Helena Schrader's Historical Fiction

Understanding Ourselves by Understanding the Past.


My biographical novel of Balian d'Ibelin in three parts is complete, but the saga continues. Follow me to Cyprus, where Lusignans and Ibelins struggle to put down a rebellion and establish a durable state. Watch for excerpts and updates here.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Why Write Tales of Chivalry?

Chivalry, a vague and ill-defined concept, emerged from the mists of the so-called Dark Ages to become the dominant ethos of Western Europe in the High Middle Ages.  It was neither a form of government nor a religion, yet it shaped societies. It dominated the art and literature of its age more powerfully than any king – indeed as powerfully as Christianity itself.

To be sure, Chivalry was amorphous and ephemeral. It defied definition. It was different things to different people, and it changed over time and across space. Yet it was not mere fantasy or pose. It had a very real impact, because it shaped the way men and women in the Middle Ages thought about themselves and others.
Telling tales of chivalry has a tradition that stretches back to the origins of chivalry itself. Indeed, we can trace the roots of Chivalry to Provence in the 11th Century.  There a new style of literature emerged: the songs and poems of the troubadours.  These works represented a sharp break with past literary traditions and their style and content produced a completely new view of knights -- and their ladies.  Chivalry, unlike earlier warrior cults from Ancient Greece to the Vikings, was unthinkable without the fairer sex that inspired the great deeds of the male heroes. 
Tales of chivalry soon evolved beyond the poems of the troubadours to full-fledged romances, such as Tristan et Iseult, Perceval, and Le Morte d’Arthur, tales characterized by magic, mythical beasts and romance.  This was the “fantasy fiction” of the Middle Ages.
Alongside these fictional works, however, were tales of chivalry that recorded real events and described the lives of real men. Examples are the biography of William Marshal in the early 13th century, Jean de Joinville’s biography of King Louis IX half a century later, and Chandos’ Herald’s account of the deeds of Edward of Woodstock, the Black Prince, written at the end of the 14th century. 
These contemporary tales of chivalry have been the inspiration for my own works set in the Age of Chivalry. Like the originals, my novellas and novels set out to entertain and educate, to honor historical figures -- and create fictional ones. They seek to make the heroes of this age – and the period itself -- more comprehensible to us by writing in the language and style of today.
But I am a historian, and my works are historical fiction -- not fantasy or mystery. Each of my novels is rooted in historical fact and I strive to recreate the period and events with accuracy.  It is because the concept of chivalry exercised such a powerful influence on the historical figures of the 12th-15th centuries, that I am pleased to call them Tales of Chivalry.  My characters believe in chivalry – past if not present – and so chivalry embraces them.  
These are tales of brave knights and fair ladies – and of not-so-brave knights and not-so-fair ladies. They are tales of adventure and romance, of faith and betrayal, of treachery and salvation, of cruelty and generosity -- in short, they are tales of humanity.
 I hope you will enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them – and that Chandos’ herald did not err when he wrote:   The telling of good deeds is like alms and charity; it is never lost labor, but always has its return.

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