How will you experience medieval England?
This is a central question in Ian Mortimer's The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century. Mortimor creates a very unique non-fiction history text through writing the past as if it were the present.
Many history students have to come to terms with the importance of past/present tense writing. Things that happen in the past, we are taught, must be written past tense. "King Henry demanded..." not demands. Present tense ventures very close to the fiction side of literature.
But, Mortimer disregards these conventions of academia to provide readers with an up close examination of medieval England.
Mortimer believes that presenting medieval history in present tense will engage readers and keep them interested in the subject. He attempts to get the public more interested in history through asking everyday questions.
Thus, we learn that medieval English had a profound love for literature and cherished their manuscripts. We learn that when walking through a medieval town you will see men in tight fitting clothes and women in loose apparel. We learn that blackbird pie really exists - a pie is baked, then blackbirds are inserted, so that when the pie is opened they will fly throughout the room (p. 182). We also see townspeople call football/soccer undignified and common. In fact, football is banned for most of the fourteenth century.
Despite the present tenses, Mortimer's book is overwhelming alike to many other history texts. It's history in a pretty, public-friendly package. But, underneath its gauze, The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century is still a history book that contains its own dry and boring segments.
Mortimer, Ian. The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century. New York: Touchstone, 2008.