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Medieval Mayhem!

Last night, as I was doing some research, I wondered where my fascination with medieval history began. My first thought was that it must be a Dungeons and Dragons thing, but then I remembered that wasn’t it. Not by a long shot.

Thomas Becket Shrine

I remember finding a copy of Thomas Malory’s Le Mort D’Arthur at my house when I was growing up, and I was transfixed! I was probably about nine or ten years old, and what could be better than the romanticized adventures of knights and heroes and villains! I still have that book and treasure it. I also found my first copy of Don Quixote in those old books, and devoured that too. Even as a kid, the parody aspect of that book was not lost on me.

Then I met the Sword and Sorcery genre. I remember well Robert E. Howard’s Conan books, many of them pastiches by other authors. Then came the books of Michael Moorcock, most notably the Elric books, but also the Corum and Hawkmoon series. Then came the Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, and Silmarillian.

J.R.R. Tolkein’s books had a big impact on my life. I honestly believe that everything I have learned about loyalty, friendship, and duty came from those stories. Now, in far retrospect, I would not call the LOTR cycle “medieval,” but I would say it represents a story for the so-called Dark Ages.

Short Digression: As far as I’m concerned, what we call the Middle Ages begins with the Norman Conquest in 1066, and ends with the reign of Henry VII in 1509. After that, you get a Renaissance king, Henry VIII. Anyway, for my own purposes, I call the period between Roman Britain and the Norman Conquest the Dark Ages, and do not consider them “Medieval.” You can try to change my mind, I don’t care.

When I was about fifteen, or maybe fourteen, some nearby friends Ed Trout and his brother Ken Trout introduced me to Dungeons and Dragons. I would have to ask Ed, but I think this was around 1978, more likely 1979. I was hooked in a big way. In fact, I played tabletop role-playing games avidly from then till about 2000. I made many life-long friends playing RPGs. I laugh now, but there are whole generations of people whose preconceived ideas about the medieval period are based on D&D.

I would be remiss if I didn’t note the Deryni books of Katherine Kurtz. I got these in my early twenties, and they were a big influence on me. I’m thinking of rereading them in order, to be honest. Benita introduced me to them, and for that I can never thank her enough.

Dover Castle

In my mid-twenties I went back to college, this time going for a degree in medieval history. This was a rich learning experience, and academically I got to shine in a way I never had before. I had some outstanding professors, especially Dr. Kenneth Cutler. He’s long retired, and I’m not sure if he’s still alive. I couldn’t find him looking online.

When I went back to college, this was all in the time prior to the internet. I was almost done with my degree when the professors first got email! Anyway, I managed to get by as best I could without much access to primary sources and limited availability of the books I needed. Now, with the internet, it’s all scanned and easily available, most of it for free! My medieval education has been just as intense in these last few years with material gleaned off the world wide web as it was in my college days.

Around age 30, I started participating in the Society of Creative Anachronism. It was not an all-together positive experience. After having had two serious cases of sun stroke, my body couldn’t handle the heat of armor, and I got sick several times trying to learn how to fight. It took me some time to realize it, but physically I was not up rigors of this martial art. Oddly enough, I believe I could handle it just fine now, but in my 50’s I’m in better shape than I was then.

The people in the Society of Creative Anachronism were friendly and inviting, and I was tempted to stay on explore the non-combat elements of the group. I did not find anyone in the group with a serious drive for history, unfortunately–these were not scholars, but semi-informed enthusiasts. That may sound critical on my part, but I don’t mean it that way. The SCA was a gateway to Medieval learning, and that’s fantastic. After the last time I tossed my cookies at a meetup, I stopped going. I never did try to certify as a fighter, because I never went to any of the big events where that was done.

If I had it to do over, would I have approached the whole thing differently? Sure. I could have been a friendly ambassador for history, I could have done so many non-combat things. I could have written articles for their publications. But, ces’t la vie.

The next stop on my medievalist path was a trip to Britain. I think I was about 27, and my grandparents sent me, Benita, my mom, and my step-dad, Floyd, to England for ten days. It was a fantastic trip that is forever burned into my memory. I am an Anglophile, through and through. Benita and I ran around inside castles and cathedrals, and I remember the first time I touched a stone tower wall that had been there since the medieval times.

Highlights of the trip include Lincoln, Canterbury, Salisbury, London, Dover, and Edinburgh. Castles, Cathedrals, and Chapels Oh my!

After this, I took about a two-decade break from all things medieval. I was busy trying to establish my career in indie comics, after all. My passion really reignited when Benita introduced me to the British television show Time Team. I love that show, and have seen all of them (I think). Not long after that I remember getting my first longbow, the type used in the middle ages, and taking up traditional archery.

Then came the Book of Lists.

The BOL is my insane attempt to marshal medieval terminology, history, and material culture. All of it. Really, every last bit. This book is not done, and it should take years to finish, but it’s aimed at writers and gamers who want to understand the very cool options hidden in history. Honestly, the deeper you dig, the more you realize that actual medieval history has many more cool options than Dungeons & Dragons or Lord of the Rings ever touch on. There is a wealth of cool jobs, technology, magic, and material culture in there!

So, that’s where I’ll leave it. I’m sure there are going to many more medieval-based adventures and by-ways for me to explore. I’m ready now. 

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