Fans of Monty Python might remember Terry Jones best as the fat man in the fancy restaurant who eats and eats and eats before accepting a very thin after-dinner mint to rather gruesome, although highly comedic, effect. But Terry Jones's career in the movie industry has included not only acting, but directing, screenwriting, and composing (including such favorites as "The Lumberjack Song," "Every Sperm Is Sacred," and "Never Be Rude to an Arab"). In addition to these accomplishments, Jones has written numerous books and is something of a medieval history expert. He spoke to City Pages from his home in London.
CP: What attracted you to late-14th-century military history?
TJ: Chaucer presented this very aristocratic knight. I started thinking, "Did he really mean this?" And then I started looking at all the battles he's listed as being in, which were actual battles. There was a big change going on in the late 14th century—the change from the old feudal host, which was an army that raised from the old feudal law. If you occupied a piece of property, you owed so many days service to the lord of the manor. And military service as well. That was how they raised their armies. And that's all very good when you're actually defending your home territory, you can raise an army easily like that. But when you have wars of aggression, it's more difficult to raise the army. And by the 14th century, they were employing mercenaries. It's quite parallel to what's happening now in Iraq: Bush employing mercenaries to do a lot of the fighting. A lot of the backup is coming from Blackwater and companies like that. And he's commercialized warfare in the same way that it was commercialized in the 14th century. And a disastrous war has followed.
CP: The event you're a part of at Augsburg College is to raise money for Medieval Minnesota, which is a summer camp for teenagers. Should we be encouraging teenagers to spend their summers learning about the Middle Ages?
TJ: I think history is a vital thing, really, because it's how we know who we are. I think it's the stories that the children tell to each other around the campfire. It's identifying who we are, knowing our place and where we are, how we come to be here. I think one of the great things about learning about the Middle Ages is that we tend to despise other ages. There's lots of ageism and horrid attitudes. People six hundred years ago must have been a bit stupid. And actually the more you learn about the past the more you realize that people don't change and that people were just as intelligent then as they are now. In fact, in some ways, values that were being adhered to were better values than the values now. Looking at any period of the past gives you a chance to reexamine the present and see it in a different light.
CP: You've also done a lot of children's projects like Wind in the Willows and Fantastic Stories. Do you have children of your own?
TJ: I did have—they are still my children, but they're now 30, 32. I can't get them to sit on my knee to tell them a story.
Terry Jones will be speaking at Augsburg as part of a fundraising event for Medieval Minnesota. He promises to debunk other misconceptions about the repressive and ignorant Middle Ages. For more information visit www.augsburg.edu/terryjones or call 612.330.1000.
Fri., Oct. 5, 7 p.m., 2007