You know those chapters that you always come back to in a book even when you’ve read the whole thing so often you’re tired of most of it? The next chapter of Wind Age is one of those. At least, I come back to it over and over again(I hope it’s the same way for my readers), and in fact it distracted me and I forgot that I have to write a blog post and have it up before I leave today, which is earlier than usual. But something in it did give me a ready idea of what to write about, which is good.
The general public, as a rule, does not know much about the Middle Ages. Oh, that’s when everybody followed the Church blindly and peasants all wore dirt-coloured sacks, right? And nobody lived very long either. But when it comes to the Dark Ages, our education has left out even more. The common idea is that everyone was a barbarian and they all lived like dogs. This, of course, is false.
I’ve come across a few misunderstandings so far with my beta-readers, who fortunately know better than to assume that all girls get married off at twelve and things like that. I’ve been deep enough in research for the past year that I tend to forget what’s common knowledge and what isn’t. I assumed the resemblance of “hlafdige” to “lady” was obvious enough I didn’t have to note that the words mean pretty much the same thing — until one reader, inferring from the context that “hlafdige” means “seeress”, mentioned it. Oops.
The early seventh century is still technically in the Dark Ages, which are called that (here’s another common misconception) not because they were dark in the sense that the light of civilization had gone out and everyone was unwashed and talked in grunts, but because we have no writing from the time to tell us what was going on. Therefore the events of them are hidden to us because we can’t shine any kind of historical light on them. The Christian missionaries who came from Rome or Ireland to England and Europe, beginning at the very end of the sixth century, were literate. They kept chronicles of the histories of the places they settled in. They also taught people about rotating crops. They kept bees and made honey easier to get. (Honey is not only good inside you, but outside, on wounds. Also it can be used in ink.)
Starting in the eighth century, Norsemen started going a-Viking with a vengeance, and one of the worst things they did was to attack monasteries. Not only is it rather low to attack peaceful men who a) haven’t hurt you, and b) can’t very well defend themselves, once they took the gold and valuable things, the Vikings burned the monasteries — including, of course, the records the monks were keeping. So we have lost many of their works and can only guess at what we’re missing. It’s almost as bad as the burning of the Alexandrian library.
People may ignorantly talk about the Church holding the world back from progress, of being stingy and harsh and the opiate of the masses (thank you, Karl Marx, for nothing), of being a burden and a drag on civilization, but in reality, when the rest of the world had lost so much learning and decency, it was the Church that preserved and revived it. Next time someone tells you that Christianity was in some way responsible for the length of the Dark Ages, gently remind him about the literate nuns of Barking, or inform him that monasteries were also schools for the young.
What about you, good readers? What myths about the medieval era most bother you, and what are your best arguments against them?