Beautiful Hugh (ruminations on Crown of Stars)


My Crown of Stars septology is so long and densely layered that I don't often talk about the things that went into it. The mere thought of doing so can be overwhelming.

I like reading thoughtful reviews of CoS, because readers find perspectives that quite bowl me over with how perspicacious they are, usually about elements of the emotional or thematic plot that I didn't consciously work toward.

In a LiveJournal review of the first three books, a reviewer says: "There's constantly a sense that the problem is not the person, but the role that they've been put in - that the people who are causing so much suffering could be doing good, if they weren't in a position designed to bring out the worst in them."

Reading that, I thought, "Whoa! That's right!"

I can't say I did that on purpose--that is, consciously, with intent. But there it is.

In the comments section of that review, another reader wonders (quite reasonably, given how over the top the depiction may at times seem) what I was up to with "Beautiful Hugh."

The short simplistic answer is three-fold:

1) to get away from the beauty=good and ugly=bad white hat/black hat breakdown

2) to show how abusers often get away with what they are doing if they have status and power and charm

3) to show how in this hierarchical world there are few if any ways for some people to get what we would call justice (still too often the case in our world today, alas)

But the actual answer, while including those above, is a little different and has to do with world-building and cultural immersion. I was wholesale stealing from the Ottonian era, basically 10th and 11th century Germany, for my base culture (obviously we see a lot more of the world in the course of the series, but for the moment I'll stick with Ottonian Germany).

They had their own issues--such as we can even know what they are given the principle of the past being a foreign country--and their own expectations and assumptions. Bearing in mind, as we must, that most of the records that come down to us are written by and deal with an extremely narrow segment of that society.

So let me quote, at length, from C. Stephen Jaeger's The Origin of Courtliness: Civilizing Trends and the Formation of Courtly Ideals- 939-1210, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985.

The following scheme can serve as a pattern for describing the person and development of a chaplain/bishop prior to his assuming church office. He is of high nobility . . . his promise as well as his personal gifts are apparent from his earliest days: physical beauty, quickness of mind, ease of speech, and graceful manners. . . . He excels in his studies and quickly leaves all his fellow students behind. At school he shows himself to be diligent, learned, wise, and eloquent, friendly to all men and beloved of all . . . [examples of how he is raised by stages up in the court] Various lord, secular and ecclesiastical, compete with each other for his services. The king hears . . . [etc]

In the vita [life] there is often a description of the young man's appearance and his character and virtues . . . He is tall, handsome, and well-proportioned. His character and conduct are praised, then his virtues: he is discreet and wise, farsighted, diligent, and skilled, but at the same time humble, meek and gentle, patient, and pious. Other personal qualities frequently mentioned are--

Get the picture?

Jaeger goes on to write:

An impressive appearance was all but a requirement for a bishop.

He notes the example of Gunther of Bamberg (d. 1065) who, it was said, so far surpassed other mortals in "formae elegantia ac tocius corporis integritate" that in Jerusalem great crowds gathered around him wherever he went in order to marvel at his beauty." **

I'm not making this stuff up, people. In fact, I'm not sure I could.

Thus, I give you: Beautiful Hugh.


** I totally stole this bit, when Hugh is in Darre.