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The Medieval World of Writing

Art by Holly Heisey. http://www.hollyheisey.com

Up until a year ago, I had only dabbled in the world of authors.  They intimidated me, and so I stayed in my cozy hovel minding my own business and dreaming of the day I could go out and stand with the rest.  Eventually I stuck my head out and found it not quite as daunting as I once thought.  And so, for a year now I have lived in that world.  I’ve made friends and connections that have helped me to grow as an author.

But there is one thing I have come to learn that I find very interesting.  The world of authors is a medieval feudal world straight out of the Holy Roman Empire.  How, you may ask?  Well, I shall take up the analogy and explain.  Of course there are always exceptions to any analogy, so please forgive me if you think you are that one Space Traveler in my little medieval world.

So saddle your noble steed and strap on your sword, and join me as I introduce you to the realm of Sherbook Forest, otherwise known as The Tales of Sir Writes-a-lot.

We begin our caste system with the lowest of society… the Peasants.  They work the land and pay to their masters the necessary taxes, so that the nobles and clergy can live happy and fat.  These are the readers, who buy the books and give money to the authors and publishers.  In truth, the kingdom could not survive without the Peasants… and if they ever figured that out, we’d be in a world of trouble.  Peasants are the reason nobles can exist, and without them there would be no need for nobility.

Not all Peasants are happy where they are.  No, there are some who seek to become more.  They want to change their station in life.  So they begin studying to become an author themselves.  It’s difficult, but still they try.

Eventually, such a Peasant will succeed.  He owns land now, and has completed his manuscript.  He is a Lord over other Peasants.  But it is not much.  The nobility only see him as a little more than a Peasant.  But if he is especially astute, the nobility may recognize him as a Knight.  A Knight is a Lord who has proven himself worthy to be a noble.  Some Knights are even wealthy enough to have their own Wizard or mighty enough to have a Herald.  But they are still far from being nobility.  Nobility must be conferred, never earned.

And who must confer such nobility?  Why the Bishops and Priests and such, who often view themselves as above the system with the power to make or break nobility.  They hold the keys to the kingdom, and with them the souls of every author.  We’ll call them publishers.

If the Knight has proven himself to a Bishop or Priest, then that Bishop or Priest may choose to grant him a form of nobility and give him his own Wizard.  Often a Herald will go before him, singing his praises.

Art by Holly Heisey. http://www.hollyheisey.com

But you see, even here there is a difference.  There are local Priests who can grant Lower Nobility, like Dukes and Earls and such.  Priests are closer to the common man, and often care little for fancy Heralds.  But it is the official state Bishops who can grant the most powerful office of High Nobility, Kings and Queens and Princes and Princesses.  Most Bishops won’t even have audience with a Knight unless the Knight has a Herald and/or Wizard.  Sometimes they’ll speak to you at a Tournament, but it may only be out of courtesy.  A Knight would do better to seek a Herald while at Tournament, if he seeks the favor of a Bishop.

How does this translate to our analogy?  Local Priests are like small indy presses, and their authors are Lower Nobility.  Sure they’re noble, but they still don’t have the prestige and wealth of the High Nobility.  The Bishops are like major publishing houses, and it’s only these that can grant High Nobility.  These authors sell 100,000 copies of every book they release.

Perhaps the oddest observation I have seen with this is the communication between the caste levels.  Peasants feel comfortable talking to each other and their Lords, but not to the Clergy or the Nobility.  The Lords and Knights will talk to their Peasants, each other, and the Lower Nobility, but the Clergy intimidates them because no Priest has yet chosen them to be the next noble.  They try to obtain a Herald, but Heralds only serve the noblest of Knights.

The Lower Nobility are some of the nicest people I know.  They haven’t yet forgotten what it means to be a Peasant.  They talk with each other, the Lords and Knights below them, their local Priests, and even the Peasants.  However, the High Nobility and the Bishops don’t always pay attention to them.  The Lower Nobility often see little use for Heralds, and think the High Nobility and Bishops are overrated.

The High Nobility is exactly what you would think.  They pretty much keep to themselves, except when they have to deal with the Lower Nobility or the Clergy.  They hardly ever speak with the Lords and Knights, and they only traverse the land of the Peasants to flaunt their Court Jesters or to do “research.”  They all have their own Heralds and Wizards, and a host of other courtiers to follow in their train.

Now you have a vision of my feudal world of Sherbook.  Where am I in all of this?  What is the tale of Sir Writes-a-lot?  Well, I’d like to think I have become a Knight.  A few Priests have looked my way, and the Lower Nobility treat me well, but I have no Herald or Wizard.  Although a Bishop has never so much as sneezed in my direction, I have spoken to a couple of Princes and Princesses, but certainly never spoken to a King or Queen.  I tried to speak with a King once, only to have his Court Jester tell me to go away.  I’d like to compete at Tournament, but alas I am not a wealthy Knight and the distance is too far to travel.

And now I will tell you the most important thing… the fatal flaw in this system.  When a Bishop reaches down into the pool of eager Knights after hearing the praises of that Knight’s Herald, making this young Knight the next King, is this new King any better an author than the other waiting Knights?

No.  Not necessarily.  It doesn’t matter what your station in life, be it Disgruntled Peasant, Knight, or Nobility, we are all the same.  True, some are more worthy than others.  But the selection of one Knight over another is not a true reflection of that Knight’s worth.  I know of one particular Queen who cannot joust her way out of a paper bag, even if she is adored by her Peasants.

It is sad that the world of the author follows such a feudal nature.  The system is not always fair, but it is the world we live in.  I am proud to be a Knight at this time.  But I wish I could be a Robin Hood – someone bold enough to challenge and change the system.  Until then, I eagerly await the recognition of a Priest, and I can’t wait to have my very own Wizard.  And who knows… maybe I’ll eventually take the vows of Priesthood myself.

What do you think of my tale?  Do you find it false or true?  So, where are YOU in this world?  Perhaps providing a dictionary will help you decide.

  • Bishop – Major publisher.
  • High Nobility – Author with a major publisher.
  • Court Jester – Public Relations and Marketing.
  • Priest – Small Publisher.
  • Lower Nobility – Author with a small publisher.
  • Wizards – Editors.
  • Herald – Literary Agent.
  • Gypsy – Artists, because gypsies liven up everything!
  • Knight – Unpublished author who has proven themselves worthy.
  • Lord – Unpublished author who has just started out.
  • Disgruntled peasant – A peasant who wants to be an author.
  • Peasant – A happy and blissful reader.
  • Tournament – Writer’s Conference.
  • Space Traveler – you don’t belong to this analogy at all.

About Keven Newsome

Keven Newsome is an musician, theologian, and a bit of a nerd. He enjoys a variety of musical genres, from Christian rock to movie soundtracks to KPop. A former band director, he plays about a dozen instruments, given a couple of weeks to practice up. His theological work has included a book on multi-generational ministry and a thesis on the theology of communicating with the dead. As for his nerd-card, he enjoys the fandoms of The Legend of Zelda, Doctor Who, Avatar: The Last Airbender, and Lord of the Rings. With a music degree from William Carey University and a theology degree from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, Keven actively serves in ministry as both pastor and worship leader.

27 comments on “The Medieval World of Writing

  1. I love this analogy! Yes, it’s definitely apt. A mixed breed of Pillars of the Earth and Age of Empires was running through my mind here, and you’re right, the social castes don’t seem to mix. I found that out when I subscribed to the publishing trade journals and saw the upper echelons were one “big” exclusive social club. Most people I’ve met and worked with in the Indy world, though, are actually human. (Not a universal rule, but alas, typical.)

    So…according to the definitions…I’m a Knight with Gypsy blood soon to be elevated to Lower Nobility. 🙂 (The Gypsy blood has a lot to do with why I sought out a Priest and not a Bishop. Some of us Bohemians are still a bit revolutionary…)

  2. I am no longer afraid to post anything here. If this doesn’t get you noticed by a Bishop (or Court Jester, for that matter), nothing will. I’m a turtle trying to be a Disgruntled Peasant without getting turned into soup.

  3. I am a Peasant, Happy to read anything you have to write

  4. Ha! I am a whole lot of stuff, Keven. I try not to define myself…it will change tomorrow.

    Excellent artwork, Holly.

  5. I love it, because I’m a big ol’ medieval fantasy nut, so this analogy works just fine for me. And I suppose I’m a Fallen Knight, having been published by a fairly shady publisher. However I shall rise, and I will be an even more powerful Knight than before!

  6. Love this, Keven! I love analogies, period, and this one is particularly appropriate and accurate. Good job.

    I’d have to say I’m about the same as Holly–a knight with gypsy tendencies (although she’s ahead of me on the rise to lower nobility). I like to believe I’ve got a little Elven blood thrown in–meaning no matter where I am in the hierarchy I always feel like the oddball ;).

    Oh, and I nearly snorted over the Queen who can’t joust her way out of a paper bag. Hm, I wonder who *that* could be. Would she, mayhap, be jousting with a “sparkly” lance? Hehe….

    And, Holly, the artwork rocks.

  7. I’m not a priest, I’m a Mystic. As long as everyone keeps that straight, we’ll be fine 😛 Guess that qualifies as some kind of space traveller, too – and that’s fine by me…I have many identities. Nearly as many as email addresses, lol.

  8. I’m somewhere between a plain old peasant and a disgruntled peasant, my motivations of becoming a Knight more fuelled by the fact that I just never learned to grow up. Life is still one big fairy tale, so while working the fields I’ll be more inclined to daydream about flying through space or pulling swords from stones rather than grumbling and waving my fist at the nearest castle.

    Fun analogy Keven. =D

  9. I’m a Gruntled Peasant!

  10. Good analogous post, Keven. Now perhaps you could turn it into an actual novel that satirizes the publishing process? I bet there’s quite a few people that would get something like that. 😉

  11. I’m a space traveling lord from a technologically advanced feudal world.

  12. So to extend your analogy, where does e-publishing fit in? Is it the peasants fleeing for the freedom in the New World?

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