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.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Cast of Characters: Godwin Olafsen


Continuing my series on the fictional characters in my Balian d'Ibelin trilogy, today I want to introduce Godwin Olafsen.

Godwin makes his appearance only at the end of Defender of Jerusalem, and I will confess he came to me rather spontaneously. He wasn't really planned, but when writing about the siege of Jerusalem it was important to show it from more perspectives than the exalted one of Balian himself. Balian was a nobleman and the commander. His perspective is critical to history and the novel, but Jerusalem was filled with 60,000 refugees and 20,000 inhabitants. I needed to take the reader out of the palaces of kings and down to the ordinary "man-on-the-street." So I developed several different scenes that shed light on different segments of the population -- the Syrian Christians, for example, nuns, and, the working class.

Once I decided on a scene from the point of view of the Latin working class, I wanted the character to exemplify a common pattern of settlement, namely, a man and wife coming to Jerusalem on pilgrimage and then not returning whence they'd come but rather settling in the crusader state. This is what led me to the idea that Godwin would have a crippled son that he and his wife had brought to Jerusalem hoping for a miracle--which doesn't happen. So, destitute and disappointed, the couple remains in Jerusalem. Up to this point, my brain created Godwin.

Then I started writing and Godwin took over. Suddenly I understood about his embittered wife, and his lack of business acumen. It became equally "obvious" that Godwin had to make Balian's sword. (The terms of Balian's safe-conduct from Saladin required him to go to Jerusalem without a sword.) 

When I was writing the final scene describing the people who were unable to pay their ransom, I knew it would be more effective if at least one of the "paupers" in the crowd was someone the reader already knew and could identify with. Godwin was the perfect choice because he had impoverished himself in the service of Jerusalem, and now was paying an unjust price. That made him worthy of sympathy, and at the same time he was also a distinctive figure with a child on his shoulders that made it plausible that Balian would see and -- because he'd given him his sword -- would also recognize him. Thus Godwin plays a pivotal role in illustrating Balian's position, and inspires the final line in Defender of Jerusalem

After that ending, he had to play a role in Envoy of Jerusalem too. Here he again represents the working-class settlers that made up roughly 20% of the population of the kingdom. His story line is secondary, but important as a reminder that there were 140,000 settlers in the crusader state, and many were men like Godwin who were skilled craftsmen working in urban areas. 



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