My work today is mainly on writing an introduction to Wind Age, giving historical context and such things so as to avoid infodumping in the story itself. Part of that means I’m reviewing a lot of sources I haven’t looked at in a while, just to make sure that the things I’ve been taking for granted all through this story are true.
I’ve gotten lots of questions from my beta-readers about what such-and-such means, or why I included this, or whether that is what they think it is, and isn’t this event historically unlikely, and what about Dark Ages stereotypes? It can be a little overwhelming.
The Introduction, along with a dictionary, is my attempt to solve that problem. But it brought a new problem with it: shall I add a Bibliography as well? Oh dear.
Today, while trying to document an Anglo-Saxon deity equivalent to Balder (Wikipedia says there is one, but has no sources; an equally (un)reliable source said his cult developed in the 12th century, in Iceland), I discovered a journal from Cambridge University Press, called simply Anglo-Saxon England, which is about everything from the time and place that you can think of — and all academic articles, too. Unfortunately the articles don’t seem to be available for free.
A lot of the time when I’m researching something, if it’s nothing our libraries are likely to have much on (such as “at what age was a girl considered a woman in pagan England”), and if I’ve tried Jstor (a database of journal articles and books, where sometimes you have to pay to read and sometimes you don’t), I’ll try searching Google using the most specific words I can. It’s always better to use “pre-Christian” instead of “pagan” when searching, I’ve found.
I was surprised at how easily I found a good source on how much land is in a ‘hide’ in an unlikely place. (Though I should add that although it credits the Encyclopedia Britannica, I have no way of knowing whether it was excerpted with permission.)
For most questions, such as the difference between thegns, cnechts, and eorls, re-enactment groups often have good resources. A re-enactor’s blog can be a good source, too, and it’s usually easy to tell, by looking at how many years of experience they have, what kinds of sources they used, and how much detail they put into their work and their writing about it, how reliable they are. Re-enactors also often encourage people to experiment on their own.
SCAdians tend to have helpful blogs, though I haven’t found very many who do Conversion-Era or Late Anglo-Saxon — most of the ones who play Anglo-Saxon are from the 5th and 6th centuries, and most of them are also Kentish. But occasionally I’ll find something. Often for garb I end up borrowing from Norse styles, which is a long story and merits a post of its own if anyone’s interested. For an example of how difficult it can be to come up with anything definite, here’s two articles on veils: Norse, from which I borrow some ideas, and a pretty thorough article (for English) that also draws from Continental sources. That gives some idea of how hard it can be, even where we do have evidence, to figure out just what it’s evidence for. (I could do an entire post on my SCA garb for veils alone.)
So how goes the Introduction? So far it’s surprisingly easy. I move more easily through the nice distinctions between the Irish and Roman churches than I can between a lot of the political parties in America in the last century. Hopefully whoever reads it finds it interesting and helpful.