So you’ve begun to plot your high fantasy, creating your world from scratch, going for that classic, old feel with little technology and a monarch on the throne. And then you realize you have nowhere to start. All you have to go on is the extensive selection of novels you’ve read, and while that’s definitely necessary and helpful, you think your world building is lacking the reality element that helps readers connect to it in an easy, organic way. Sounds like you need to do some research. Allow me to introduce to The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England by Ian Mortimer.
The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there…
Imagine you could travel back to the fourteenth century. What would you see, and hear, and smell? Where would you stay? What are you going to eat? And how are you going to test to see if you are going down with the plague?
In The Time Traveller’s Guide… Ian Mortimer’s radical new approach turns our entire understanding of history upside down. History is not just something to be studied; it is also something to be lived, whether that’s the life of a peasant or a lord. The result is perhaps the most astonishing history book you are ever likely to read; as revolutionary as it is informative, as entertaining as it is startling.
This book rocks. It’s an awesome introduction to the High Middle Ages in England, and breathes life into the people that lived then. It’s advertised as a medieval travel guide, and though there are times where it reads that way (mainly in the introduction) I wasn’t very convinced by that description by the end. That said, I didn’t mind at all. This book is so full of fun, fascinating anecdotes and detailed knowledge conveyed in a casual way that it’s worth just getting lost in your imagination as it describes the schooling, housing, medicine, or clothing of 1300s England.
The best part about it is that it’s a fantastic superficial resource. World-building, as we’ve said countless times on this blog, benefits ridiculously from research, and even if you’re creating a totally new land not based on Western society, it still doesn’t hurt to know that in England in the 1300s if you’re old and on foot, or travelling in a large group with a bunch of packhorses, covering ten to fifteen miles a day is very respectable. But if a person is fitter and alone, that number can jump up to twenty or thirty. That kind of information transcends geography and societal constructs.
Seriously, you can take inspiration from every little part of this book. Want to know how they treated fever back then? Check out the ‘Health and Hygiene’ section. Trying to come up with a hairstyle for your princess? Look at ‘What to Wear’. Need more details on courtesy than Mortimer gives you? Flip through the fifty pages of notes and citations at the back of the book. Could there be a better starting point?
All in all, this is a great collection of general information on life in the Middle Ages in England, and if you’re stuck with your world building, or unsure of some details, give it a shot. Alternatively, if you’re looking for a cool history read, pick it up and flip through it. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
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Biljana Likic is currently revising her first novel. She’s in her third year of university, where she can’t wait till she’s out so she’ll finally have all the time in the world to write. You can visit her personal blog and follow her on Twitter.