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July 10th, 2014

Writing and Authenticity — Tournaments

Yesterday I wrapped up the ‘Tournament’ portion of Tournament of Fools (or whatever my publishers will eventually call it.) I’ll try to avoid spoilers, but I thought that it might entertain readers to get an idea of the process.

Here’s the writing problem. In the Red Knight series, I am, deliberately, trying to use most of the standard tropes of Arthurian Romance (NB that’s a little different from the standard tropes of Arthurian fantasy, right… ok, pedantic mode off.) One I’ve wanted to play with from the first day of writing this was the wonderful adventure of the knight incognito riding into a tournament to save/rescue the princess or win the prize where no one knows who he is. Frankly, from the Morte D’Artur to Ivanhoe, I LOVE those scenes.

So where’s the problem?

Well… How–and I mean, how, exactly–does the brave knight get to the lists, incognito? Tournaments in the real world were complex affairs–and very dangerous. Kings and princes knew full well that getting several hundred dangerous men in armour together could lead to ill-feeling and violence. Tournaments were tightly controlled by the late-14th century, and since that’s the ‘feel’ of the Traitorson books, I wanted ot stick to that. besides–it is a ‘Royal’ Tournament.

I’m including some pictures from the last Tournament I attended, the Torneo del Cigno Bianco in Verona, Italy.

tents and ropes

Here’s a good recreated tournament (foot combat only) outside the walls of a beautiful 14th c. castle. So let’s note a couple of things right away–the crowds of people, and the tents and tent ropes. Tournaments were surrounded by tent ropes. Where else would all the noble knights live? In hotels?

Tournaments also have rules, and men who administer the rules–Marshals and Constables and Heralds. They don’t let just anyone fight. Some of that is about out-dated concepts of birth and nobility–but no one wanted to let an incompetent fighter into the lists, either–not then, and not now. So our knight incognito has two problems–a practical problem of getting through the welter of tent ropes and people, and a ‘game’ problem of getting past the bureaucracy of the tournament. Put another way, could you ‘sneak’ into the heavyweight finals and compete? Even at a relatively low-level MMA fight, there’s security and rules and people to watch the ring…

And then–let’s just ask–does our knight incognito really keep his helmet closed for several hours to avoid recognition? If he has a visor, he doesn’t ever raise it to, say, drink water/ if he is wearing a great helm, he’d have to take it off… Listen, I wear armour all the time. The moment I’m not fighting, I want my visor open.


And just for fun–what about horses? And squires? And pages? No knight–at least, no knight risking his life in an all or nothing joust a l’outrance–wants to ride his destrier for a couple of hours to tire the horse before the moment of combat. So he needs to come on a riding horse, and change, just before he sneaks into the lists… no one will notice him and his entourage… few things sneakier than a mounted knight in armour…

But… if it did happen, how could it have been done?
I’m not telling today. But I enjoyed writing the scene, the details, the planning, all so one character could face another in a climactic fight. And I thought I’d blog about the ‘how.’ This is where my reading of books on this sort of stuff — like Barber, Richard and Barker, Juliet, Tournaments: Jousts, Chivalry and Pageants in the Middle Ages, Boydell (1989) Kaeuper, Richard, The Book of Chivalry of Geoffroi De Charny: Text, Context, and Translation, University of Pennsylvania Press (1996) De Pisan, Christine, The Book of Deeds of Arms and of Chivalry, Penn State University (1999) Lull, Raymond, Book of Knighthood and Chivalry (late 13th c), published by Chivalry Bookshelf (2001) Chivalry and Violence in Medieval Europe (Dick Kaeuper again, because he’s my favorite) (Oxford University Press 2001) and perhaps most important, Maurice Keen’s seminal work, Chivalry (Yale University Press 2005) — was that too many titles? anyway, this is where all the reading links up with all the reenacting, and together, we can explore the details of the how and why of a great tournament–and give the characters some tools to accomplish the author’s mission. Well, and their own.

I confess that in the end, Gabriel and Bad Tom and Amicia–and the Queen and Blanche–ran off with this scene, and not everything went as i expected.

But that’s why it’s fun to write!

March 19th, 2014


I’d like to ask all peoples of all political persuasions to STOP pretending that Aristotle, Socrates and Plato said anything that would allow them to be quoted on Facebook or in any modern political spectrum,. To that I’d add Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. I’d say that in the last year on my FB feed along I’ve picked up 200 false quotes.

Ancient Greek philosophers were, by and large, aristocratic gentlemen who had no time whatsoever for the masses or for anything we might now interpret as ‘freedom.’ They believed in highly disciplined societies run on a fuel of excellence, and their world views, fascinating as they are and sometimes even practical, would not fit with either Democrat or Republican, Liberal or Conservative. I suspect that pure fascism would come the closest, and even that wouldn’t be elitist enough for Plato–ok, I’m joking. But seriously–please stop misquoting the ancients!

Word up–Google and Duck Duck go are now sufficiently advanced that you can check a quote in one button press, English or Greek. I AM watching. Because History matters, and is not just a fuel for your f-ing propoganda.

January 28th, 2014

Okay, It’s all true

It’s all true. I am Miles Cameron as well as being Christian Cameron. But it was too much work for me and my friends who maintain websites for me to be two people, so we’re moving to just one. I’m Miles Cameron. People who want to talk to me should come and talk on the Agora on this site–there’s now topics for fantasy and for the way history and fantasy relate.

Why am I writing fantasy novels? Two reasons. First, it is what I have read for forty years or so. I love fantasy, and have since my mum read me the Hobbit at age five. Second, I do actually like to say things, and Fantasy, like Sci-Fi, is a genre the is also a bully pulpit. In my fantasy stories, I can say some things that don’t fit exactly in history. Sometimes those things are almost banal (like, how easily the West might have saved the Byzantine Empire) and some are ethical (like, that I don’t actually believe that grim, evil characters who are ‘gritty’ actually accomplish much in any world, because they have no friends, no allies and no way to train…because no one likes them!). I can also design my world to fit my own notions–and have been doing so since i first played D+D in 1977…

But History remains the backbone. What else can we describe, except experience? And a good deal of this site, for newcomers, is about the way we (my friends and I) experience reenacting and the past through martial and domestic arts. Or to paraphrase one of my younger sword students ‘we camp with swords.’ Yes, we do.

At any rate, over the next month, Hippeis will be updated to reflect my status as an historical and a fantasy writer and I hope I won’t lose any old friends while I welcome some new ones. Thanks for visiting. Welcome aboard.

October 1st, 2013

What is an expert?

It is all very fashionable to denigrate experts. We’re all equal, I’m sure. Certainly, as a sometime instructor of historical swordsmanship and the various knightly fighting arts, I’m endlessly less than amused by the desire of various people to tell me that their opinion about a technique or a form is worth listening to.

In the past two weeks, I had the pleasure of attending WMAW, a western martial arts symposium (and tournament) in Racine Wisconsin. There, instructors from all over the world allowed students of the arts to sample techniques in rapier, sidesword, longsword, spear, poleaxe, and even the Italian folding knife of the nineteenth century.

And then, after all that, I got to host Guy Windsor, of the School of European Swordsmanship. Guy is the most expert swordsman I know–and I know several hundred very competent swordsmen. He is, in fact, an expert.

He’s an expert–like Leo Todeschini at Tod’s Stuff and Jiri Klipac at The Armoury of Jiri Klipac and Tasha Dandelion Kelly at cotte simple because he can not only perform all of the techniques of historical swordsmanship, he can explain the bio-mechanics of the actions and he can teach students of the meanest understanding–to paraphrase Patrick O’Brian. Tod understands blades–not just how they feel and what they look like, but how they are worn, suspended, drawn and used. Jiri understands armour–how it looks, and how it works, and how it fits in three dimensions. How to make the curves fit your body and still retain the aesthetic of the period, rather than a modern aesthetic. Tasha understands the intimacies of cut and construction and the techniques by which those intimacies are achieved–a level of expertise far beyond mere ‘costuming.’

I’m quite fond of experts, myself, but to get the most out of them–to get anything at all out of them–requires an effort of humility. Perhaps that’s what we find hard. Sometimes I do, too. It can be very hard to say “I’ve studied this for years, but compared to you, I really don’t know anything.’ That’s antithetical to our societies take on information and info acquisition. Information, after all, should be free. And our abilities should be equal. But–they are not. Sometimes I argue with experts, and mostly, I find myself saying ‘I know something, too!’ when I should be listening.

The dedicated men and women who are truly expert preserve something precious. They are–at least, all four of the experts I have named–preserving skills that would otherwise be lost to us, and to history.

And of course–history matters!