Monday, October 3, 2011

History Is Fantasy

On tap for today is a wonderful guest post by one of my favorite Tweeple, Merry Farmer. Merry is a historical romance/sci-fi author and just released her first self-published novel, The Loyal Heart. Merry's specialty is medieval musings, so in honor of her indie debut, please give her a big welcome.

History Is Fantasy

Hi Samantha’s blog people! Nice to meet you! When Samantha asked me to write a guest post for her blog she added, “… my blog is mostly about fantasy” at the end of her request. And I thought to myself, what better crossover could there be between Fantasy and Historical Romance than my subject of choice, Medieval History? Because there was a time (called the Middle Ages) when they were in essence one and the same.

Every Monday on my blog is Medieval Monday, and if you’ve ever read any of those posts then you know that I am a champion of the Medieval Peasant. Peasants made up 90% of the population of the Medieval world. They were simple, industrious, uneducated, and fun-loving. Most peasants never traveled more than 25 miles away from home in their lives. They believed devoutly in the mysteries of the Medieval Church with a home-grown taste of “the old ways” thrown in. So what do you get when your world is populated by uneducated people with vivid imaginations fueled by superstition who never venture far from home? You get dragons, fairies, and magic.

Yep, what we now call Fantasy was, in fact, a unique kind of reality to the average man and woman of the Middle Ages. Without the benefit of modern science, fantasy was the best explanation for anything that didn’t make sense in the world. Your average Medieval peasant would have heard stories of strange animals in remote foreign lands brought back by crusaders, pilgrims, and an occasional trader. Without pictures to show then they would have relied on their imaginations and local creatures to fill in the blanks.

A friend drew this. Isn't she talented?
Take dragons, for example. It was a fact that dragons existed … somewhere far away. Everyone would have heard descriptions of huge scaly beasts with massive teeth, but without a clear picture of, say, a crocodile, the imagination of an average person in the British Isles would have heard “scaly” and “huge” and come to their own conclusions. Besides that, dragons were common creatures in Medieval heraldry. And heraldry was a far bigger deal back in the day than we give it credit for now. And dragons featured prominently in stories told by bards and troubadours. Heck, dragons are mentioned in the Bible. Of course they exist!

So did fairies, sprites, elves, and other intelligent creatures associated with the land. They were responsible for good and bad luck, for crops failing or thriving, for items going missing and things suddenly appearing just when they were needed. I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of the Changeling Child. These poor kids probably had some kind of psychological disorder, autism or ADD or something along those lines. But in a world that didn’t know what autism was the only viable explanation was that the fairies put a spell on them or a bad spirit stole their soul or they were possessed. The fairy folk and their mischievous ways were the most real explanations these people had.

Of course, people could also use this to their advantage. One of my favorite stories of “possession” in the Middle Ages is the oft-used excuse some girls had for mysteriously getting pregnant. A perfectly good girl with a sterling reputation who would never dream of committing a sin could actually get away with using the excuse that a spirit of some sort lay with her during the night and that she was in no way responsible for the outcome. And people bought it. Well, I’m sure someone knew the truth when those stories were concocted, but many a reputation was saved by believing in the fantasy element.

There were, of course, more mundane aspects to what we think of in the genre of Fantasy that were par for the course in the Middle Ages. Kings and Queens, Knights and Ladies, Castles and crusades were normal, everyday occurrences. The hierarchy of everyday things, masters and servants, was just the way things were. Social roles were much more clearly defined. At the same time, there were a select, lauded few who managed to cross social lines to make a name for themselves. There were peasants who earned enough money to buy or marry into the nobility. And there were nobles who went off to battle in far-away lands against people who were so foreign to folks who never left home that any small difference could be exploited to make them seem monstrous. Medieval Europeans didn’t think very highly of Muslim, for example. And just like those wily crocodiles who were imagined into being dragons by peasants hundreds of miles away, the dark-skinned, dark-eyed Arabic people with their strange ways and languages could have been fantasized into being any sort of demon. The brave men who went off to fight them in their shining armor would have been heroes beyond imagining.

So really there isn’t much difference between the facts of Medieval history and the imagination of Fantasy. It’s all in how you perceive the strange world around you. Personally, I think a lot is lost by our modern society that has a scientific answer for everything. It’s so much more invigorating to imagine and to dream.

Thanks for having me over for a visit! I hope to see you again soon. 

All About Merry
Merry Farmer is an award-winning author of Historical Romance and Women’s Sci-Fi. She is passionate about Writing, Blogging, Knitting, and Cricket and is working towards becoming an internationally certified Cricket Scorer. She walks the cutting edge of Indie Publishing and offers her experience and services as a freelance editor at a discount price for those who would like to join Team Indie. Her other hobbies have included ceramics, yoga, theater, and going back to school to earn more degrees in arguably useless subjects like History and Theater than any sane person should have.

Check out her blog, pick up her book, and catch up with Merry on Twitter!

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