Redheaded Neanderlady

Redheaded Neanderlady
This is a photoshopped version of something I found in National Geographic about the time I started researching

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Getting (warmly) medieval

While scrolling through some very interesting material about various subjects, from other blogs, I came across a blog post from Nan Hawthorne, on medieval climate. It didn't say much that I didn't already know: namely that the earlier Middle Ages, from approximately 900-1300 AD/CE, saw a warming that was not unlike the "global warming" we see today. Of course, the human impact was far less; the population of various parts of the world grew, but not at the rate populations are growing today. They didn't have the technology to control for what are called "crowd diseases" during this time, nor did they have the technology to get children much past infancy. Some kids, even the children of the rich and well-born), just didn't live to grow up.

I am writing at an early medieval period, but later than the one Ms. Hawthorne is writing about, and unlike her, I'm not making up the events that frame the narrative, though a number of my characters are completely made up, though plausible for the time and place. The climate plays an important role as I describe what's going on at various times of the year, weatherwise. Because people are going to react to it in some way, even if it's only to complain about it.

Fortunately, I live in a place that has a similar climatic signature, so to speak. Both the England of the Early Middle Ages and the Pacific Northwest have "marine" climates. That means, among other things, that it doesn't get extremely hot, at least not for very long, in the summer, nor does it get very cold in the winter, though we do have cold spells for a few days sometimes. Wind and rain and floods are more important, in terms of "weather problems", and the floods are often caused by "warm rain" that falls at inconvenient times. In England, this is often in the summer, though here, it's often in the winter. Also, England doesn't possess any volcanoes, as far as I know, so they don't have to worry about some mountain exploding like Mount St. Helens. So it's not too hard for me to visualize conditions at any given time of year.

But I don't want to give anybody the impression I go on and on about the weather. I don't. I don't go on and on about the scenery, except in one or two places where the central female character, Illg, is unfamiliar with the plants and animals she sees. I don't like to bog stories down with description. I'm not writing newspaper serials, as Charles Dickens was, and I wouldn't even try.
Still, a little description of this type doesn't hurt – it adds color to the narrative, and gives the reader a sense of place.

One final note: this climatic bounty didn't last. Shortly after the beginning of the fourteenth century, the medieval climate started to get a lot cooler. This is one of the reasons the Greenland colony is thought to have finally failed: unlike the local Inuit people, the Norse Greenlanders couldn't or wouldn't adapt to the changing climate,, and they either died out or left the place(there are conflicting claims about this). Worsening climate may also have been partly responsible for the destruction caused by the second plague pandemic – because crops failed and people literally starved and their immune systems were weakened, making a lot of people more vulnerable than they night have been to deadly diseases. But that's probably a topic for another medieval-themed blog, if I find some interesting tidbit to set it off.
Anne G

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