Thisby Thestoop and the Black Mountain

It’s fair to say that I read a good number of books children’s books. Having kids of my own, I like to pilfer their shelves from time to time. In our house, we like to stock “the classics” as a sort of quality guarantee. Since children’s books became a genre there have been writers who have tried to cash in on the children’s market as a way to make a quick buck with little effort. Reading “the classics” means that you get the best books from every era without having to wade through the formulaic twaddle, most of which has mercifully been forgotten over the years.
It’s a different story with modern children’s books. Picking up a new children’s book means taking a chance on wasting your time, and the modern children’s book publishing machine loves tried and true formulas. After the success of Harry Potter we got books about schools for magical/mythological/specially talented kids who are sorted into groups based on their personalities. After The Hunger Games took off, we’ve have had m…

Medieval Combat by Hans Talhoffer

A Medieval fighting manual! Did you know that real medieval sword fighting did not involve clanking swords together rapidly until one hacked one’s way through the opponent’s defenses? Did you know that medieval fighting included smooth, judo-like movements, wrestling and grappling techniques, and methods of attacking with every part of the sword? Seriously, there’s a move in this book called the “murder stroke” wherein a combatant grabs the sword by the blade and swings the pommel of it like a hammer into their opponent’s face.

The aptly named "murder stroke"

The number of attacks that involve holding the sword at various points on the blade, and using the pommel as a weapon are astounding. The fighting methods described in this book often seem more like eastern martial arts than the repetitive sword-on-shield clashing or the fencing-style fighting in most movies. A combatant’s entire body becomes a weapon, and the swords, poleaxes, shields, maces, etc. function as extensions of the body.

Smacked with a pommel.
One of the more interesting parts was the combat with two shields. Death by shield seems like a bad way to go. The fighting on horseback with spears and swords was fun. The oddest part of the book was the description of a judicial duel between a man and a woman. The man was handicapped by being forced to stand waist-deep in a hole. If the man was pulled from the hole, or the woman pulled into the hole, the duel was over. This particular duel ended in the woman’s favor. As the text says, “The woman has the man locked in a hold by the neck and the groin and pulls him out of the pit.”

Death by shield.
Who would benefit from reading this book? Anyone choreographing a play or film with medieval fighting would do well to learn from this book. Anyone interested in historical reenactment should definitely read it. Writers who wish to write stories set in the middle ages should benefit from it as well. So, what about someone like me who doesn’t have any of these excuses? I just enjoyed looking at the reproductions of the illustrations from this fighting manual of the 1400s and imagining the fights, duels, and battles being described by them.

This is not how I expected this day to end...


Erica said…
Some friends of ours up in Iowa, two brothers, make their own swords, shields, and armor. They partake in SCA fights and apparently the number of times they've defeated a Flynning opponent by simply whacking them with shields is amusing.