Fellow 47North author Michael Tinker Pearce and I are kindred spirits, of a sort. Old souls as well, I suspect. We both live at least a little bit of our lives in the past.
When Michael suggested I talk about how I got interested in medieval history, I first thought this would be an easy guest post to write. But as it turns out, I didn’t really know the answer to that question. When did it all begin?
I guess it all started with a book. My maternal great-grandmother was the family archivist, and it was from her family bible that I learned about my heritage. I took great pride in a lineage that included a colonial president, a civil war senator, and a Cherokee maiden. Knowing the roots of my family tree also helped me ground my identity and gave me a sense belonging at a time when I felt quite lost.
To my endless entertainment and delight, Granny’s cluttered old farm house was also a secret time machine. Every room had bookcases full of periodicals, primers, and literary masterpieces dating back to pre-colonial days. I spent endless summer hours rummaging through the centuries, lost in the pages of novels and biographies and poetry collections. One of my most treasured discoveries was a hundred year old volume of Grimm’s. I still have that book.
But when did I fall in love with all things medieval? Well, that’s all Mary Stewart’s fault. When I was fourteen, the neighborhood librarian gave me THE CRYSTAL CAVE to read, and I was instantly afflicted. I became obsessed with Arthurian legend. I read everything Arthurian I could find in the local library, and then I moved on to classic literature – Aesop, Homer, and Shakespeare. These works awakened certain passions in me, ideas that became the founding stones of my personal value system – honor, nobility, and grace.
Being a dark and angsty teenager, I was also drawn to the popular fiction of the day – especially horror novels like Arthur Herzog’s THE RATS, and Stephen King’s CARRIE. When that same librarian noticed my new reading trends, she gave me Mary Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN. And then I discovered Jules Verne. Here you can see the origins of my love for fantasy and horror. But it wasn’t until college that my life-long love affair with medieval history really began.
Yes, there is a pattern developing here.
Yet again, the revelation came to me in a book – this time assigned reading in a three course series on 14th century France (which I took to fill hours and an elective requirement): MONTAILLOU: Catholics and Cathars in a French Village 1294-1324 by Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie. This book is still in print today under an updated title. The beauty of this text is not immediately evident. It is a stark and painful record of villagers fighting for their lives against religious persecution, derived from the testimony given during the interrogations. But it is also an accurate account of the daily lives and beliefs of a people who lived hundreds of years in the past. I was deeply affected, emotionally and spiritually, and embarked on a life-long study of magic and agrarian-based religions that has shaped my personal philosophies profoundly.
When I first began writing The Dream Stewards series, I faced with a dilemma when it came to the appropriate setting for my novels. I could create a new fantasy world where anything is possible, or find a place in this world where fantasy could realistically unfold. This time the answer presented itself in a film (based on a book by Michael Crichton called “Eaters of the Dead”) called The 13th Warrior. The story takes place in the 10th century, a time I knew little about, at first, but a time when the connection between the people and the land was still strong and magic still an integral part of many cultures.
My research began anew and a whole new host of books influenced my writing. Then, another family history lesson (my father’s heritage, this time) led me back to the land of Arthurian legend – the land of my father’s fathers – and another powerful king with a magical reign. I discovered a real-life location and a set of actual events in and around which I could wrap the story I wanted to tell in a believable way.
So why did I ultimately decide to use a medieval setting for my first fantasy series?
Because history has taught me that one doesn’t always have to travel to an alternate universe to find evidence of magic. It already exists in this one.
Roberta Trahan is a former journalist and marketing consultant who always wanted to write a book. And so she did. Her epic fantasy debut THE WELL OF TEARS was published in 2012 by 47North. The second installment in The Dream Stewards series, THE KEYS TO THE REALMS, is set for release in May 2014.
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