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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.