• Joe Pace

Favorite Non-Fiction Books, #17: Medieval Folklore


"All he does is play on his phone."

A few years back I tried my hand at writing a heroic epic set in the time of Charlemagne. It was intended to be historic fiction with elements of fantasy, a little sword and sorcery mixed in with the actual living conditions of Europe circa 800 AD. I had a great protagonist, a soldier of Holy Rome who got tangled up with a morally ambiguous witch and the greater tragic narrative of her story. I experimented with a Moonlighting-style comedic romantic tension between the two as they navigated medieval France and Germany, escorted by a brilliant but unworldly monk and a depressed bard seeking inspiration. Some of it is actually quite good. Some of it is painfully bad.

I spent a lot of time in research, seeking to steep the prose in the actual historic customs and beliefs of the time, and this volume was my guide. An invaluable 450-page glossary on the subject, it contains fantastic information on how villagers lived, how they interacted with the world in ways real and imagined, and most importantly how Middle Ages Christianity existed in a fluid relationship with heathen and pagan practices. Dogma met tradition in the hamlets of the European countryside, where a high holy day could be celebrated with ritualistic sacrifices. This book, produced by several eminent historians, was a voyage in time, and I would be engrossed in it for hours, finding nuggets of information I could use to make my world more realistic and stories I could appropriate nearly whole for my own use.

My manuscript lies unfinished and groaning under its own weight, awaiting a time when my skills are equal to the task. Flipping through the pages of Medieval Folklore again this morning, I'm wondering if the time might be now.

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