On Coziness

Posted by Philip Brown on

When I say “coziness,” I do not mean “comfortable.” I am not referring to the feeling of being warm or safe. As a matter of fact, I am not quite sure if there is a word for what I am talking about. But if you study the past, enjoy stories and poetry (particularly of the fantasy genre), then you will end up understanding what I am describing. Perhaps you have even experienced it, and I certainly hope you have.

Perhaps this is not “coziness” at all, nevertheless that is what I am going to call it for the time being. This “coziness” that I speak of is a feeling one has when experiencing something (usually through reading) that takes place in a time or world wholly different than the time or world the person experiencing it currently dwells. I have yet to experience this when reading science-fiction, dystopian fiction, or anything that is set in our current postmodern world. So far, I have mainly experienced this in fantasy, folklore, and when reading about historical eras, especially the Middle Ages.

Now when most people nowadays think of the Middle Ages (which is probably a rare occasion), they will immediately think of barbarism, superstition, religion, mean kings, wars, bad living conditions, and everyone’s favorite, the plagues. They will then unlock their word-hoard about how there was no advanced technology, no running water and other equally dreadful disadvantages that do not exactly bring about the feeling of “coziness.” They will shudder and then it will probably be another few months before the “dark ages” ever enter their minds again. This of course has been the consensus about the Middle Ages for the past three hundred or so years.

So why on earth am I equating “coziness” to such a dreary part of history? For one, those horrible things mentioned about Medieval Europe are not unique to that time and place alone. However, that is a whole different matter and I will defend the era more extensively later. But the Middle Ages was the prime of storytelling, Beowulf, the Arthurian legends, Chaucer, the deeds of Charlemagne, the Crusades, the Reconquista, Henry V, Joan of Arc etc.. There are seemingly endless inspirational stories, but not just the stories from the era, but the era itself.

The Middle Ages inspired the modern fantasy genre. Fantasy is not a new genre and there are plenty of pre-modern examples of it. But fantasy gained an enormous place in our literary lives when J. R. R. Tolkien published his books, The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings, in the mid-20th century. Tolkien was a Medievalist himself for many reasons, mainly because he despised the industrial revolution which advanced technology far beyond anything humanity had experienced until then. He hated “the machine”. So, what is a world without “the machine?” Well, simply put, the Middle Ages; no factories, no cars, no weapons of mass destruction, no concrete buildings, no synthetic materials. The people of Medieval Europe worked with the resources that God’s green earth gave them: wood, stone, iron, leather, wool, and so forth.

You might be thinking that there were many thousands of years before the Middle Ages to which this could be applied. You are correct. Only recently has humanity invented and utilized “the machine.” But Medieval Europe did not boast the great cities and centralized empires that you see in antiquity, in the era before Christ. Medieval Europe, instead, boasted a completely unmatched sense of the local. And this is what I mean by “cozy.” An inn where everyone gathers when the day is over and to eat simple but hearty food and to keep warm by a fire. An army where every soldier is equipped with accoutrements made of metal, forged by hand. Each building is made of wood and stone, and the whole town seems to almost blend in with God’s creation around it. This feeling of “coziness” is a sense of longing for this kind of simplicity. A longing for a return from a deer hunt, in the chill of autumn, to a warm hearth. A longing for a steel-on-steel battle fray. A longing for an untouched countryside, where all one can see is nature.

And, of course, what I have just described perfectly fits in with the fantasy genre. When you read a typical fantasy story, what do you see? Armies equipped with swords, spears, bows, ring-mail, steel helmets, and wooden shields; castles and cities made of stone. Of course, there are exceptions in the genre, but there is a reason why generic fantasy is medievalesque, and it is not simply because that is what Tolkien wrote of. The Middle Ages is probably the complete opposite from what the world is now, which makes it ideal for escapism. We may live a comfortable life nowadays, but the Middle Ages were “cozy.”

 


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