Archive for September, 2009

As I’ve researched more into the world of medieval Scotland, my interest in other fiction set in medieval times has grown.  I was lucky enough to find Nan Hawthorne’s site Medieval Novels which aims to be a comprehensive list of fiction set in medieval times.  She has arranged her page in several helpful ways– by time periods, by genres (mystery, fantasy and time travel, for instance), by region, by historical figures, by new releases.  Whatever time, person, or genre interests you, there is a category.  I found a wealth of books, new and old, set in all parts of the medieval world; books by well-known authors and books by newer authors. 

For a Shelfari group discussion, I did some research into medieval fiction specifically with strong musical themes, settings, or characters.  I found very few.  In addition to my own novel, which centers on the star member of a modern orchestra, and a harp-playing medieval warrior, there is Rose Tremain’s Music and Silence, set in 1600′s Denmark.  Her central character is the angelic-faced Peter Claire, lutist.  It is a fascinating look at the life of a court musician, and King Christian IV of Denmark.   If you like the dream-like, wandering style of writing, this book will definitely appeal to you.   Although not my favorite style, I did enjoy the book.

There is also Norah Lofts The Lute Player: A Novel of Richard the Lion-Hearted, king of England in the last days of the twelfth century.  It focuses on Richard’s lute player, Blondel, and his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine.   I have not read this book, but Norah Lofts is a prolific writer with a strong reputation in the field of historical fiction, and I believe it would be well worth my while to track down a copy (it was published in 1951) and give it a try.  I’d be interested in hearing from anyone who has read it.

There are certainly hundreds, even thousands, of books on either medieval times or musical themes, but finding ones that combine the two seems to be a needle hunt in a haystack.  If you, the reader, know of others, please leave a comment.

Hogmanay is a Scottish celebration that occurs in The Minstrel Boy, book 2 of The Blue Bells Trilogy.  It is the Scottish New Year’s Eve celebration, although by all accounts, much wilder than how your average American rings in the New Year.

With roots going back so far that the origin of the word itself is no longer known, but it originated in deep winter celebrations of sun and fire, and moving from there into the Roman Saturnalia, a Baccnalian event if ever there was one.  The Reformation drove much of the Hogmanay celebrations underground until the 17th Century, and in recent years, they have become far more extravagant even than what most of the 20th Century knew. 

Hogmanay celebrations these days are large events, often held at castles.  They include music of all sorts, rock bands, pipe bands, drinking, revelry, lots of kissing– it is New Year’s Eve, after all–fire ceremonies, swinging fire balls, fireworks, and singing of Auld Lang Syne.  In smaller towns, Hogmanay may be celebrated with ceilidhs (dances).

One youtube clip shows “1000 Pipers” marching down the Royal Mile outside of Edinburgh Castle: 1000 Pipers

Be prepared: this is a lot of bagpipes!  And I’m saying that like it’s a good thing.  It’s quite a sight to see so many marching in their kilts and sporrans, all playing together.

Scottish History at Suite 101 explains the reasoning behind the “first footing” tradition of it being considered good luck for the first person to cross your door at midnight to be a tall, dark-haired man: in the days of the Viking attacks, you didn’t want to see shorter, blonde men.  They were often raiding, pillaging, and raping.

Interestingly, as I search for details on how Niall might have celebrated at Glenmirril, I find that, with the exception of a few sketchy paragraphs about old traditions, and no details as to just how old those traditions are, there is virtually nothing.  There is plenty about medieval Christmases, but no mention of Hogmanay in the same period.  As Niall lived just after the days of the Viking raids, he may have still been celebrating very much like their Yule, which is also thought to have been a strong influence on Scottish Hogmanay.  He lived long before the Reformation that drove it underground, so chances are high that he did in fact celebrate it.