The Beastly Tower: a Royal Menagerie

One of the most fascinating features of the Tower of London which has, alas, been lost to time is the Tower Menagerie, which makes an appearance in Elisha Rex.  How could I resist a setting like that?

Tower of London:  the green area you see was originally the moat, and the current tourist entrance occupies the gate once surrounded by the menagerie.

Tower of London: the green area you see was originally the moat, and the current tourist entrance occupies the gate once surrounded by the menagerie.

The menagerie began (so far as we know) during the reign of the singularly unpopular King John around 1210, when we find references to the “keepers of the lion” in the royal account books.  The menagerie, a collection of exotic animals, might have begun with animals brought as gifts to the monarchs, and the early records show the residents were often beasts associated with royal arms, like the lion, or the leopards of Henry III.  This collection displayed the monarchs’ great reach and power, commanding exotic creatures from many corners of the globe.  The Tower’s website has a timeline about the menagerie as well, though it does not include the same information in the Official Illustrated History of the Tower of London.

One notable resident was a polar bear, given as a diplomatic gift by the king of Norway in 1251, who was given a leash long enough to allow him to fish in the Thames River.  Another exotic likely given to show the wealth and influence of the giver rather than the receiver was an elephant from Louis IX of France.  This gift required a new building to be constructed, but according to most sources, the elephant did not live long, and was promptly buried in the structure meant to house it.  An elephant buried on the Tower grounds?  Now there’s a thought.

At times lion or bear fights were popular entertainments at the Tower–which makes one very curious about the Tower link above, which guarantees admission to a Tower Beasts “interactive” exhibit.  Those of you who have read Elisha Rex will know that Elisha receives a personal interactive tour of the menagerie–including some interactions perhaps better avoided.

In fact, the animals of the menagerie were sent off to the zoo in 1832 after a series of attacks on keepers and visitors, ending this curious by-way in Tower history.

an engraving of the Tower of London menagerie, showing the arched recesses where animals were kept.

an engraving of the Tower of London menagerie, showing the arched recesses where animals were kept.

Posted in Elisha Rex, England, history, medieval, The Dark Apostle, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Warriors and Soldiers and Fantasy Novels

I had a great time this weekend at the World Fantasy Convention, this year held in Saratoga Springs, NY.  One of the highlights came right at the end with a very thought-provoking panel about Weapons in Epic Fantasy.  The panelists included Charles Gannon, Summer Hanford, and Ian Cameron Esselmont.    I believe it was Cameron who made an interesting point I hadn’t considered in relation to my current work.

We were talking about the relationship between the hero of a fantasy work and his weapon.  In an earlier age, and in much current fantasy, this relationship is personal–between the hero and his sword.  These swords are often named, and sometimes have personalities and desires of their own, as in Travis Heerman’s Ronin series.  The roots of this heroic bond go back to the roots of the epic, when it referred to a lengthy saga detailing the origin of a culture and revealing that culture from top to bottom.  These original epics have what might be termed a warrior ethos:  they focus on the deeds of the mighty individual as he confronts his enemies, often in a battle for personal honor as well as national pride.

Cameron brought up the difference between this warrior, and the soldier, a member of a trained and organized military unit.  The soldier likely has personal honor and national pride among his values, but on the battlefield, he works for the objective of his unit or commander, subsuming his individual goals for those of the larger force.  The effective soldier cooperates with his team and focuses on that larger goal, while the effective warrior stands apart from others. He may lead them–but then again, he may just retire to his tent and sulk for a while like Achilles during the Trojan War if he feels insulted.  His (in the original epics, the hero is almost always male) personal values take precedence.  This behavior is held up as an exemplar of the hero.

The soldier, on the other hand, may not be recognized for his individual feats, but rather for his successful participation in a team effort.  Many years ago, I was wearing a pin with a reference to heroes, and an older writer, a journalist, commented, “I don’t like that word, heroes.”  I have returned to his statement periodically, considering what he might have meant by it.  This man was a decorated veteran of the second World War, a soldier, who did not approve of the word “heroes.”

I think now, he may have been referring to exactly this distinction between warrior and soldier.  In modern warfare, the term “hero” is often applied to someone who stands apart, as did the warriors of old.  The “hero” may have earned this term through their own honorable death, perhaps in service to that team effort.  But you will often hear people warned, “Don’t be a hero.”  Meaning, I think, don’t make yourself a target or a casualty by stepping outside the team.

There will always be soldiers who go above and beyond the call of duty and distinguish themselves, not for the behavior of the solitary warrior who places his pride above the needs of the unit, but because they take upon themselves actions that are daring and dangerous–and committed to furthering the team, and not themselves.

In this week of Veteran’s Day, I did not expect to find such fodder for consideration in fantasy–and yet, there it was.  Heroes, warriors, soldiers.  I hope, when I write, to honor their spirit if only from a respectful distance.

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Guest Author Juliet McKenna, epic fantasy and more!

What do Syria, Wiccan practice and jiu-jitsu suffragettes have in common?  They all spark the imagination of my guest author, Juliet E. McKenna, whose latest epic fantasy novel, Southern Fire, will be available soon!

the gorgeous cover for Southern Fire, first in a new series by Juliet L. McKenna

the gorgeous cover for Southern Fire, first in a new series by Juliet L. McKenna

1. What was the inception of this project? What were your first steps in building that idea into a viable story?
My first epic fantasy series explored ways in which ordinary people could get caught up in the affairs of wizards and princes, how they might react and how they could still influence outcomes without the advantages of magical or political power. Looking to write something new, I found myself turning that idea around. What about a story where someone with significant magical or political power gets caught up in a situation where those advantages can’t actually solve the problem? Since as we all know, with great power comes great responsibility, that’s going to be a major crisis. Everyone lower down the pecking order will be looking at the person at the top, expecting them to put things right.
How and where could that happen in the world I’d already created? It was immediately obvious. I’d already established the Aldabreshin Archipelago was a swathe of island domains ruled by warlords with absolute, unquestioned power, all with an implacable hatred of magic. So if magic turned up causing strife, they’d be in real trouble. Especially if that wasn’t civilised, wizardly magic which could be negotiated with but something else entirely… By that stage, my imagination was off and running!
2. What kind of research and/or world-building did you do before beginning?
Since the Aldabreshin Archipelago is in this secondary world’s tropical latitudes, it was already established that, logically, the inhabitants were people of colour. This was an obvious prompt for me to move away from the Northern and Central European cultures and myths I’d drawn on so far in my work. So I read a stack of African, Indian, Near- and Middle-Eastern histories, some general and others focusing on specific themes and periods, always making sure to read as much as possible written by experts whose history and culture these actually are. This gave me a wealth of material to draw on; for devising customs, attitudes, expectations, clothing, furnishings, you name it. All of this is so vital for creating a vivid sense of place and culture. And wide reading is essential to avoid falling into that awful trap of appropriating one particular culture wholesale and hoping no one will notice just because the writer has changed the hairdos and hemlines.
Since Aldabreshin reliance on divination, omens and portents had already been sketched in, when characters from the Tales of Einarinn visited these islands, I had to develop that belief system far more fully, so I read up on such beliefs from Ancient Babylonian astrology all the way up to modern Wiccan practise. Studying symbology in particular was absolutely fascinating.
Then there was exploring historical examples of the limitations of absolute power and failures of the hereditary principle. What happens when the heir to a throne is simply not up to the task? What happens when an absolute ruler decides they can behave however badly they like without fear of the consequences? How have different feudal, authoritarian cultures dealt with the perennial problem of surplus sons, once they’ve got the heir and the spare?
3. How does the real world (historical or contemporary) affect your speculative fiction?
Historical research, including social as well as political history, gives me the solid foundation that’s essential for building a fantasy world which readers can really believe in; from the everyday detail drawn from real events to the actions and reactions of the people who live there, tested against the real world behaviour of family, friends and strangers around me. Because if readers can believe in the world, they can believe in the magic and dragons.
My reading also turns up unforeseen incidents, people and pre-industrial technologies which I would never have imagined unprompted but which turn out to be just what I need to spark a new idea to significantly improve a story. It also gives me solid references for those moments when someone protests something I’ve written is implausible ‘because history wasn’t like that’. Discussing how and why the history which they were taught wasn’t the whole story by any means is always illuminating.
Incidentally, my reading for fictional-research purposes frequently improves my own understanding of the contemporary world around me and in the news. World-building for The Aldabreshin Compass series taught me an awful lot about the history, cultures and religions of what’s now Turkey, Syria, Iran, Iraq and the Arabian Peninsula. That gives me invaluable perspective on current events in that part of the world.
4. If you could choose a few descriptors that would go in a blurb on the front cover of your book, what would they be?

Tricky; I’ve never worked in advertising and besides, British women of my generation are always told firmly not to put ourselves forward… How about –
“Intricate, inventive, enthralling.”

“Worlds away from Tolkien. That was epic fantasy then. This is now.”
“How far must a man go to be the hero everyone expects? What will he lose on that journey?”
5. Where should readers go to find out more about your work?
My website’s the obvious place to start. There are sections introducing each of my series so far, along with more detail on each individual book and sample chapters for reading, as well as maps and background material for the curious. Along with other oddments of quite different fiction and the blog where I discuss things that amuse or interest me, so that should help people decide if we’re generally on the same wavelength.
6. Care to share a link (aside from your own work) to something amazing you think everyone should see or know about?
The history that isn’t taught is so often the history of women and minorities. I love the story of Edith Garrud, who taught ju-jitsu to a crack bodyguard unit of UK suffragettes, to run interference between the police and the Pankhursts (among others). This wikipedia entry is merely a starting point for a tale that upends so many incorrect assumptions about days gone by.

and check out the BBC’s article as well!

Edith Garrud in action!

Edith Garrud in action!


head shot of author Juliet L. McKenna

head shot of author Juliet E. McKenna

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Guest Author, Gail Z. Martin: Days of the Dead tour!

The fantastic Gail Z. Martin is stopping in today, as part of her Days of the Dead tour, to share her thoughts on Addictive Research, and celebrate her latest releases, Vendetta, and Iron and Blood.   I love this article–she sounds a lot like me.  And, she’s offering some great Trick-0r-Treat items, just for readers–see the links at the end!

I&B final coverTake it away, Gail:

Just one more. I’ll quit after one more, I swear.

That’s your inner research junkie talking. One more link, one more web page, one more book or chapter in the research book, one more biography, one more footnote. Hyperlinks let researchers mainline information, jumping from site to site, following Alice’s White Rabbit farther and farther down the hole.

To everyone who hated writing research papers in school, I’ve got one thing to say—you didn’t know what you were missing. Get good at research, document your sources, find good primary sources, and you can challenge authority figures and stand your ground. You can overturn accepted thinking and chisel away at deceptive reasoning. Armed with definitive experts, unimpeachable documentation, excellent analytical skills and persuasive writing ability, you become Conan, the librarian. Demagogues tremble and empires crumble before the blinding light of your research.

Or, you just get your facts right and escape social humiliation.DEADLY CURIOSITIES-VENDETTA

Every author I know loves research. It’s our guilty pleasure, and if we’re not careful, our worst time vampire. Get a bit of writer’s block? Do some research. Odds are, you’d happen upon a few cool facts that blow away your mental obstacle and present a path to reach your goal. On the other hand, if you feel like procrastinating you can do “research” all afternoon, following your curiosity like a hound on the scent of a fox (or a Golden Retriever on the scent of a squirrel), and come away with knowledge that will make you killer at Trivial Pursuit but doesn’t get you any farther on your writing project.

Some aspiring authors get lost in their research and forget to ever write the book. This is particularly dangerous if you’re a perfectionist. No matter how much you research, you’ll never know everything about your subject. There’s always the chance that the next tidbit of information you’d uncover might be even more amazing than the last one. You become the intellectual equivalent of a gambler addicted to the slot machines, pulling that lever and hoping for a jackpot. Next time. Next time. You feel lucky.

Sometimes, writers use research as an excuse not to write because something about the writing is causing anxiety. Maybe you’re afraid that this book won’t be as good as the last one, or as good as the hype claims it will be. Perhaps you don’t want to reach the end of a series, or kill off a favorite character, or write a difficult scene. Research becomes a legitimate delaying tactic, a way no one can say you aren’t working, but you’re not really working. You’re hiding in the stacks, hoping no one notices.

The day-to-day reality lies somewhere in between research as a superpower and research as an addiction. Yes, research can be like the dynamite that blows away a rockslide and clears the road, helping you see a path to reach your story objectives. And yes, it can be a monkey on your back, whispering that ‘one more couldn’t hurt’.

What saves me, and I suspect most writers, is that the call of the story in our minds is even louder than the seductive whisper of research. If I’m fully invested in writing a story, I want to see how it ends. (Sounds silly, but there are a lot of things that come up spur-of-the-moment that surprise the writer, and we live for those moments.) Ultimately, that’s my beacon out of the Valley of the Lotus Eaters, the field of poppies. When temptation becomes overwhelming, I shut off my wi-fi and remind myself that I’ve got a story to write.


My Days of the Dead blog tour runs through October 31 with never-before-seen cover art, brand new excerpts from upcoming books and recent short stories, interviews, guest blog posts, giveaways and more! Plus, I’ll be including extra excerpt links for my stories and for books by author friends of mine. You’ve got to visit the participating sites to get the goodies, just like Trick or Treat! Details here:

Book swag is the new Trick-or-Treat! Grab your envelope of book swag awesomeness from me & 10 authors before 11/1!

Trick or Treat! Excerpt from my new urban fantasy novel Vendetta set in my Deadly Curiosities world here Launches Dec. 29

More Treats! Enter to win a copy of Deadly Curiosities!

Treats! Enter to win a copy of Iron & Blood!

Gail Martin, Dreamspinner Communications

Gail Z. Martin, Dreamspinner Communications

About the Author
Gail Z. Martin is the author of the upcoming novel Vendetta: A Deadly Curiosities Novel in her urban fantasy series set in Charleston, SC (Dec. 2015, Solaris Books) as well as the epic fantasy novel Shadow and Flame (March, 2016 Orbit Books) which is the fourth and final book in the Ascendant Kingdoms Saga. Shadowed Path, an anthology of Jonmarc Vahanian short stories set in the world of The Summoner, debuts from Solaris books in June, 2016.

Other books include The Jake Desmet Adventures a new Steampunk series (Solaris Books) co-authored with Larry N. Martin as well as Ice Forged, Reign of Ash and War of Shadows in The Ascendant Kingdoms Saga, The Chronicles of The Necromancer series (The Summoner, The Blood King, Dark Haven, Dark Lady’s Chosen) from Solaris Books and The Fallen Kings Cycle (The Sworn, The Dread) from Orbit Books and the urban fantasy novel Deadly Curiosities from Solaris Books.

Gail writes four series of ebook short stories: The Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures, The Deadly Curiosities Adventures, The King’s Convicts series, and together with Larry N. Martin, The Storm and Fury Adventures. Her work has appeared in over 20 US/UK anthologies. Newest anthologies include: The Big Bad 2, Athena’s Daughters, Realms of Imagination, Heroes, With Great Power, and (co-authored with Larry N. Martin) Space, Contact Light, The Weird Wild West, The Side of Good/The Side of Evil, Alien Artifacts, Clockwork Universe: Steampunk vs. Aliens.

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Drafting the Novel: How long did that take you to write?

On Friday, I finished the first draft of my first international thriller novel.  It’s always an exciting moment to finish a project, especially one that you’ve been planning for a long time.  One of the things that readers often ask about a book is, how long did that take you to write?

top view of notebooks for Drakemaster (epic fantasy) and thriller novel, about half as long. Both printed double-sided.

top view of notebooks for Drakemaster (epic fantasy) and thriller novel, about half as long. Both printed double-sided.

It’s a bit of a tricky question to answer.  Do you mean, when did I first conceive of the notion, how long did it take to develop the concept into a plot and characters, or how long did the literal first draft take from beginning to end?  And even that can be a complicated statistic.  For instance, the thriller has been in the back of my mind for years. I did a lot of research and story development before I ever made a new file on the computer and wrote the first sentence.

But for those looking for statistics, here are some.  I started the draft on June 3, by writing 2304 words. I finished on October 23 (that’s 141 days).  This feels like a long time to me, but I also was leading camps and taking care of many other things over the summer–so I wasn’t actually writing every day (it’s nice when I can do that, but it doesn’t always work out, especially during camp season).   I actually wrote on 51 of those days, with a low day of a measly 92 words, and a high of 4633 (on the last day) for an average of 2107.82 words per day. I aim for 2000 words a day, so that’s pretty good.  I have a spreadsheet where I keep track of each day that I write and my word count for the day, plus the total for the book.

The draft of book 5 in the Dark Apostle series, which I wrote in the spring, took 36 days, between March 27, and June 13, with an average of 2519 words per day.  That’s a pretty big difference–why so?  In part, I know Elisha very well. I don’t have to do a lot of thinking or outside writing to figure out who he is, where he is, and what might happen next.  With the thriller, I had an all-new cast, with three point of view characters to choose from. I had to ask who would narrate the next scene and when and where it would take place.

Interestingly, those two novels overlapped by a few days–I had felt inspired about the first scene of the thriller, so I went ahead and wrote it, while I was considering the climax of the final volume of the Dark Apostle.  Climaxes always take a little time to work out.  Sometimes, I take a day or two off, ideally doing something active (hiking is good!) and play with the various possibilities in my head until I find the A-HA! moment when I can see a really great ending.  Then the last bit of writing, as it did with the thriller, comes in a rush–and I hate to be distracted by anything.

The first Dark Apostle novel, Elisha Barber, took 35 days, writing every day, for the first draft.  I wrote it as a chapter-a-day challenge, my answer to NANOWRIMO, and found that that pace felt very comfortable, hence my 2K a day word goal.   Drakemaster, my Chinese historical epic, was 47 days of writing, with an average of 3171 words per day–which is pretty high.  I think I was able to do that mainly because of the amount of pre-writing I did: brainstorming about plot and characters, developing a storyline for each character separately, making it easy to develop their individual scenes.

I find that, once I start drafting, writing every day makes it much easier to maintain my energy and momentum–and just keep writing.  So the question is, what shall I write next?  Hmmm. . .





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A Brief History of the Inquisition: The Original Thought Police

When I was playing more actively with the Society for Creative Anachronism, I had a Jewish friend with a Spanish persona, circa 1492.  He used to joke that, contrary to Monty Python’s claims, he *did*, expect the Spanish Inquisition. . . any day now, in fact.

A print of the spectacle of execution.

A print of the spectacle of execution.

Thanks, in part, to those Monty Python boys, the Inquisition has gotten a particularly sinister reputation, making it hard to disentangle the reality from the representation of the Inquisition, and to examine how it manifested in different times and places.

The history of the inquisition begins around the 1200’s, with the desire of the Church to seek out and correct heresy, in particular, the Cathars of Southern France. In order to be a heretic, one must be a member of the Catholic Church–Jews, Muslims, etc, are not heretics, and thus are not ordinarily subject to the inquisition. (unless they convert or claim to have done so). When Ferdinand and Isabella instigated the Spanish Inquisition, they focused more on Jews who had converted to Catholicism (conversos) and on Judaizers (those suspected of Jewish sympathies or beliefs).

The use of torture by the various inquisitions was authorized by Pope Innocent IV (scroll down for a pdf of the translated bull) in 1252, following the murder of a papal legate by a group of Cathars, but it requires the inquisitor to be certain of the evidence presented by witnesses against the accused, states that torture should be used only once, and could not cause damage to life or limb.  However, inquisitors were known to claim that the next day’s torture was really just a continuation and shouldn’t count as a second session. . .The bull (referred to as Ad extirpanda) also gave local rulers oversight of the inquisition in their territory.

Most inquisitors were drawn from the ranks of the Dominican Order, the so-called Blackfriars.  This role gave rise to the apocryphal claim that their name derives from Domini canus, or Hound of the Lord.  (In fact, the name comes from Saint Dominic de Guzeman, the founder of the order.)  Franciscans were sometimes also involved.

When someone was accused of heresy, that individual would be brought to give testimony, along with whatever witnesses made the claims.  If the individual were found to be an unrepentant heretic, he or she would be turned over to the secular courts for justice, which might range from a prison term (most common) to being burned at the stake (rare–but fearsome).  A large part of the purpose of punishment was to serve as a deterrent to other potential heretics, hence the most harsh sentences.  Their lands and good would be seized, no doubt leading to many false accusations by people hoping to profit from their neighbors’ downfall.  Something similar happened in New England’s own witch craze, where the accused often stood to gain materially from the convictions of others.

The Spanish Inquisition, that most dreaded of institutions, may have led to the deaths of 3000-5000 people over the course of its 350 years in existence according to some sources (though they don’t state a source for their numbers)One researcher counted 44,674 trials and only 826 executions.   Researcher and author Cullen Murphy gave an Inquisition FAQ on the Huffington Post a couple of years back with some different estimates.

Those who repented of their supposed heresy could escape punishment altogether–but must be wary lest they relapse, and draw a stronger judgement.  Remember, the inquisitions, though founded by the church, were under local control, and it was the secular court that imposed punishment.  While they were established to root out the supposed threat of heretics drawing souls away from God, these local inquisitions persisted and were often wielded as political rather than religious instruments of control.

The Spanish Inquisition executed its last victim in the nineteenth century, and the Roman Inquisition was officially ended a bit later.  The concept of an inquisition as a powerful force rounding up and ferreting out unbelievers moved from the historical usage into a lingering symbol of the abuses of power–especially when the organization exists to destroy intellectual opposition, anyone’s word could be taken as fact, and there is no check on the authority of the few.

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Heretics, Witches, Homosexuals and Jews: A history, and a present, of persecution

One of the reasons I started writing my Dark Apostle series was the number of times that this list appeared during my research.  It is the historical equivalent of someone saying, “Round up the usual suspects,” whenever anything goes badly wrong.  I wanted to question some of these overlapping categories of persecution.  The research led me to some surprises about the assumptions we make about the Middle Ages, as well as to some surprises about the ways we think now.

An early tag line I considered for the series was:  What do Witches, Jews and Homosexuals have in common?  When the stake goes up, they are the first ones to burn.  Sadly, they still are–although there has been less interest in the persecution of pagan religious practitioners of late, at least in my awareness.

One of the first big reviews I got for Elisha Barber chastised me for making Elisha too modern because he fails to be homophobic, but did not remark upon the fact that he also fails to be anti-Semitic. During the period in which I’m writing, anti-Semitism was much more rampant and virulent than homophobia.  Still, the origin of the slur “faggot” is a reference to firewood originally applied to heretics.

I chose to frame Elisha as centered in his medical knowledge:  that all men are the same beneath the skin, and his task is to heal them as best he can.  He is dismayed to discover the overlapping prejudices of the various groups he encounters. So, when his mentor, Mordecai, a Jewish surgeon, is injured, some of the witches refuse to help, in spite of the fact that they, too, represent a persecuted minority.

This paranoia about groups perceived to be different increases when the dominant culture feels increasingly insecure.  So during the Black Death (referred to prior to the 17th century as The Great Mortality) struck, the rumors flew–mostly about Jews and all of the hideous and horrible things they were said to have done to bring about the disease, none of which were remotely true.

However, they were the primary money-lenders of the time (thanks to that line in the Bible about how Christians shouldn’t make money off loans to other Christians, and to the fact that they were, in most places, so limited in the professions open to them). It’s pretty convenient, when looking for a scapegoat, to point the finger at the people to whom you owe money, thus making your debt vanish.  Phillip the Fair of France did something similar when he accused the Templars of heresy, and thus claimed their lands and property.

Both the Templars, and some leading Jews, when tortured, admitted to all sorts of terrible things to make the pain stop.  These confessions provided “evidence” that the accusations were true.  Even in the Middle Ages, it was widely known that torture rarely produced what we would term actionable intelligence. While torture sometimes does produce bits of truth, they are often mixed with falsehoods and inventions, either deliberately, or in a panic.  People under enough stress will say anything to make it end.

And by now, you will have noted certain similarities to current events, and to events around the time the series began.  Because when I started looking into the history of torture, which many of my characters might have faced, most of the information I found was, in fact, contemporary.  The images from Abu Ghraib were coming out, and later on, the report about possible torture perpetrated by the US government.  At the same time, hate crimes against randomly selected people said to represent some reviled group or another cropped up across the nation, and around the world.  Just today, I saw a news blurb about a Muslim man dragged from his house and beaten to death because his Hindi neighbors had heard a rumor that he had killed and eaten a cow.  Rumors and lies.  Would he have confessed, if he thought it would make them stop?

Just as many of these same prejudices and accusations are being floated in the world today, some people seem determined to add groups to the list, rather than abolishing the list.  Muslims, immigrants, refugees, Sunnis or Shi-ites, African Americans, police officers, Liberals, Republicans. . .

The Nazis placed gypsies and Catholics alongside Jews and homosexuals on their list, and I came across another article about someone casting acid on gypsies in Scandinavia, which is often considered a bastion of rationality and non-violence.

The more I studied history, the more it became clear that the old saw about history repeating itself is true.  Humanity rumbles on toward the future, clinging desperately to the reactions of the past, the biological distrust of the other which is ready at any time to burst into flame.

One reason I write fiction is to imagine a world where we could do better than this, where hatred would be of an individual who had wronged you, rather than a category of people who have done, and mean, no harm.  Where accusation, arrest, interrogation and prosecution would be based upon an examination of the facts–and the process would be halted and abandoned if the facts did not support conviction.  I would like to imagine it could be this world.

A curious ray of hope, then and now, comes from an unexpected direction:  a pope, the leader of the Catholic Church, speaking out for tolerance.  Will Pope Francis make a difference?  It’s hard to say.  During the time of the Templars, Pope Clement V tried to resist the persecution, but eventually surrendered to the will of the king.  During the Black Death, Pope Clement VI wrote a bull demanding that his followers stop persecuting the Jews, and he allowed Jews to settle safely in Avignon.  So the track record of papal tolerance is rough, but could lead somewhere. (more about the Inquisition on another day. . .)

Perhaps my work is, after all, escapist.  I frame a narrative of humanity striving for dignity in a setting of darkness, despair and danger.  Because, all too often, the Middle Ages seem much more inviting than today.




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