Friday, July 29, 2005


Still reading Jack Whyte's Clothar the Frank. He's now mentioning proper chimneys and fireplaces. He's also mentioned them in previous books. No to chimneys! Not in Roman Britain, thank you! They don't appear till the 13th century at the earliest, becoming more common in the 15th century. Clothar is set in France, and I guess that they might have had them in the 5th century there, but I doubt it.

There are things called lamp chimneys (tall pots with apertures), or ventilators, found on Roman sites, but they may only be for roof decoration and aren't common finds. They may be part of the hypocaust system, to help draw the hot air round and expel gases. Also, the flues (again part of the hypocaust system) that lined the walls to draw heat and gas round the rooms might technically be called chimneys. But Jack is evidently referring to chimneys as we know them today. However, I'm still enjoying the book; the man's a great storyteller.

btw, I tend to call the book Cloth-ears the Frank. A 'cloth-ears' being someone who isn't listening properly. When my dp saw what I was reading, he immediately started calling it Cloth-ears too. Aye, well, two fools never differ ... :-)


At 6:07 pm BST, Blogger Gabriele C. said...

Whyte uses a simplified spelling - not that I can blame him. The original Frankish version would be Chlothar: Ch (like in Scottish loch) lot - haar (no English th).

I'm glad to hear those pesky details don't spoil the story for you, though I think it's better to get these things which are not relevant for the plot, right and change a known fact in order to make a good story. On the other hand, the details often require even more research (don't remind me of 5th century weaving techniques, lol) than the "big" events.

Nevertheless, I might give the book a try once I have some money again.

At 6:07 pm BST, Blogger Gabriele C. said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 7:14 pm BST, Blogger Alex Bordessa said...

I'm not sure I'd class Whyte's books as historical fiction. They're not accurate enough. I have seen them in the sf section of bookshops, and this may be the right place for them. I do occasionally read definite sf (eg. Ash: a secret history by Mary Gentle), and I tend to choose 'alternative' histories rather than total fantasies, so Whyte fits that preference. Hence, I'm laid-back about the details, though have fun pinpointing the faults ;)

At 8:25 pm BST, Blogger Gabriele C. said...

Have you read Sara Douglass' Crucible trilogy? That's what I regard as Alternate History: it takes place during the Black Death, and in her world, demons are real - as they were for the Christians back then. After what I've read about Whyte, I'd have considered his books Historical Fiction, but I haven't read any of them and they aren't on the shelves in Germany. They might be considered Hist Fic, though, since Gabaldon's books are.

Btw, how would you classify Bernard Cornwell's books, the one you read, or the Warlord trilogy? I thought his Arthur version was at least closer to Hist Fic than Mists of Avalon which is plain Fantasy, imho.

At 10:18 pm BST, Blogger Stephen said...

I gave up on Whyte's Camulod books about halfway through. They were such heavy going, and rather typified what I feel is wrong with the whole "Historical Arthur" industry. What appeals about the Arthurian legends is all that chivalry, romance and "magic". Everything that Malory handles so effortlessly. Everything that is "high mediaeval". Any attempt to portray Arthur as a real 5th Century person has to start by stripping all of that away, leaving, well, nothing. So the likes of Whyte try to add it back through devices like the skystone. But they are trying to be "realistic" so this is all done in a frightfully worthy way. Lots of household economics and metallurgy. Whyte even goes into the minutae of Augustinian theology to explain his Arthur's separation from the rest of civilised Europe by invoking the Pelagian Heresy for chrissakes. Dull, Dull, Dull. Give me Big Jousts, and King Pellinor and the Questing Beast, and Sir Percival and the Grail Quest any day.

At 6:23 pm BST, Blogger Gabriele C. said...

But the problem is that the Mediaeval world of Malory, Chretien de Troyes and even Scott's Ivanhoe never was real. It's not historical fiction in our modern sense, it's the description of an ideal world. Thus, you can either write a Fantasy take on Arthur by using the Malory/Troyes elements, or you can write Historical Fiction, and then you'll have to go back to the 5th century Arthur and the gritty, cruel world he lived in.

I agree that reintroducing the magic by some non-inherent magic system is tricky. I like the way Cornwell mostly aviods that. His magic is in the heads of the people back then, which is historically correct, but he leaves open whether it really works. Marion Zimmer Bradley, on the other side, writes history based Fantasy in her Avalon books, not Historical Fiction. Both are valid interpretations of the legend. I haven't read Whyte yet, so I can't say whether I'd like his take.

I have some ideas for an Arthur novel in my files, and it will be a 5th or 6th century version, too. No tournaments, sorry. :)

At 5:21 pm BST, Blogger Alex Bordessa said...

To answer your questions, Gabriele, I would class Cornwell's Last Kingdom Historical Fiction/Adventure. I didn't warm to his Warlord Chronicles, but they seemed to be an attempt at something historical (relying heavily on Welsh texts, I gather) Urgh - Mists of Avalon, yes, definitely fantasy!

I was offered one of Douglass'books to review, but turned it down - didn't fancy something on the plague. Will read her if ever my to-be-read pile gets very low. Gentle's Ash was so good, I reckon I've been spoiled for anything else that's medieval sf :-)


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