Knit-Picting

Book Two in the series isn’t due until May 2016. Nevertheless, I’ve already begun my research. The story will feature the Picts prominently. Delving into what is known about the Picts has been both fascinating and challenging.

Of all the Celtic peoples (acknowledging of course, that even the term “Celt” is anachronistic) of the Isles, the Picts are arguably the most enigmatic. Aside from archeological evidence, almost everything known about Picts comes from other peoples … and even that is not a large corpus of information. So it might appear to be an open question, what was a Pict?

In the absence of a large volume of hard data, it appears many people have treated the Picts as a blank canvas on which to project their own ideas, hopes, and fears. Often, this leads to depiction (no pun intended) of Picts as a kind of uber-Celt, with every trait common associated with Celts exaggerated. Others portray Picts as the ultimate “other,” ignore solid evidence as they portray Picts as non-Indo-European (to say nothing of Celt) and an outlier or exception to much that is commonly understood about human society.

Popular conceptions of the Picts … as technologically primitive, socially primitive, and extremely warlike appear deeply ingrained in both popular consciousness and mass media – from Robert E. Howard to the 2004 Clive Owen/Keira Knightley film “King Arthur.” There may be a kernel of truth in the last aspect, sources from multiple cultures describe Picts as notorious pirates and, certainly, they were one of the barbarian groups troubling Rome and even southern Britons. It is difficult, however, to build a case they were more “barbariany” than other barbarians. Conceptions of technological and social primitivism, however, are utterly erroneous. Archeological evidence supports that Pictish material culture and technology were on par with their other Celtic and Saxon neighbors. In fact, in some areas, notably metal working and artistry (Pictish art tended toward the naturalistic, in contrast with the stylized forms of their neighbors) a case could be made they were slightly ahead of the curve. Socially, while Pictland apparently lacked the larger settlements of southern Britain, its political and religious systems were also on par with their neighbors.

At this point, as presented in my story, the Picts will adhere strongly to the model supported by archeology and other scholarly research … while also featuring a nod to those more fanciful conceptions of myth and legend (especially of the Robert E. Howard variety).

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