Recommend books and films with a medieval setting.
August 24, 2011 2:44 PM   Subscribe

Help me find books and films with a medieval setting.

I have recently finished reading Ken Follett's "Pillars of the Earth" and really enjoyed it. I'd like to read more books, and watch more films (and maybe documentaries), with a medieval setting.

Please give me your recommendations!
posted by jonesor to Media & Arts (44 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Try the sequel World Without End.
posted by travis08 at 2:48 PM on August 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:48 PM on August 24, 2011 [4 favorites]

Seventh Seal. Great movie
posted by Jacen at 2:49 PM on August 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

The Name of the Rose is a great book and a good film
posted by Fiery Jack at 2:50 PM on August 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

Also check out The Name of the Rose. One of my favorite mystery novels.

Here is a site that lists medieval novels by specific topics.
posted by travis08 at 2:52 PM on August 24, 2011

Are you looking specifically for historical settings in the medieval period, or are you just looking for feudalism and knights in armor? The latter opens up a good chunk of the fantasy genre, certainly.

Assuming historicity, here are a few suggestions:

- Ellis Peters' Brother Cadfael mysteries (Benedictine monk solves murders on the Welsh border in the 1100s.)

- Barbara Tuchman, A Distant Mirror: non-fictional examination of the late medieval period, particularly France. Great, super-readable and with a focus on a particular minor nobleman to give it a bit of a throughline.

If you're interested in more fantasy-flavored stuff I could add about a million more.
posted by restless_nomad at 2:56 PM on August 24, 2011

There's the book called "the Hangman's Daughter". I thought it was entertaining. It's a quick read...
posted by ATX Peanut at 3:00 PM on August 24, 2011

Oh, and are you specifically looking for medieval Europe?
posted by restless_nomad at 3:01 PM on August 24, 2011

The Masque of the Red Death.
posted by timsteil at 3:02 PM on August 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Timeline (book and movie)
posted by asphericalcow at 3:04 PM on August 24, 2011

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court has its charms, not the least being the plentiful number of film versions made of it, of various era and quality, some of which are tender as Twain's telling in the novel, and some of which are HA-HA funny or high camp.
posted by paulsc at 3:05 PM on August 24, 2011

Sharon Kay Penman has written a butt-load of well-researched very fun to read historical novels of high/late medieval England/France.

you could start here
posted by supermedusa at 3:13 PM on August 24, 2011

Response by poster: To clarify: I am looking for settings that are at least reasonably historically accurate (i.e. no dragons, supernatural stuff, fantasy etc.) and set in mainly in medieval Europe (although works that touches upon other cultures would be fine).
posted by jonesor at 3:13 PM on August 24, 2011

The Lion in Winter.
posted by ottereroticist at 3:18 PM on August 24, 2011

If you like cozy mystery novels, you really can't beat Brother Cadfael.
posted by peachfuzz at 3:21 PM on August 24, 2011

I found Terry Jones' Medieval Lives both really informative and massively entertaining.
posted by katyggls at 3:28 PM on August 24, 2011 [3 favorites]

Terry Jones' documentary series Medieval Lives is pretty great, and blasts a lot of the misconceptions about the titular subject.
posted by Sys Rq at 3:30 PM on August 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

Echos Over Water is pretty excellent (IMO) historical fiction dealing with the purported visits to the new world by Europeans predating the Norse voyages.
posted by Danf at 3:32 PM on August 24, 2011

Down the Common: A Year in teh Lief of a Medieval Woman by Ann Baer was pretty good.
posted by CathyG at 3:59 PM on August 24, 2011

Another vote for The Name of the Rose.
posted by dhammond at 3:59 PM on August 24, 2011

I'm going to pretend that "teh Lief" was intentional internet lolspeak; otherwise please correct to "the Life".
posted by CathyG at 3:59 PM on August 24, 2011

Sergei Eisenstein's Alexander Nevsky, set in Russia in the 13th century.
Le retour de Martin Guerre and the original novel.
If you don't mind the racist overtones and some magic & dragon's, Die Nibelungen: Siegfried and Die Nibelungen: Kriemhilds Rache, directed by Fritz Lang, written by Thea von Harbou.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 4:01 PM on August 24, 2011


Excellent, I get to recommend Dorothy Dunnett's House of Niccolo and Lymond Chronicles series for the second time this week. Fifteenth and sixteenth century; set mostly in Europe but with forays further afield; well-written, rich and absorbing.

The rest of these are all set in England.

Ariana Franklin's series about anatomist Adelia Aguilar is set in the 12th century, during the reign of Henry II, and is excellent.

"Ariana Franklin" was a pen-name for the late Diana Norman, some of whose earlier novels under her own name are also set in the mediaeval era: Fitzempress' Law, King of the Last Days and The Morning Gift are all 12th-century, I think, and one or two others might also be.

Karen Maitland writes solid and rather clever 14th-century novels with a very faint edge of the supernatural. That might be a problem for you, but I find it utterly in keeping with the atmosphere portrayed (she's writing about a time of superstition rather than science), and I feel that it's left up to the reader to decide whether to take it as supernatural or not. The two I've read are the two out in mass-market paperback, A Company of Liars and The Owl Killers.

I think the same caveat applies to Sylvian Hamilton's three 13th-century crime novels, which feature returned crusader Sir Richard Straccan. Again, though, they're well-written and engaging, and I very much enjoyed them.

I read considerably less non-fiction, but I do have one recommendation: The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England by Ian Mortimer. "A handbook for visitors to the fourteenth century." I found it fascinating and immensely readable.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 4:04 PM on August 24, 2011

Can't recommend The Lion In Winter enough.
posted by hermitosis at 4:10 PM on August 24, 2011

Pillars of the Earth is both a book and a miniseries, apparently.
posted by alight at 4:47 PM on August 24, 2011

If you want to go really far back, there's always Ivanhoe.

Sigrid Undset's Kristin Lavransdatter novels (definitely qualifies as "epic"...).

Barry Unsworth's Morality Play (not so epic--it verges on being a novella).

Frans Bengtsson's The Long Ships (frequently hilarious).

Julia O'Faolain's Women in the Wall (lots of religious politics surrounding medieval convents, if that suits your fancy; non-upbeat).

Sybil Townsend Warner, The Corner That Held Them (more medieval nuns, with an emphasis on black comedy; written in chronicle form).
posted by thomas j wise at 5:26 PM on August 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

Alan Gordan's Fools Guild mysteries - all set roughly 1200, in a variety of settings (Italy, Constantinople, various places in France). The first one is Thirteenth Night, and the earlier ones have stronger Shakespeare references that I found fun. (I started picking them up because, really, how many books do you get to read set in 1200's Constantinople?)

Sharan Newman's Catherine LeVendeur mysteries (France)

And seconding Ariana Franklin.

And then two other suggestions, both slightly off your list, but of possible interest:

You might find Kim Stanley Robinson's Years of Rice and Salt intriguing - it's an alternate history wherein Europe got basically wiped out by the Black Death, and populations from Africa and Asia moved into fill all sorts of societal gaps. It's an interesting illuminator on the bits of history we don't hear about.

And though you said no fantasy elements, I feel like I should suggest Guy Gavriel Kay's Tigana, for an amazing setting that conveys the best sense of late-medieval Italy I've ever seen. (There's magic, but the book is much more about the politics.)
posted by modernhypatia at 5:32 PM on August 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

The Pillars of the Earth miniseries was somewhat entertaining, but overall was a hot mess. If you loved the book, approach it with caution.

I was disappointed with the sequel, World Without End. It felt like Ken Follett only wrote it to meet the demands of those who wanted a sequel.

Somewhat out of left field is Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey, where a modern day detective, bedridden because of an injury, becomes fascinated by the most notorious disappearance/murder of two young princes by their uncle, who became Richard the III of England. Great detective story and medieval story in one package.

There are many very readable nonfiction books about the period, such as A Distant Mirror by Barbara Tuchman, and Life in a Medieval City by Joseph and Frances Gies. (They also wrote Life in a Medieval Village and Life in a Medieval Castle, and many other very accessible books about the period.)
posted by derMax at 5:39 PM on August 24, 2011

I enjoyed Mistress of the Art of Death.
posted by crush-onastick at 5:40 PM on August 24, 2011

You could go back (closer) to the source and read some of the Arthurian texts like Le Morte D'Athur, the Vulgate Cycle, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, etc. Or try some Norse Sagas like Njal's Saga or Egil's Saga. For more recent stuff I adored Ivanhoe as a kid but Scott has fallen pretty far out of fashion and I haven't read him recently so who knows how well he's held up. Seconding the Long Ships, which I recommended in a different thread the other day, and also the Walking Drum, by the western writer Louis L'Amour. It doesn't stay in Europe the whole time but it's fascinating and unbelievable fun.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 5:41 PM on August 24, 2011

The Reckoning and the book it was adapted from, Morality Play.

Medieval Scandinavia in novels from a site devoted to Historical Novels.
posted by Ideefixe at 5:51 PM on August 24, 2011

Here to underscore Kristen Lavransdatter. Epic and incredible.
posted by mynameisluka at 6:26 PM on August 24, 2011

Pier Paolo Pasolini's The Decameron and The Caterbury Tales (both quite ribald).
Rosencratz & Guildenstern are Dead

Of course, these are all books too.
posted by hydrophonic at 7:43 PM on August 24, 2011

Am I allowed to suggest Game of Thrones, which is both very good books, and tv series?
posted by lundman at 8:05 PM on August 24, 2011

There are the old fictional standbys: Ladyhawke and The Princess Bride.

Or you could rent The Tudors series from Netflix. Historical and medieval!
posted by misha at 11:10 PM on August 24, 2011

Oh, and what about Kingdom of Heaven?

Also, you could read The Other Boleyn Girl (book is much better than the movie, although you could see the movie, too).
posted by misha at 11:13 PM on August 24, 2011

Charleton Heston in The War Lord
posted by loosemouth at 2:33 AM on August 25, 2011

On my phone so I can't link but Robin and Marion with Audry Hepburn and Sean Connery is pretty great.
posted by BoscosMom at 2:51 AM on August 25, 2011

Just here to second both The Lion in Winter, and Robin and Marion. Both excellent films.

Lion, especially, is a tour-de-force of two great talents (O'Toole and Hepburn) utterly tearing-up the scenery with powerful, height-of-their-powers performances. It's one of those films where you can tell everyone was having a great time making the film.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:38 AM on August 25, 2011

Andrei Rublev, the best medieveal movie of all time.
posted by ifjuly at 4:51 AM on August 25, 2011

Mentioned above but I thought worth a second, my wife and I both enjoyed Sharan Newman's mystery novels.
posted by nanojath at 9:49 AM on August 25, 2011

The Return of Martin Guerre is both a book and a movie, and based very closely on a true and interesting story.
posted by Corvid at 12:19 PM on August 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

I haven't seen it yet, but Vision - From the Life of Hildegard von Bingen is on my list.

(official site; warning: music)

Also, if you're open to audio lectures, I recommend Medieval Heroines in History and Legend, which I found at my library.
posted by kristi at 10:08 AM on August 26, 2011

I just finished World Without End, and I thought it was terrific, better than Pillars (though there are a few deus ex machina towards the end). I especially liked that there were more peasant characters.

I'm in this question because I am looking for more novels like Pillars and World without end.
posted by jb at 8:56 PM on November 22, 2011

« Older How do I find the will to live again?   |   What is great and useful windows 7 software? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.