Welcome back to Day 15 of the "Road from the West" Virtual Book Tour. Today, author Rosanne E. Lortz is sharing a very interesting guest post plus she has generously offered to give one lucky reader a paperback copy of her new book! This is open to everyone - US/Canada/International (see below to enter)
THE CRUSADES AND THE SILVER SCREEN
The Crusades are a piece of history of which everyone has heard and on which everyone has an opinion. Some people's thoughts are formed from half-recollected smatterings of high school history, others are informed by nonfiction books on the subject—but in most cases, people's opinions of the Crusades are inspired by the popular films that inundate our culture. And as all serious history-lovers know, it is a risky business to trust in Hollywood for historical accuracy.
One assumption that nearly every Crusade movie seems to make is that the religious rationale behind the movement was just a façade that many of the Crusaders “saw through”. In today’s America, religion is, to a great degree, marginalized and pushed into the private sector. This makes it difficult to understand the religiously saturated culture in which the Crusades were conducted. For us, it is hard to swallow the fact that the line "Deus vult! God wills it!" was not just a line—it was what the Crusaders actually believed. They believed that God wanted them to free Jerusalem from Muslim domination, and they took the cross despite great monetary expense and at great personal risk to earn the favor of God and to merit the forgiveness of sins. While some of them might have become disillusioned with the way the Crusades were carried out, few—if any—of them doubted that the endeavor was a worthy one to pursue.
Recently, I read an article titled "Pop Culture Reshapes Role of Crusades" on the Medieval News blog that delves into this very subject. The article quotes Christopher Hill, a professor of history at Hamilton College, who talks about "an increasing pattern of secularization within Crusades movies." In films created after World War II, "the characters often ended up either disillusioned with the fighting, faced with an existential crisis, or suddenly enlightened regarding the intrinsically evil nature of religion. Often it was a mixture of all three."
Professor Hill's observation jives well with my own experience of the Crusades on the silver screen. Offhand, I can think of several movies of the kind he describes: Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Kingdom of Heaven, Robin Hood (2010, with Russell Crowe), and just recently Nicholas Cage's movie Season of the Witch. All of these movies show the protagonist's disillusionment with the goals of the Crusades. Instead of typifying the culture of the Middle Ages, the protagonist becomes a mouthpiece for our own culture which sees true piety and warfare (especially warfare for the purposes of conquest) as diametrically opposed to each other.
For a historical fiction author, as well as for a screenwriter, the temptation exists to create the protagonist in our own image instead of in an image appropriate to the era. That is one temptation that I have striven to resist as I tell the story of Tancred, a young Norman nobleman who takes the cross, in my new novel Road from the West. All the primary sources documenting Tancred's life depict a skilled warrior with enough testosterone to make any action hero proud. But Tancred has a religious side as well, and—strange as it may seem to our sensibilities—his sense of piety has no objections to skewering as many Saracens as he runs across.
Ralph of Caen, a contemporary historian, gives a vivid account of the stirrings of conscience that prompted Tancred to go on Crusade:
Over time…his prudent soul raised concerns that caused him anxiety. It seemed that his military life contradicted the Lord's command [to turn the other cheek when struck]…. But when Pope Urban’s decision granted a remission of all sins to all of the Christians setting forth to fight against the pagans, then finally it was as if…his eyes were opened and his boldness set in motion.”
The guilt that Tancred feels for his past military life is not guilt for causing bloodshed per se. Rather, it is guilt for an improper use of the sword, for turning it against his fellow Christians. Pope Urban's Crusade offers a way for him to atone for his past, and at the same time use his experience in arms properly, in fighting against "the pagans."
Later on in Ralph of Caen's account, we see that Tancred has no desire to "turn the other cheek" when in battle with the Muslims. After his troop ambushes and kills seven hundred Saracens outside of Antioch, Tancred cuts off seventy heads and sends them to Bishop Adhemar as a "tithe" of his labor. And Bishop Adhemar, far from being appalled by this tribute, thanks the giver by sending him seventy gold pieces in return. A grisly scene, to be sure, but one that these men could easily justify after seeing the thousands upon thousands of bleached bones of the men, women, and children—members of the People's Crusade—that the Muslims slaughtered just north of Nicaea. Tancred’s conscience suffers not a whit from his bloody exploits on the Crusade. He takes it as a matter of course that his deeds should be done in the name of God and for the sake of religion.
The Crusades were fought in a world far different than ours, a world where it was normal for religion to inform public policy and incite warfare. It was the Crusaders’ doubts about their own holiness that persuaded them to join the Crusade in the first place, but the cause of the Crusade itself gave them no cause for doubt. Twenty-first century Americans dressed up in chainmail may see these battles as an excuse for an existential crisis. Twelfth century Europeans saw them as a means to please God and advance the dominion of Christendom.
I love a good period film as much as anyone, but I find it wiser to let history—not Hollywood—inform my opinions about the way people “really” were back then. The closing paragraph of “Pop Culture Reshapes Role of Crusades” expresses a caution that all moviegoers would do well to keep in mind: "When one watches a movie ostensibly about the Crusades, they're not watching a movie that's actually about the Crusades. Rather, they're watching an interpretation of current Western attitudes that happens to be dressed up in medieval clothing."
About the Author:
To learn more about Rosanne or her work, you can visit her website at: http://rosannelortz.blogspot.
You can also find Rosanne on Twitter and on Facebook. Curious what Rosanne's bookshelf looks like? Have a peek at Goodreads
One lucky winner will receive a paperback copy of Rosanne E. Lortz's new book, "Road from the West". This contest is open to all - US/Canada/International. To enter, just fill out the Rafflecopter form below. Good Luck!
Road from the West Tour Schedule
Friday, September 2nd
Review at The Maiden's Court
Monday, September 5th
Author Guest Post & Giveaway at The Maiden's Court
Tuesday, September 6th
Review at Debbie's Book Bag
Author Guest Post & Giveaway at From the TBR Pile
Wednesday, September 7th
Review at The Calico Critic
Thursday, September 8th
Review at Unabridged Chick
Monday, September 12th
Review at Broken Teepee
Tuesday, September 13th
Author Interview & Giveaway at Unabridged Chick
Wednesday, September 14th
Author Guest Post & Giveaway at Broken Teepee
Friday, September 16th
Review at Diary of a Book Addict
Tuesday, September 20th
Review at Bibliophilic Book Blog
Wednesday, September 21st
Review & Giveaway at A Bookish Affair
Thursday, September 22nd
Author Guest Post at Bibliophilic Book Blog
Monday, September 26th
Review at Just One More Paragraph
Tuesday, September 27th
Review at The Musings of a Book Junkie
Wednesday, September 28th
Author Guest Post & Giveaway at Just One More Paragraph
Thursday, September 29th
Review at Sharon's Garden of Book Reviews
Friday, September 30th
Review at By the By Books
Monday, October 3rd
Review & Giveaway at Peeking Between the Pages
Tuesday, October 4th
Author Interview at The Musings of a Book Junkie
Wednesday, October 5th
Review & Giveaway at Bippity Boppity Book
Thursday, October 6th
Review at A Few More Pages
Friday, October 7th
Review at The Owl Bookmark Blog
Monday, October 10th
Review at Historically Obsessed
Tuesday, October 11th
Author Interview & Giveaway at The Owl Bookmark Blog
Wednesday, October 12th
Review at Between the Pages
Thursday, October 13th
Monday, October 17th
Wednesday, October 19th
Review at The True Book Addict
Thursday, October 20th
Author Guest Post & Giveaway at The True Book Addict
I received a copy of this book to read and honestly review for this tour.