12.5.12: An Author’s Journey: Some Inspirations & Influences in Crafting The Codex Lacrimae, Part 4.1 (Charting A New Course for Epic Fantasy: Bringing the Genre into the Middle Ages!)
When I began working on The Artifacts of Destiny, I was governed mainly by a few strong desires for the story.
First, I wanted to write epic fantasy, but in a completely original way; I had no interest in imitating what Tolkien and Lewis had so successfully done, and actually wanted to continue re-reading their works without feeling as if there were any direct parallels between their creations and mine. I wanted to write a story that would captivate me as a reader, then hope that others might share my interest with tale.Second, I wanted the framework of the story to be bound completely to medieval European history as I understood it, with a different approach to the Scandinavian folklore & Norse myths than that which lay behind Tolkien & Lewis’s creations of Middle Earth and Narnia. Where they had used the Middle Ages as a springboard into high fantasy, I would bring epic fantasy into medieval civilization, and then see what happened!
Moreover, if my story really was to canvass all of Europe and the Mediterranean Basin, I was determined to take the readers & myself on a journey that would do justice to those regions and peoples as they existed in the period that interested me the most, the High Middle Ages (c. 1100 – 1300).
Within that two hundred years, I also wanted to make sure that I wasn’t falling into the trap Michael Moorcock warned about in his critique of epic fantasy, that of promoting an idealized Europe which never really existed (as the Gothic fantasists of the 19th century had done).
Scandinavia wasn’t Greece, nor were Sicily and Spain the Holy Land of the Crusades. Each area had a completely different history, cultural experience, and societal make-up, and while they share many great commonalities that make them part of what’s called the Western Tradition, I wanted each of those medieval places to “ring true” with the reader when I described them.
How would I do that? Some authors have become medievalists (see Judith Tarr & her Avaryan Chronicles and Alamut series), or, as with Robert Jordan and Ken Follett, some history buffs have succeeded wonderfully in evoking a blend of Eastern & medieval themes (Asian & Buddhist with Jordan’s The Wheel of Time epic fantasy) and High Middle Ages milieus (Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth and World without End books).
There are also plenty of non-historian fantasy authors who have written excellent fantasy stories & series that remain true to many aspects of medieval civilization. Just to start, see Stephen R. Lawhead (The Pendragon Cycle), T.H. White (The Once and Future King), Marion Zimmer Bradley (The Mists of Avalon), and Katherine Kurtz (Deryni novels).
But, while one certainly doesn’t have to become a medievalist to convincingly evoke the Middle Ages in an epic fantasy story, depending on the kind of story you’re writing, it can certainly help! For the tale I had in mind, if I really wanted to try and represent the totality of that eight-hundred years’ distant culture, Tolkien and Lewis had shown me the path that really intrigued me: medieval studies.
Of course, their interests (Anglo-Saxon studies for Tolkien, & Medieval Literature for Lewis) were more on the literary side than the “Crusades & Church History” course-of-studies & training that I ultimately took, but those Oxford dons’ examples really made in impression on me when I was figuring out what I wanted to do with my life.
If I could become a historian, research & teach teaching during the day, then I could work on my novels at night. What a fantastic way to blend my professional and personal interests!
However, the journey was daunting: to make a living, I’d have to become a medieval historian on the field’s own terms, then try to incorporate what I learned into a fantasy setting for my novels.
Next time: Keeping it Literary while Getting to the Medieval History & Epic Fantasy!