Typically, an author who writes historical fiction has done a good bit of research about the time period in which their books are set. If you think that a writer of books set in the middle ages ought to read books and stories that were written in the middle ages, you're probably not wrong.
With the exception of the Bible, the oldest book I've willingly read is The Merchant of Venice. Everything else--Oedipus Rex, Beowulf, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight--have been required reading for classes. The latter two stories I've only read recently for a medieval literature class I'm currently taking.
Let me learn you a thing or two about medieval literature.
There are two types of medieval literature. The first type has been translated from Latin, French, Norse, or Old English (or sometimes a more obscure language like Breton, which is essentially the love-child of French and Gaelic. A lovely example of the language is found in the song "Tri Martrolod," if you're curious). The translators, and probably the original authors as well, were most likely stuffy old men with a disdain for commas and a fetish for long sentences.
The second type of medieval literature was written in the same English as the King James version of the Bible. It's legible, but it makes no effort at being entertaining.
Now, I'm not saying that all medieval literature is boring. Some of the French and Irish poetry is simply haunting. Every once in a while, you'll come across a sentence so beautiful you're instantly transported to a world where dragons exist and the land is greener and the air is quiet except for birdsongs. But those sentences are few and far between, and there aren't nearly enough commas (or periods) separating them.
And if you're expecting tales of war and romance and chivalry and virtue, stick to Arthurian legends. The Canterbury Tales is basically one long dirty joke with a bit of witty social commentary thrown in for good measure, and the religious writings will leave you wondering how pure Christianity survived until the Protestant Reformation. (Not that it's perfect now, but good grief--look up Holy Anorexia and rejoice that we don't encourage people to starve themselves to get closer to God.)
Am I learning a lot? Yes. Do I wish that I'd read some of these works sooner? At times. Will I reread what I'm reading now? Maybe--I've got quite a long list of books from the past century that I need to read first, though. I'm about a third of the way through Life of Pi and I still need to finish C.S. Lewis's God at the Dock.
Also, dear readers, this medieval literature class that I'm taking now is the most intellectually stimulating (i.e., difficult) class I've ever taken. Not only is the work hard, I've also got a ten-page term paper to work on. So if I'm late with a post, blame King Arthur.
What's the oldest book you've ever read, and did you enjoy it? Let me know in the comments below! God bless you, dear readers, and don't forget to review us on Amazon!
M. J. Piazza is a Jesus-loving, dog-walking country girl who just so happens to write books.