I read a lot of fantasy fiction (amongst other things) and write some too. Fantasy worlds are overwhelmingly based on medieval European societies and the genre does come in for criticism for its lack of diversity. I love to read fantasy with other sources of inspiration. And I love really good medieval Europe style fantasy, not least because I love that period of history.
Medieval Lives by Terry Jones and Alan Ereira is the book of the BBC television series. Each chapter gives a snapshot of what a person’s life might have been like based on the role they had: peasant, minstrel, outlaw, monk, philosopher, knight, damsel and king. The format enables the authors to draw distinctions about how position and wealth affected peoples lives. There’s a conscious effort to do some myth-busting and include some surprising facts.
I especially enjoyed the chapters on damsels and knights. The one on damsels makes the point that women’s status in society is not a straight line of progress and that medieval women probably had more equality than Victorian women. There’s a fun bit about women arranging their own abductions in a effort to game the system. The chapter on knights discusses the concept of chivalry as a attempt to control the extreme violence of what were basically warlords.
It’s all very entertaining. As it’s the book of the TV series it’s understandably lightweight. That makes it accessible and it’s ideal as an introduction to the subject matter. I was left wanting to read more in-depth books that I could really get my teeth into and I think that’s a good thing.