To answer the question, it depends on how you look at it. You could technically say that, yes, science fiction existed in the Middle Ages long before science fiction was really classified. Long before science fiction became known as a genre in the literary world. It wouldn’t be exactly like what we read today, especially with the advances in modern technology commonly seen and critiqued in recent books. Not to mention the current social dynamics that sci-fi books often reference. But medieval times definitely had science, and some fiction used it.
So what did science fiction look like in Medieval Times? Dr. Carl Kears and Dr. James Paz try to answer that question. Check below to find out! Also, check out the Kears and Paz article this post is about here.
First off, science as a field constantly changes, meaning that “science fiction” in medieval times would likely be based on the science known at the time. During the Middle Ages, this genre wouldn’t have focused on the same issues or introduced the same scientific concepts as we would today when writing sci-fi. But that doesn’t mean that authors didn’t touch on completely unfamiliar topics. Works that explored the beginning aspects of science act as science fiction in their own right.
Drs. Kears and Paz touched on this with a few examples. One amazing one I previously didn’t know about is a work about Eilmer the monk in the 11th century. This work chronicles how Eilmer created a pair of mechanical wings and used them to fly, something that requires mechanics. This example might be based on a true account, but it demonstrates that the Middle Ages knew and worked in the scientific field. Inventions were created and new areas of science and technology were constantly being uncovered. It might not follow the exact guidelines of science fiction now, but the science present in fiction during that time indicates the beginnings of science fiction had been born.
New inventions and scientific discoveries during the Middle Ages also meant that science fiction had plenty to explore within a medieval context. Not only were new inventions that we still use today, like glasses and submarines, recorded in fiction, but these works demonstrate just how much science had advanced. Records show the numerous universities and inventions cropping up during that time. It makes sense the fiction of that time would reflect that, just like sci-fi does today. Fiction works discussing new machines and new technology, helped create new worlds, setting up the foundation for sci-fi that we read today.
We often think of fantasy when we think of medieval times. Mainly because magic as a concept is often associated with the Middle Ages. However, while magic and pseudoscience like alchemy definitely existed, modern science in the way we think of it did too. So while the Middle Ages opened the door to fantasy, it opened a world of science to us as well.
Science fiction doesn’t fall under just one classification, and the concept of “medieval science fiction” proves that. Drs. Kears and Paz also talk about how the beginnings of science fiction stemmed from more than just robots and rocketships. Authors such as H. G. Wells, Jules Verne, and even Edgar Allen Poe wrote what could be considered sci-fi long before science fiction boomed in the mid-twentieth century. So science fiction exists in all kinds of different ways, and the genre shouldn’t be determined by specific characteristics.
With this in mind, you can technically make an argument that science fiction did exist in medieval times. it was also amazing to read this article by Drs. Kears and Paz. This inspired a whole host of new ideas for the blog as well!
Do you know about any other early science fiction? Let me know in the comments below! Happy writing!
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