real world. Fantasy, though it may provoke thoughts now and then, wants us to escape from reality for reasons of pleasure.
I chose the title for this paper very carefully. A few months ago I might have said “time to begin the Great Crusade against Misconceptions in the Medieval Fantasy Genre,” but I’ve learned that in order to win this holy war we must not fight against what we hate–lies and misconceptions–but rather save what we love–truth!
I could just say ‘keep a dictionary by the toilet’ and end this article there but I actually found a very efficient way for everyone to grow their vocabularies at alarming rates. Get ready to impress your friends! Most people unintentionally grow their vocabulary over many years, kind of like how laborers and lumberjacks unintentionally grow muscle mass. So to intentionally grow your vocabulary is very similar to purposely growing a six pack or losing 300 pounds; it takes hard work and dedication. But with the tips and advice you’ll find below, the journey to tripling or doubling your vocabulary in the next year will not only be easier but more fun as well.
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In my niche, a popular argument is circulating. Should fantasy be more realistic? One side believes fantasy should take pride in being unrealistic because, after all, it’s fantasy.
The other side thinks fantasy is awesome, but the unrealistic armour, fighting styles and architecture makes it not as good as it could be. They believe more realism can make fantasy more believable, and therefore more entertaining. I’m a gamer as well as a medievalist, so in a way I support both sides of this argument, though anyone who’s chatted with me could tell you I support one side more. For the bulk of this spiel, however, I’ll forget my opinion to explain this popular argument more thoroughly, or at least I’ll try to.
I heard two people on the street going on about this subject. One said he thought games were better because a good book was much harder to put down. The other said at least a good book can end and a good game these days never does, which is why they get people hooked. People get a hooked on books, too. Both are fun.
A friend of mine is often volunteering their time in social programs that aid the poor, so it was daunting when they asked what do I accomplish by writing books. This friend has already made the world a much better place. For example, they’ve built homes in third world countries, donated tons of money to the homeless, helped numerous fundraisers do the same, etc. I may have made that list small but that’s all stuff I’ve never done before. I believe it’s important to leave the world better than how you found it, but this question struck me hard at first because I wondered, “Am I just writing books for myself, or am I making the world a better place, too?”
The plow, the ox, the roof and the fool are real sword stances from medieval treatises and historical manuals (check out the famous Solothurner Fechtbuch) and are still used by HEMA students today. These four sword positions are also similar to the basic stances used by samurai in different periods. There are many, and some would say an unlimited number of stances a swordsman can hold, especially if you do LARP or Hollywood choreography (lmao), but these four guards below are the universal, historical ones, and I believe understanding them can empower any novice sword owner. Now I will briefly explain their uses and applications from an outright amateur’s perspective.
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