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The Case For Writing About the Medieval Era

In this post, Christian author Mark Fisher makes the case for writing about the medieval era in both Christian fantasy and Christian historical fiction.

Why Buck a Trend? Why the Medieval Era?

Many authors of Christian historical fiction write for the Regency era, the period of English history from 1795 through 1837. Some do write about the Civil War, the Old West, or biblical times. But few write about medieval times. In my search for agents and publishers, many have told me not to write for my chosen era. So why am I bucking the trend? Because I love the era and I must write about what fascinates me. This post and many that follow will explore some of the reasons the middle ages intrigue me.

Cleric-Knight-WorkmanThe Middle Ages? Don’t They Begin at Fifty?

Let’s define “medieval”. It’s the Middle Ages, the period from the fifth through the fifteenth centuries that began with the collapse of the Roman Empire and ended with the voyage of Christopher Columbus to the New World. It was a time of world turmoil. Christianity was spreading across the European continent, but the populace was bedeviled by barbarian invasions, warfare, plague, and the rise of Islam. Whole tribes of people migrated from one location to another. Plagues and war wiped out entire peoples. New kingdoms formed and old ones collapsed. All this is great fodder for the writer.

Kings and Kingdoms

It was a time of kings and kingdoms. Often the medieval kingdom consisted of nothing more than a monarch who ruled a town and its surrounding region. The king lived in a fortress, later a castle, usually on a hill, that provided shelter for the townspeople when the raiders, or barbarians, or a conquering neighbor rode in. For the writer, a king, his family, and the power he holds are a fascinating foundation upon which to build stories. There’s usually intrigue in the court. Someone is always out to get the royal family. Or the king himself is misguided, corrupt, or evil, and our hero must stand against him. Being close to the center of power, our character can affect events. And the wiles, deceits, and plots of the court add to reader interest.

The World Was Smaller Then

One of the things that pulls me toward the period is the opportunity for a character to make a difference. The world was much smaller then, but at the same time larger. It was smaller because an individual’s actions and could more easily affect a king and his kingdom. Our hero can go to the king, make his case or be given his task, and what he does can have a large impact. There are no corporate boards in far-off cities, or monstrous governments too big for our hero to change. If there’s an evil empire, it’s ruled by an antagonist we can fight, an individual with a name, a face, and minions we can fight off.

The social structure was based on the clan—local groups of related people. This was the case in ancient, Celtic Ireland. Our hero or heroine was part of it and when the clan was threatened, we have the basis for a plot that matters. We’ve gone beyond the fate of a single individual. The issues at stake are bigger, affecting an entire people. Larger stakes equals greater reader interest.

But the World Was Also Larger

At the same time, the medieval world was also larger in this sense: Distances were great, travel was treacherous, and going to the ends of the earth might take years. You couldn’t jump on a red-eye and arrive at the other side of the world the next day. Traveling to the far ends of the world was an adventure, requiring an all-out commitment of months, possibly years, to get to your destination. Greater danger, risk, and adventure equals greater reader interest.

As for reasons to write about the medieval era, we already have quite a list. But we’re not done. The ancient world gave us unique virtues, but also death, brutality, violence, and conquest. We’ll continue our look at this fascinating era next week.


Epic Tales of Faith and Adventure: A Byline for Christian Historical Fiction

In this post, Christian author Mark Fisher, a writer of Christian historical fiction and Christian fantasy, explains why he chose the byline, Epic Tales of Faith and Adventure. I believe this phrase best represents what I’m striving for in my writing. It’s a capsule summary of my “theme”, if you will for both historical fiction and fantasy. Let’s dive into it.

Epic Tales…

What’s an epic tale? The classic definition might include heroes or heroines struggling to perform great deeds against great odds. The issue before them is vast, important to the world, or the existence of a people.

Epic-Tales-shahnameh1The tale may have elements from Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey, Mythic Structure For Writers. Though not cast in stone, these time-honored elements give us the skeleton of a classic story. They include a hero in an “ordinary” world where something is about to change. There is a call to adventure, where our hero is called out of the ordinary world. He often refuses this call, but the lure of adventure eventually overcomes his reluctance or misgivings. He may encounter a mentor, someone who helps him, providing advice, weapons, talismans, or special tools. He begins his journey by crossing a threshold into a new world of danger. In this strange, new world, he encounters tests of character and skill. He joins with allies to fight enemies and obstacles. There must be a great crisis, an ordeal, ad dark moment when all seems lost. Then the hero finds what he seeks and takes the road home. He is renewed, possibly brought back from the brink of death. Finally, he returns home with the object of his search.

This is the classic quest. And this type of story fascinates me. Of course, all rules are made to be broken, and one shouldn’t slavishly follow any formula. The book you write can take a sudden turn that breaks all your plans. So the author must sometimes let the characters take him where they will. But for me, an epic tale is usually a quest, a search for something lost, something important, something that will either change the world or restore it to what it used to be. Whatever it is, the search for this object propels the story forward with power and meaning. It works for historical fiction. And it works especially well for fantasy.

…of Faith…

faith-1We’re writing Christian fantasy and historical fiction here. As such our fiction must be grounded in Christ. It must, above all, glorify God and Christ. It may either bring people to a knowledge of Christ, make them curious about Him, or make them stop and think. Our books may be for Christians. Or they may be for those seeking the truth. But they must give a Christian message.

We live in a world filled with secular books that, after we’ve read them, we feel lost, without hope, and in despair. The characters struggle through life without direction, and in the end, find it’s all meaningless. What meaning they do find, they must make themselves. But it’s like grabbing handfuls of water.

Against that backdrop, the Christian author must wield a sword of light into the darkness, bringing hope where none previously existed. Every story may not have a happy ending. But every story must uplift spiritually. It must lift up Christ. That’s our charge.

…and Adventure

At the same time, the Christian author must tell a story. In fact, the story (and its characters) must come first. If it’s history we’re after, it better not be dry history. It must be an adventure filled with peril, interesting characters, and it must go somewhere. If we’re writing fantasy, our world should be compelling and take us to places far different from our own.

A quest is always an adventure. Our hero seeks “the elixir” to save his people, and if he doesn’t bring it back, the clan will be no more. There must also be a villain, or two, or three, for a story is only as good as its conflict. Our hero must struggle and strive. Nothing will come easy.

Aye, lads and lassies, story must come first. For only when our hero or heroine slogs and struggles through peril after peril can we bring the reader a message of faith. Without a story and interesting characters, we have nothing.

And that is why I chose my byline.

Next time I’ll review The Pilgrim, by Davis Bunn.


A Blog About Christian Fantasy and Christian Historical Fiction

Christian Fantasy and Christian Historical Fiction, A Blog

Today we launch a new blog theme. The subject? Stories. Swords. And Scepters. “Stories” refers to Christian fantasy and historical fiction, my two main writing interests. “Swords and Scepters” refer to my preferred historical setting in medieval times.

What is Christian Fantasy?

Someone asked me recently exactly what is Christian fantasy? So here’s a definition—stories where magic or the supernatural play a role in the plot, theme, or setting; but the power of God must also be on display, often in opposition to magic, which is usually, but not always, wielded by the bad guys. The tale can take place in an imaginary world or in this world, but the rules are always different. Above all it must either lead people to or glorify Christ. (See Robert Treskillard‘s post on this subject: What is Christian Fantasy?)

Should Christian Historical Fiction Contain Fantasy Elements?

Then we have Christian historical fiction. medieval-villageToday most such novels are set in the Regency era, the period from 1795 through 1837, although some occur in the American Civil War, the old west, and in biblical times. We find few in my chosen period. I seem to be paddling against the tide. Yet I like what I like.

Are there, or should there be, elements of fantasy in historical fiction? Only in the sense that we live in a supernatural world where the forces of light battle the forces of darkness. God versus Satan. And when the power of God is on display, we as writers should not hesitate to show it in all its glory, mystery, and power. We should not shrink back from showing miracles or visions, where history says they happened. The rules for our historical world, of course, are based on history, culture, and truth and cannot be changed.

Above all, readers want a compelling story, not dry history. They want to immerse themselves in another world, to escape, if only for a moment, to another time and place. And in the process, perhaps the writer can show the glory and majesty of God and how he sent his Son to redeem a lost and fallen people.


Walking the Line Between Fantasy and History

My books walk the line between fantasy and historical fiction. In The Bonfires of Beltane, my novel set in ancient, Celtic Ireland in AD 432, french-castleI tried to make the culture of the ancient Celts as accurate as possible. I attempted to follow faithfully events in the life of St. Patrick, as much as we know about them. Which isn’t a lot. Patrick did indeed see visions where God warned him of future danger. God led him, first to escape slavery in Ireland, then to go back and preach the gospel. The legends about him are many. Surely some were true. This was a man fired by the Holy Spirit to bring the pagan Irish out of spiritual darkness. We can liken him to the Apostle Paul. And if God works in the world, as he must surely do, then we should expect miracles, signs, and wonders. That’s what happened in the book of Acts. And I believe that’s what we see in the life of Patrick. Thus the book might read like fantasy to some. But that’s only because we do live in a supernatural world where light fights with the dark. And when the soldiers of good meet the forces of evil, and the Holy Spirit steps in to join the battle, God changes the rules and performs miracles.

What’s Next?

So that’s the plan for the blog. What will we see here in the months to come? Book reviews. Snippets of history. Perhaps the life of St. Patrick. Discussions about Christian fantasy and historical fiction. Forays into the cultures of earlier times. Comparisons to our world. And now and again, a Bible verse. It will be less theological than my past posts, more a potpourri of interesting subjects related in some way to the writing of Christian fantasy and historical fiction. I hope you’ll join me. We’ll talk about stories. Especially where swords and scepters are concerned.