Monday, August 23, 2010

Hints in History - Oxford History of the Crusades

Once again I plunged into history and I found several good story ideas or elements I could use to color my stories. Just change the trappings and anything old is new again. And when you’re talking about the Crusades, you’re talking pretty old.

I picked up the book because of the video game “Assassin’s Creed” which takes place during the Third Crusade and did an excellent job of bringing the world to life. It inspired me to do a bit more research into the subject (especially since I love history and medieval history in particular). After some research I found that “The Oxford History of the Crusades” got some great reviews, so I picked it up.

I’ll be up front and say that this book is really for readers who are familiar with the Crusades already. It approaches the topic not chronology, but by topics. It also assumes you are pretty familiar with the events of the crusades, and goes more into aspects of the wars. Some of it was very interesting, including the examination of the Military Orders, such as the Templars. But this approach could become very dry, dissecting the events in a way that lost appeal for me. I love history because of the story it tells, the characters, the plot. Breaking it down in this way tends to be too distanced and cold.

But there were a couple of sections that really brought out the people who took part in these wars. One section dealt solely with the minds and perceptions of the early crusaders. Why would someone want to leave everything they ever knew and tromp off to kill or be killed in the Holy Land? Our modern minds can’t really understand it, and because of poor record keeping (especially during the first couple Crusades) we can only speculate. But the ideas presented are sound and provide a perspective that could be used in another format.

These people engage in a war that will not only serve the will of their god, but will assure them a place in heaven. It will remove all their sins, even the ones of killing, and give them a clean slate when they get to heaven. It all works out and the inspiration of their god or gods us driving them. They become a force to be reckoned with, especially against a government that is dealing with internal strife.

Set in a fantasy story line (althougth Robert Howard already did it in Conan a few times) or in a space opera setting and you’ve got lots of material to work with.

Also of note were the powerful Italian city-states of Venice and Genoa. They directly and indirectly affected the outcomes of the crusades with their trade wars and trade agreements. These powers affected the later crusades and ended up causing some major troubles for Christian military orders and Islamic armies alike. Again, I saw a lot of story potentials with these city-states and how they manipulated both sides to make the most money. You’ve got a lot of characters just waiting to be explored here.

Sure the obvious set up would be historical fiction. But for the genre writer, you can do more with this root. Just some research and your imagination and you’ve got all kinds of interesting stories waiting to be told.

So I suggest you check out the book and the Crusades in general. I think you’ll find all kinds of things to get your creative juices going and you’ll also learn a bit of world history in the progress. Not a bad deal really.

Have you used any history as a basis for your work? Do you have a favorite time period you enjoy researching? Have you read a book that seemed inspired by historical events but cloaked them in a creative way?

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