Monday, June 29, 2015

Book Review: Dungeon Fire and Sword

Title: Dungeon, Fire and Sword

Author: John J. Robinson

Publisher: M. Evans

Date: 1991

Length: 478 pages of text, 4 pages of bibliography, 12 pages of index

Quote: “Anyone who believes that historical research is drudgery has never delved into the past of the military monastic order known as the Knights Templar. Its high adventure.”

That's what readers like about John J. Robinson's history of medieval Europe, the centuries most remembered for the Crusades and Inquisition. “Dark,” in the sense of unenlightened, these “ages” may have been, but that was why their history is so much like an action-adventure blockbuster movie script.

Here are a few noble warriors, and a lot of vicious, treacherous ones. Also glamorous, strongminded women—and children (some feudal heirs were “married,” for dynastic reasons, before age twelve). Likewise sincere Christians and Muslims (many of whom were able to make peace with one another) and hypocritical ones. And homosexuals (the richest and most powerful people surrounded themselves with guards and servants, thus creating crowded conditions—and quite a few medieval kings had boyfriends). And slaves (of all conditions and ethnic types), and foot soldiers. Here are kings, queens, knights, popes, and vassals as they really were, not as splendid as they're made to seem in traditional fairy tales, nor as vile as they're made to seem in modern political rants; simply human, and fallible. Mercy, were they ever fallible. The purpose of Dungeon Fire and Sword is to interest readers in a chapter of history that's often neglected today, but this chapter of history does happen to make a pretty good case for American Democracy, even if an historian never mentions that directly.

Some of the bare facts presented in this book may make you laugh, or at least hoot. Some may make you cry. Some might even make you sick if you think about them very long. Robinson doesn't linger on the gross-outs; he's telling a long, complicated story, and moves fast.

This is the history on which the “Indiana Jones” blockbusters drew, and on which various “ancient and secret” social clubs draw; Dungeon Fire and Sword explains what these people are going on about and how much of it was real, or at least documented by mostly-reliable contemporary writers as real. This book describes the glorious and tacky lives of Richard the Lion-Hearted, Saladin, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Simon de Montfort, “Saint” Louis IX, the Baldwins, Bernard of Clairvaux (the hymn writer), Godfrey de Bouillon, Raymond of Toulouse, Genghis Khan, Pope Gregory, Rashid-Eddin Sinan (the Old Man of the Mountain), Barbarossa, Jelaladdin, Ismail of Damascus, Philip le Bel, and several other people whose names are less familiar but whose stories are equally dramatic.

If you're in the mood for an epic drama with battles, murders, tortures, heroes, villains (they switch parts), and ancient curses, Dungeon Fire and Sword is for you. If you're looking for a wholesome, high-minded, and perhaps calming read, avoid all medieval history.

John J. Robinson no longer needs a dollar. I still have a copy of Dungeon Fire and Sword, in relatively good condition considering where it's been, for sale in the real world. To buy a certified clean copy online from this web site, send salolianigodagewi @ yahoo $5 per book + $5 per package (I don't want to promise that even two copies of this book would fit into one package).