Sort of the Middle Ages, or ‘When Characters Go Their Own Road’

If Clark Hall’s A Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary was to blame for my starting an alternate history for the Anglo Saxons after the entrance of William the Bastard, then Shakespeare is utterly to blame for screwing up my timeline. Blasted Bard. I am, however, getting ahead of myself.

My plan for the storyline for my books was neat and tidy. Alright, that’s rather misleading. It was sprawling but wholly medieval, and that–so far as I’m concerned–is better than neat and tidy any day. After all, who doesn’t love sprawling? Okay, some people, but not me. And medieval? I’ve got that covered like jam on bread. While I am far, far, far from knowing everything I’d like to, much less need to, about the Middle Ages (talk about sprawling), I do know how to research and find the needful. As I started the first book, drawing up maps and family trees as I went along, I came head to head with a product of my own imagination, and that’s when the problems started as I have, since childhood, lost every battle against my imagination.

Only having lived with my own, I don’t know how other people’s imaginations work. I’m sure I’m not unique in having an imagination that forces me to do things its way. This time, however, I decided would be different.

Everyone, I expect, remembers that silly scene in Sleeping Beauty where the fairies fight over the color of Aurora’s dress. Well, when I was small, that scene filled me with envy. Oh, not for the dress. I had no interest whatsoever in the dress. I wanted the wand, or rather a wand in the form of a less literal imagination. I wanted an imagination that would do what I wanted because mine was so desperately concrete. If I, for example, imagined myself in some fanciful costume (something à la Edmund Dulac whose illustrations I adored), I could never just re-imagine my dress into something else. Instead, I had to imagine myself actually taking off the dress and putting something else on. So, if I tried to mentally change the color of a dress—Red to gold. Red to gold—I could concentrate as hard as I liked. My imagination fought back.

“The dress is red, my girl, and red it shall stay. If you want a gold dress, then go to the closet and get yourself a gold one. This one’s not changing.”

My imagination could conjure a new closet. It probably would have conjured a vat of dye for me to dye the dress in the manner of Cassandra in I Capture the Castle, but allow me to simply transform it? No, and no again. Once created, the thing was its own, and my powers over it became extremely limited. To this day, I envy those doggone fairies, for I’m still the one who has to bend when coming up against my creations.

In fact, one of my relatively well-behaved characters forced me to change the chronology of my books entirely. I had planned on setting the first one, Liber Collisionum (A Book of Collisions), squarely in the Middle Ages, 15th century at the absolute latest. Then, Sebastian, who is not even the central character of that book, started quoting Shakespeare.

Talk to the hand Annunciation Louvres 12th cent

The original “Talk to the Hand” sign, from a 12th century Annunciation Scene (Louvres, Paris)

Did my character have the good manners to restrain himself?

To speak when spoken to?

To not quote anachronistic authors?

Did he not care that I’m a Medievalist, not an Early Modernist?

Do I need another rhetorical question to make the point?

He may not have been the central character of that book, but he was central to the relationships and plot, so I could not eliminate him. Well, I’m the writer and he’s my character, and I wasn’t about to realign my whole timeline to the Early Modern area just because one character had a penchant for Shakespeare. Early Modern is not my area. So, out came that Shakespeare. Only when I tried cutting out the Shakespeare, Sebastian fought back with the I’m-just-going-to-lie-here-on-the-page-and-see-how-you-like-it tactic. The boy might as well have said, “Vocavisti. Veni. Nunc erigis avem.” (“You called. I came. Now, I’m flipping you the bird.”) I could do nothing with him.

I did the only thing I could: I fiddled with space and time in order that Sebastian might return to his normal, insouciant self. Of course, by the end of that first book, his insouciance takes a real beating, but that regrettable circumstance is as unavoidable as the boy’s Shakespeare habit. We’ll see how he makes it through book two (of which he is the central character). Things are looking grim at the moment for him, poor lamb.

Rebellious characters, a fighting imagination, and fiddling about with space and time. Somebody’s got to do it.

One thought on “Sort of the Middle Ages, or ‘When Characters Go Their Own Road’

  1. Pingback: Of Swanmaidens and Smiths | Trapped in the Scriptorium

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