19 August 2012

Guest Blog: Kim Rendfeld

This week, we’re welcoming Kim Rendfeld, author of The Cross and the Dragon, a love story set in eighth-century Europe, spanning today’s Switzerland, Germany, France, and Spain. Kim is here to talk about her novel, answering questions from readers. One lucky winner will receive an e-book of The Cross and the Dragon, compatible with Kindle or Nook. Just leave your comment and e-mail address. Here is the blurb:

A tale of love in an era of war and blood feuds.

Francia, 778: Alda has never forgotten Ganelon’s vow of vengeance when she married his rival, Hruodland. Yet the jilted suitor’s malice is nothing compared to Alda’s premonition of disaster for her beloved, battle-scarred husband.

Although the army invading Hispania is the largest ever and King Charles has never lost a war, Alda cannot shake her anxiety. Determined to keep Hruodland from harm, even if it exposes her to danger, Alda gives him a charmed dragon amulet.

Is its magic enough to keep Alda’s worst fears from coming true—and protect her from Ganelon?

Inspired by legend and painstakingly researched, The Cross and the Dragon is a story of tenderness, sacrifice, lies, and revenge in the early years of Charlemagne’s reign.

**Q&A with Kim Rendfeld**

From Diane Denton: How was the idea for your novel born? Obviously, you have an interest in the period, but what moved you to focus on the characters and their story as you did?

(photo by Tohma via Wikimedia Commons
used under the terms of the
GNU Free Documentation License)
The inspiration for The Cross and the Dragon came during a family vacation in Germany, when we stumbled on a story in a guide book about the ruins at Rolandsbogen—an ivy covered arch on a high Rhineland hill. To recount the legend here would be a spoiler, and I elaborate on it in a historical note at the end of the novel. But I will say it’s a love story, in which Roland (a variant of Hruodland) and his bride are separated by a devastating falsehood.

I learned later that the legend itself is not true, yet the lovers’ story would not leave me alone. On the flight back to the States, I wrote about it in my journal, even drew a little sketch of the arch as it appeared from Drachenfels, a mountain (OK technically a high hill) across the Rhine. Still, the story would not rest. Who were these people? Why would someone lie to the bride?

I had to sit down at my computer and find out, but when I started writing, I knew very little about the real Middle Ages, let alone this particular slice of it.

From Sandy Frykholm: I think of the early Middle Ages as a fairly dry period for source material. What variety of sources did you find? Any that particularly surprised you—either in content or the fact that they exist at all?

Four great resources on the Carolingians
(photo by Kim Rendfeld)
The conditions of the period lend themselves to scarcity of information. It predates the printing press, which means books were rare and expensive. The vast majority of the populace could not write and only a few more could read. In addition, there were cultures, like the Saxons, who did not have a written language as we know it.

Fortunately, a few Franks wrote things down, even if it was to serve an agenda. I could not have re-created life in eighth century Europe without the work of scholars who translated primary sources from medieval Latin and analyzed them. (Historical novelist’s disclaimer: any mistakes in my novel are mine and mine alone.) My library includes:

  • Einhard’s The Life of Charlemagne translated by Evelyn Scherabon Firchow and Edwin H. Zeydel, written about 830-33, at least 16 years after King Charles’s death.
  • Carolingian Chronicles, which includes the Royal Frankish Annals and Nithard’s Histories, translated by Bernard Walter Scholz with Barbara Rogers, written by several anonymous authors in the eighth and ninth centuries and one of Charlemagne’s grandsons.
  • P.D. King’s Charlemagne: Translated Sources, a collection of annals, letters, contemporary biographies, capitularies, and more
  • Pierre Riché’s Daily Life in the World of Charlemagne, which describes details of life outside the wars.

Professor King’s book, intended for scholars of Carolingian times, is a treasure trove. The letters are true gems, and I was surprised to find they survived after more than 1,200 years. Among my favorites is a missive from Pope Stephen III, who passionately urges Charles and his brother not to marry the daughter of his enemy. If high school students saw more material like that, they might be more interested in history.

I elaborate more on the four sources mentioned above in a post on my blog, Outtakes, and have listed even more sources on my website.

From Roseanne E. Lortz: How did the epic poem “The Song of Roland” influence you in your writing? Are there elements in the novel that you took from the poem?

Those who are familiar with “The Song of Roland” know him as a hero who bravely fights despite overwhelming odds and stubbornly refuses to use his horn to call for help. The poem also portrays the battle and the brutal justice that follows in gory detail.

I read the poem after I had encountered the love story, and I was moved by Alda’s devotion to Roland. But I like the Rhineland love story better and settled on a very different interpretation. I also wanted to be truer to the historical events.

Roland at Roncesvalles,
Odilon Redon, c.1869
(public domain image via Wikipaintings)
The poem has artistic merit, especially about courage and betrayal, but any resemblance between it and what actually happened at the Pass of Roncevaux is purely coincidental. (See a post I wrote in May on Unusual Historicals to learn more about the massacre.) To use modern parlance, I suspect the poem, written three centuries after the event it describes, was a propaganda piece for the Crusades.

However, its copyright has long run out, and I did borrow some elements. Alfihar, the German variant of Oliver, is Hruodland’s close friend and brother of Alda, who shares the same name as the love interest in the poem. Ganelon is still the villain. And I appropriated a few other names for my characters.

Ironically, the anonymous author of the poem also did some borrowing. Hruodland (Roland), governor of the March of Brittany, is mentioned briefly in Einhard’s biography of Charlemagne. The antagonist in poem may have named after Guenelon (also spelled Vénilon), a ninth-century bishop of Sens accused of betraying one of Charles’s grandsons.

Thanks so much to Unusual Historicals for this opportunity to talk about my book, and thanks to Diane, Sandy, and Roseanne for such good questions.

Thank you, Kim and best of luck with The Cross and the Dragon, published in e-book and print by Fireship Press, available online now at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. 

For more about Kim and her fiction, visit www.kimrendfeld.com.