Wednesday, December 13, 2017

New and new to me books.

I've had the pleasure over recent weeks to get back into book-buying, and as a result I've discovered an interesting selection of upcoming books, newly released books and books that are just plain new to me. Some of these I have in my hands, some are books I've seen but not yet bought, and some are books that have yet to be released. All of them look interesting.

I'm going to start with one I now own and am looking forward to reading (once I finish my current non-fiction read - Material Culture of the Anglo Saxon World):

Women, Crusading and the Holy Land - Natasha R. HodgsonWomen, Crusading and the Holy Land in Historical Narrative
Natasha R. Hodgson
Boydell Press
Release date: 2007

The blurb:
Narratives of crusading have often been overlooked as a source for the history of women because of their focus on martial events, and perceptions about women inhibiting the recruitment and progress of crusading armies. Yet women consistently appeared in the histories of crusade and settlement, performing a variety of roles. While some were vilified as "useless mouths" or prostitutes, others undertook menial tasks for the army, went on crusade with retinues of their own knights, and rose to political prominence in the Levant and and the West. This book compares perceptions of women from a wide range of historical narratives including those eyewitness accounts, lay histories and monastic chronicles that pertained to major crusade expeditions and the settler society in the Holy Land. It addresses how authors used events involving women and stereotypes based on gender, family role, and social status in writing their histories: how they blended historia and fabula, speculated on women's motivations, and occasionally granted them a literary voice in order to connect with their audience, impart moral advice, and justify the crusade ideal.
I have a fascination with medieval history, but a particular interest in women's and everyday people's roles in that world - how everyday life is shaped and in daily living. I'm sincerely hoping that this book will cover some of those interests. Based on the description, it should. As I said earlier, I'm really looking forward to this read - but I refuse to abandon the book I'm currently reading to start this one.

The next book on my list is another one that I haven't started reading yet: the newest Mercedes Lackey anthology that came out last week. To be honest, I have yet to finish last year's offering (Tempest: All New Tales of Valdemar).

Pathways: All New Tales of Valdemar - Ed. Mercedes LackeyPathways: All New Tales of Valdemar
Ed. Mercedes Lackey
DAW Books
Copyright: December 5, 2017

The product description:
The eleventh anthology of short stories set in Mercedes Lackey's beloved Valdemar universe features stories by debut and established authors and a brand-new story from Lackey herself

The Heralds of Valdemar are the kingdom’s ancient order of protectors. They are drawn from all across the land, from all walks of life, and at all ages—and all are Gifted with abilities beyond those of normal men and women. They are Mindspeakers, FarSeers, Empaths, ForeSeers, Firestarters, FarSpeakers, and more. These inborn talents—combined with training as emissaries, spies, judges, diplomats, scouts, counselors, warriors, and more—make them indispensable to their monarch and realm. Sought and Chosen by mysterious horse-like Companions, they are bonded for life to these telepathic, enigmatic creatures. The Heralds of Valdemar and their Companions ride circuit throughout the kingdom, protecting the peace and, when necessary, defending their land and monarch.

Now, twenty-three authors ride with Mercedes Lackey to her magical land of Valdemar, adding their own unique voices to the Heralds, Bards, Healers, and other heroes of this beloved fantasy realm.

Join Janny Wurts, Elisabeth Waters, Michele Lang, Fiona Patton, and others in twenty-four original stories, including a brand-new novella by Mercedes Lackey, all set in Valdemar, where:

A young woman without any of the Heralds’ Gifts must see a Companion safely delivered to Haven....

A Herald must revisit the mysteries of his childhood to save his own young family and combat a threat at the very heart of Valdemar....

A Hawkbrother flees for his life, trailed by a mysterious bird that prophesizes a dire future....

A mage must choose whether to steal a priceless artifact and be branded a thief and traitor, or let his country fall to magic that could prove far more deadly....
It's hard to believe that this is the eleventh book in this series! It is, though, and from what I've seen online, the book does contain some of the recurring characters that have become a staple of previous anthologies. I have to admit though that I'm not sure which ones they are at this point. I need to finish reading the previous anthology first.

The new season of The Crown came out last week, and I've discovered that there is a companion book to go with the first season now - and possibly the second as well. This is a book that I'd like to get my hands on sooner or later.

The Crown: The Official Companion, Volume 1: Elizabeth II, Winston Churchill, and the Making of a Young Queen (1947-1955)The Crown: The Official Companion, Volume 1: Elizabeth II, Winston Churchill, and the Making of a Young Queen (1947-1955)
Robert Lacey
Crown Archetype
Copyright Date: October 2017

The product description:
The official companion to the Emmy-winning Netflix drama chronicling the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, and starring Claire Foy and John Lithgow, The Crown by Peter Morgan, featuring additional historical background and beautifully reproduced archival photos and show stills

Elizabeth Mountbatten never expected her father to die so suddenly, so young, leaving her with a throne to fill and a global institution to govern. Crowned at twenty-five, she was already a wife and mother as she began her journey towards becoming a queen.

As Britain lifted itself out of the shadow of war, the new monarch faced her own challenges. Her mother doubted her marriage; her uncle-in-exile derided her abilities; her husband resented the sacrifice of his career and family name; and her rebellious sister embarked on a love affair that threatened the centuries-old links between the Church and the Crown. This is the story of how Elizabeth II drew on every ounce of resolve to ensure that the Crown always came out on top.

Written by the show’s historical consultant, royal biographer Robert Lacey, and filled with beautifully reproduced archival photos and show stills, The Crown: The Official Companion: Volume 1 adds expert and in-depth detail to the events of the series, painting an intimate portrait of life inside Buckingham Palace and 10 Downing Street. Here is Elizabeth II as we’ve never seen her before.
The description certainly makes this look like an intriguing book - with a mix of archival materials and materials from the show/sets.

And now back to medieval history, with another book on the Crusades to add to my collection. Christopher Tyerman has a good reputation as a historian and I own other books of his - though to my shame, I've only read one of them to date, even though I've owned the other for at least a decade now. This one I've ordered, but it has yet to arrive - expected in January.

How to Plan a Crusade: Religious War in the High Middle Ages - Christopher TyermanHow to Plan a Crusade: Religious War in the High Middle Ages
Christopher Tyerman
Pegasus Books
Copyright: October 2017

The product description:
A spirited and sweeping account of how the crusades really worked―and a revolutionary attempt to rethink how we understand the Middle Ages.
The story of the wars and conquests initiated by the First Crusade and its successors is itself so compelling that most accounts move quickly from describing the Pope's calls to arms to the battlefield. In this highly original and enjoyable new book, Christopher Tyerman focuses on something obvious but overlooked: the massive, all-encompassing and hugely costly business of actually preparing a crusade. The efforts of many thousands of men and women, who left their lands and families in Western Europe, and marched off to a highly uncertain future in the Holy Land and elsewhere have never been sufficiently understood. Their actions raise a host of compelling questions about the nature of medieval society.

How to Plan a Crusade is remarkably illuminating on the diplomacy, communications, propaganda, use of mass media, medical care, equipment, voyages, money, weapons, wills, ransoms, animals, and the power of prayer during this dynamic era. It brings to life an extraordinary period of history in a new and surprising way. 16 pages of color illustrations.
Another one I'm looking forward to reading. I think though, that I've been acquiring books faster than I can read them - and I've been doing this for years now.

And, another book on order that I'm waiting for. It's supposed to arrive any day now though. Dimitra Fimi's Tolkien, Race and Cultural History: From Fairies to Hobbits. Dimitra Fimi is the author/editor of the hardcover edition of A Secret Vice, and also wrote two chapters in the Routledge Companion to Imaginary Worlds (which is where I was first exposed to her works).

Tolkien, Race and Cultural History: From Fairies to Hobbits - Dimitra FimiTolkien, Race and Cultural History: From Fairies to Hobbits
Dimitra Fimi
Palgrave Macmillan
Copyright date: 2008

The product description:
Fimi explores the evolution of Tolkien's mythology throughout his lifetime by examining how it changed as a result of his life story and contemporary cultural and intellectual history. This new approach and scope brings to light neglected aspects of Tolkien's imaginative vision and contextualises his fiction.
I'm looking forward to this read too - but when I'll get to it... I've got quite a few unread books on Tolkien in my collection already.

Here's a Tolkien book I really want to get my hands on:

Tolkien: Maker of Middle-EarthTolkien: Maker of Middle-Earth
Catherine McIlwaine
Bodleian Library
Release Date: July 2018

The product description:
He was an expert in medieval literature and Norse folklore, with a deep reverence for the power of myth. An accomplished translator, linguist, and philologist, who invented multiple languages of his own. A whimsical illustrator and a skillful storyteller. The father of modern fantasy literature, J. R. R. Tolkien was a master of world-building and a complex and brilliant figure.
            Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth explores the huge creative endeavor behind Tolkien’s enduring popularity. Lavishly illustrated with more than 300 images of his manuscripts, drawings, maps, and letters, the book traces the creative process behind his most famous literary works—The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion—and reproduces personal photographs and private papers, many of which have never been seen before in print.
            Six essays cover the main themes in Tolkien’s life and work, including the influence of northern languages and legends on the creation of his own legendarium; his concept of “FaĆ«rie” as an enchanted literary realm; the central importance of his invented languages in his fantasy writing; his visual imagination and its emergence in his artwork; and the encouragement he derived from his close friend C. S. Lewis and their literary group the Inklings.
            This volume assembles a wealth of original Tolkien material, shedding light on the extraordinary genius and imagination that brought us Middle-earth with all its Elves, Dwarves, Orcs, Ringwraiths, Wizards, and, of course, Hobbits. Drawing on the archives of the Tolkien collections at the Bodleian Library and Marquette University, as well as private collections, this exquisitely produced catalog draws together the worlds of J. R .R. Tolkien—scholarly, literary, creative, and domestic—offering a rich and detailed history of this legendary author.
The author/editor of this book is the Tolkien archivist at the Bodleian Library in Oxford. What's of more interest - especially if you live in the United Kingdom - is that the Bodleian Library is holding an exhibition next year on Tolkien which this book is intended to showcase. I only wish I could attend.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Evolving understandings of racism, preferred terminology and historical fiction

I participated briefly in a very interesting exchange on Twitter on the term "gypsy" a week or so ago, mostly by reading the thread, but I did ask one question, one I'd love to get some more thoughts and answers on.

The question I was trying to ask, though I don't think I worded it very well then was about historical fiction. I'm asking it again here in hopes of getting some more responses and thoughts.

"How do you handle terms and attitudes that are now considered racist/inappropriate when dealing with a story set in a time when those attitudes were considered normal/acceptable?"

Personally, I lean on the side of authenticity - if the terminology or attitude was common in primary sources of the time then I don't see an issue with using it - if appropriate for the characters and storylines. Don't go using it just because you can. A fine line... But one that can be trodden I think. Examples include the Book of Negroes (TV series at least), and Outlander (books and TV series both).

I should note that the responses I got to the question when I asked it on Twitter ranged from "yes, authenticity is good, but add warnings so people can chose if they feel like dealing with the attitudes right now" to what felt like "don't write or read those stories. They're racist", though that was never actually said. A fair enough point, but doesn't that cut out most of the past then as fodder for writing?

At least if you don't want "modern characters in period dress" which is an issue I've felt with quite a lot of popular historical fiction, and those books tend to end up on my DNF pile pretty quickly. Not every character in a time period is going to be "enlightened" and "modern" by our standards. Is it realistic of us to expect that in our reading? and if so, doesn't that then construct false impressions of a particular time period?

I'm forever debating variations of this with people I know - mostly on topics of women's rights and legal standing in ancient Rome or Greece (I come down on the "that's the way it was, now how was it justified/accepted/understood in that time" side of the debate, vs. the "that's wrong, it never should have been that way, they're so backwards, how did we ever accept it" side of the debate, which to me gets in the way of trying to understand the way people thought and acted in the past).

This is a question I'm poking at a bit, trying to find an answer that works - I have dreams of one day writing a novel or two myself, and the ideas I have are mostly historically-oriented, so this is something I'm trying to figure out (around reading books about the times I'm interested in to try and lock down facts and ideas that I could use). Whether it'll actually happen or not, I don't know.

What solutions are there to this question? I'd love to know - and not actually being a writer, I'm sure I'm missing some ideas and options. Thing is, while I know I prefer "realism" in what I'm reading when it comes to historical fiction, I also don't want the books I like to be offensive to people either - thus trying to figure out the balancing act.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...