Posted: July 20th, 2023 under Background, Contents, Life beyond writing.
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I am not a professional in etymology or linguistics or languages overall…BUT we did manage to afford the  Compact OED* way, way, WAY back when it was new(ish) and used to use it for (among many other things including research) playing Scrabble with friends.  OED Scrabble was a lot of fun, if slow enough to allow two people to play chess on the side.   And back in those days I could read the OED without a magnifying glass or glasses by putting my nose maybe half a centimeter above the paper, at which point the tiny print was in focus.  ANYway.   I now need reading glasses and the magnifying glass that came with the set.

*OED Oxford English Dictionary.  I always yearned to own the full version but it was and undoubtedly is still, incredibly expensive in its full expanse.**

** I had to look it up.  20 volumes, 4 feet of shelf space, $1,215 from Amazon.  That’s new.  What have I got I could discard to gain four feet of shelf space?   There’s not another place in the house to put another bookshelf.  Certainly not the 2013 Britannica.  Or the 1950 Britannica.  Not any of the nonfiction; that’s my personal research library.   (Looking with narrowed eyes at the fiction shelves.  How much of that am I going to re-read?  Yes, it’s also reference, but…I have just be attacked by a massive lump of book hunger.  And older, not up to date ones aren’t as expensive…there’s a lovely earlier 13 volume version, about what I remember from college.  Used, yes, but very nice, with proper volume covers…YUM.)  Writers need words.  They need to *understand* words, in the depth of time those words have been used.  They need words sitting around them, emitting all the nuances…filling their heads with words…beautiful, sensual, luscious, practically chewable, words.

Yesterday, in conversation with my agent, who had had someone else look at the Horngard ms., it turns out the first question to be answered, from the third person was “What is a paladin?” because all that cane immediately to his mind was Dungeons and Dragons paladins and even a cursory reading on Horngard revealed that nobody in *that* book thought of paladins the way whatisname did (sorry, but the head injuries are playing serious games with name memory today.  I can clearly remember the stuff in the rule books that so infuriated me about the abuse of the paladin concept, but not the name of the man who wrote them…wait…Gary.  Gary something…starts with G also.  Not Geronimo, shorter than that.  Gorgon, Griffin, Grimaldi….Gary-Gary-Gary…yes, this is a problem.)  By chewing on the old problem of “Why on earth did you write rules that made “lawful good” essentially include “stupid” and why did you let people start at level zero as paladins (and stupid-good) when the actual paladins (there were some) were all experienced and expert fighters??   I was then motivated to go haul out the second (heavy!!) volume of the compact OED and look up the history of the word and see if I’d remembered any of that.

I’d remembered it wrong, OK? But here’s the straight scoop from the Compact OED.  It goes back to Charlemagne’s court.  Now remember–this is post-Western Roman Empire time and Europe was mostly a seething (thinly seething) mass of little realms–Charlemagne (just means Charles the Great) of the Carolingean dynasty (became king of the Franks in 768,, King of the Lombards from 774, and was crowned as the Emperor of the Romans by the Pope Leo III  in 800, and died in 814.)  I regard those dates as…iffy, because of later calendar changes and I don’t know how much slippage was accounted for, but I could be wrong.  8th to 9th century Common Era, anyway.  Who were the Franks and the Lombards?  Funny you should ask.  They *had* been among the invaders who toppled the Western Empire, handily tucked into one or more of the Goths & Vandals tribes.  I happen to have a translation of the Lombard Laws from a pre-Charlemagne period, (like the Burgundian Code I also have a translation of, both of these researched and done by my medieval history prof,  Katharine Fischer Drew, then chair of the History Department of Rice University, may her name be remembered for good scholarship AND being a really good history teacher and administrator.   Both of those legal codes were intentionally modeled on their view of Roman Law (the first codified law either bunch of barbarians had ever seen)  but the difference between the stately and determinedly “universal” approach of the Romans and the decidedly particular and individual approach of these Germanic tribes is both notable and  useful to fiction writers wanting to add a little verisimilitude to their sometimes unconvincing narratives.

Back to Charlemagne.  Because Pope Leo III, wanted to recreate a more stable and uniform Europe (e.g. the Roman Empire),  with Roman Catholics in charge and no more Byzantine invasions and persecutions, he gave Charlemagne the title of Emperor of the Romans, although the actual crowning ceremony occurred in what is now France, not in Rome (Leo III had fled Rome.  It’s a really *lively* period of history which makes clear that interesting times may be interesting but get a lot of people killed, displaced, and wishing for nice boring peace for long enough to raise a family.  Some people are never satisfied–or rather, in any situation some want it to last and some want to change it.  Charlemagne’s father was Pippin (not Tolkein’s Pippin); that’s how Charlemagne inherited the crown of the Franks; his brother had the Lombards but when his brother died, Charlemagne just snagged that crown, ignoring his brother’s heirs.  Nice fellow.  As you can imagine, becoming and staying king, and gaining more meant wars and so Charlemagne as a feudal sovereign had fighting men–good ones, or else–under him.  Specifically twelve peers,  who were “of the palace” (hence, through a couple of spelling wiggles, paladins,  “palace warriors” the paladin title meant, who were directly sworn to him.

From Charlemagne’s court, the term spread with bards, writers, etc. and was helped along by Chretien de Troyes and his tale of Arthur and his Round Table and others.   Suddenly the Matter of Britain got involved.  Then the courtly romances of somewhat later medieval times.  Various other attributes got tacked on to the requirements for paladins (being polite to women, being clean, being pious.  The “parfit gentil knight” thing.  Galahad, not Lancelot.  Oh, and of course the Chanson de Roland was part of it, and even the Welsh poet Taliessin.   In German mythology, as expressed in Wagner’s operas and their preceding legends, the perfect knight might be tangled in pre-Christian mythologies as well.  The term was sometimes used for the exceptionally brave alone but more often for a cluster that included “presentable at a palace” (so the bravest soldier in the army, a terrific fighter, if too rough and cruel…couldn’t be a paladin.  Looking at Charlemagne’s time, this must have been a later addition.)  Courage, fighting ability, courtesy.  Often righting wrongs on his own, a knight errant off doing great things.  Since the Holy Roman Empire included most of Europe at one point, it also included staying within the bounds of Holy Roman Catholicism, and included Spain-to-Germania.  Not, however, Scandinavia. Vikings were immune to the romantic nature of paladins, until later.

My first experience with the word was in stories *about* the middle ages, the knights in shining armor approach.  But a degree in history, most of it ancient & medieval, gave it a lot more dimension…[[Gygax.  That was the guy’s name.  FINALLY.  Gary Gygax.  OK, sorry I couldn’t remember it faster.  The memory isn’t totally gone, it just has an extremely slow name-finding function.]]   Besides Dungeons & Dragons (before that arrived, in fact) but after writers like Scott & Tennyson & the spate of Arthurean fiction that popped up at intervals, there was a TV series called “Have Gun, Will Travel” with a main character names Paladin.  He wore black, carried a gun, shot people, and usually in the course of an episode, righted some wrong or other.  Modern paladin that sort of, but didn’t entirely, sit right with me when I watched it.  Like an unromantic Zorro (yes, I watched that one too.)

Paksworld paladins are based on the older form, as most of you know. However, the intrusion of functional magic in various forms in Paksworld allows paladins to do things that Charlemagne’s palace warriors could not.  Keeping their powers limited and sufficiently different from the magicks of others felt necessary to me, though the ability to light a fire or even a candle from a finger almost tempted me to give paladins “ordinary” magelight.   Nope.  Paks & others get the bright white “reveals the truth” kind of light.  What else?  They can’t be fooled when it comes to good/evil or truth/lies.  They have an innate ability to heal–it’s from their patron saint or a god, and it goes beyond what a Marshal can do.   They can protect others from magical fear (an evil projection from some evil source).  They are charismatic–natural leaders, and leaders for good.   But also they have the skills of expert warriors, including tactical skills developed from years of training & experience.  They are courteous, “presentable at court.”  They are typically active as paladins alone, going out on quests to accomplish an assignment (right a wrong, find a missing king, stop something bad) though they may associate with a crowd trying to do the same thing.  They’re no all alike, and they don’t feel allegiance to exactly the same good powers.  Paks and Dorrin, for instance, came from very different backgrounds (as did Gird and Falk).   Aris and Seri, the two young paladin figures in Liar’s Oath, one of them born Old Human and one of them born magelord, leading the most vulnerable people of Luap’s kingdom down-canyon and away, hoping to get them back to Fintha…were fully paladins and connected to the old high gods of Old Aare, Sunlord and Sealord and Windlord.  They had known Gird personally…they were “his children” nonbiologically but not “his” paladins.

It’s all perfectly clear now, right?  My rough-and-ready telling here didn’t buck you off into the mud, did it?


  • Comment by Richard Simpkin — July 20, 2023 @ 11:56 pm


    So before the courtly romances, the old french paladin was comparable to the Viking (and English) huscarl, is that right?

    You left out two other essential characteristics of Paksworld paladins: magically self-maintaining horses and armour.

  • Comment by Robert — July 21, 2023 @ 5:30 am


    Greatly enjoyed reading this posts and a big fan of your books.

    You may be interested to know that Gygax’s immediate inspiration for Paladin was Holger Carlsen from Poul Anderson’s Three Hearts and Three Lions.

    @Richard Simpkin, Three Hearts and Three Lions is also Gygax’s source for the self-maintaining horses and armor tropes associated with paladins.

  • Comment by Jonathan Schor — July 21, 2023 @ 6:32 am


    Words – this is one of the powers of the English Language. So much meaning – and the power of storytelling. And while I sometimes think that paladins are a Deus ex Machina, the story of Paks et al has provided me with many many hours of entertainment and thought.

  • Comment by Annabel Smyth — July 21, 2023 @ 6:48 am


    Just to add to the confusion, a modern-day “paladin” in this country (UK) refers to a type of large communal dustbin!

  • Comment by Robert — July 21, 2023 @ 8:25 am


    One of the known sources for Gygax’s take on Paladins was Poul Anderson’s Three Hearts and Three Lions.

    Among other things, it had self-maintaining horses and armor.

  • Comment by Jim DeWItt — July 22, 2023 @ 7:52 am


    The on-line subscription to the O.E.D. is worth the money. Although it’s less satisfying having only virtual pages.

  • Comment by elizabeth — July 22, 2023 @ 7:50 pm


    Richard, the Paksworld paladins do have some special advantages, but chances are the OED of the future will not be citing MY books.

  • Comment by elizabeth — July 22, 2023 @ 7:58 pm


    Self-maintaining horses and armor is what anyone thinks of who’s dealt with real horses and real armor even a little. A lot more time for the adventures if you aren’t having to sand the rust off your armor and brush the sand (dust, dirt, manure) off your horse.

  • Comment by elizabeth — July 22, 2023 @ 8:06 pm


    Jim, for me, trying to use standard reference formats (like dictionaries or encyclopedias) is just about impossible. First of all, none of my online subscriptions have continued to work for more than a year, which means I have to maintain all the passwords, reset things, deal with (all different) reequirements for usernames, passwords, etc. Second, and more troublesome, is that much of my research is not tightly targeted. I go in with an “explorer” mindset more than “hunter for this particular animal for fur or dinner.” Serendipity is my friend in the wilderness of knowledge. Yes, I can do targeted research when time is tight and I’m in a strange (open stack) library. It works well for the final two facts you need for a project. But for finding something you know is in there somewhere, the printed page and open stacks are what work for me. Also, when it comes to internet sources, print is easier on the eyes (or MY eyes.) I got word today from the seller than my new acquisition is packed up and will be heading out tomorrow.

  • Comment by Richard Simpkin — July 23, 2023 @ 5:00 am


    Sorry Elizabeth, I wasn’t thinking about future editions of the OED, just future new readers of Horngard I. Though it would be nice if some of your words were honored by inclusion, kteknik for one, taig for another. May your new purchase give you years of pleasure.

  • Comment by elizabeth — July 23, 2023 @ 9:33 am


    It’s been a long time since I read Three Hearts and Three Lions. I had a book (Christmas present one year) of interesting stories for childen (Had a salmon colored cover, lots of illustrations, included bits of Greek mythology, some bits of Arthurian legend, various European folk tales, some prose and some poetry, some serious and some funny (“You Are Old, Father William” cracked me up as a child and it’s even funnier now that I’m old! In between it was just silly, not funny.) I can’t remember if the word “paladin” was in that book…I still have the book, so I should go hunt it up and find out. But not right now.

  • Comment by elizabeth — July 23, 2023 @ 9:39 am


    As for equivalence with a huscarl in the period before the rise of the courtly romances…not entirely sure because of Charlemage’s title as Holy Roman Emperor. Before any connection between the Papacy and Charlemagne’s parentage…um. There may have been more..formality, more awareness of a deep history within a great empire even before the courtly romances…they must’ve had a tradition to grow out of, because they’re nothing like the Viking sagas. This is a question to follow up with a real scholar of both. Meanwhile, when my OED gets here, I’ll be digging into that type of thing again.

  • Comment by Eowyn — July 24, 2023 @ 3:16 pm


    I found the write-up fascinating. I may not remember all that well but I am richer for having read it.

  • Comment by elizabeth — July 24, 2023 @ 4:29 pm


    I don’t give tests. Feel free to forget without guilt. (That’s supposed to be funny but I just got up after a nap and it may not be.)

  • Comment by Daniel Glover — July 25, 2023 @ 1:45 pm


    I will quibble with you as Taliessin predates Charlemagne by about a century and a half. Though the extant sources are only known from after the latter’s time.

  • Comment by Richard Simpkin — July 28, 2023 @ 1:37 am


    The first thing I knew about huscarls was that Harold’s were with him at the Battle of Hastings. Only then I read a suggestion (right or wrong, I cannot tell) that to the Saxon English they were an innovation brought over from Denmark by Knut (Canute), which is why I mentioned Vikings. And the people I thought it would be interesting to compare (and maybe contrast) them to were not pious knight-errants, but Charlemayne’s brutally-effective-warrior drinking-buddies (as I imagined them from your description, Elizabeth).

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