by Connie J. Jasperson
Something about the wind-driven rain-bullets here in our part of the world can be death on umbrellas, even expensive ones. Even the cutest umbrellas frequently end up in street-corner trash-bins, ending their days as the tattered and broken relics of impulse purchases.
Despite the carnage, I feel compelled to keep buying umbrellas, feeling sure the next purchase will be the one--the true umbrella for all seasons, able to withstand 40 mph winds and sideways rain. So far, the decidedly unromantic golf umbrella is the bumbershoot I carry.
And this brings me to my point: You may not realize it, but the weather is a huge factor in your characters’ ability to go from point A to point B. For those of us who are writing fantasy, our characters are likely to be traveling through strange terrain in other-worldly weather conditions. If they are on foot or riding horses or other beasts of burden, the weather will be a large part of what impedes them, or enables them to travel faster than they had planned.
Weather can cause complications in a sci-fi tale too, as it could have a negative effect on equipment and morale.
Traveling on foot in the dark during a heavy storm is extremely difficult. Before the advent of the automobile, people didn't travel during storms unless some terrible reason forced them to.
Weather is something I understand. In the 1980s, newly divorced and unqualified for any well-paying job, I worked for a Christmas tree grower as a field hand. In the summer, we started work at 5:30 am so we could be finished and out of the field by 2:30, during the hottest part of the day.
I’ve never been a fan of using too much sunscreen—it’s greasy and full of things I can’t pronounce. It gets in your food, and I’m not sure eating it is good for you. So, in those days I wore light, long-sleeved shirts to keep the sun off me, and wide-brimmed hats that kept the sun off my face. That is old-school, low-tech farm garb, and is how I still roll when it comes to dealing with the sun.
But when November arrived, we field hands were still working outside. With the advent of a Northwest Winter, we wore layers, 2 pairs of wool socks, barn boots, and raingear. Good old Helly Hansen—his fine product kept me dry and warm while I worked to bring Christmas trees into every home. But, working outside in the cold and rain requires a certain amount of preparation, or you can become hypothermic, and unable to function.
Every year, when the cutting-and-baling season started, we would have a new crop of people who had never worked out of doors, and who didn’t understand the sense of investing in long-johns and raingear. The company offered decent gear (boots, gloves, and raingear) at reasonable prices, but many would not spend the money, refusing to believe that it was a war the weather would win.
So I discovered that if you were going to work outdoors year-round, you needed better quality gear than the company offered. In 1982, the best gear available was: LL Bean thermal underwear, and Helly Hansen foul-weather gear, and the mail-order catalog was the place to get it.
My point with this is that if your novel's setting is a low-tech society, weather affects what your characters can do. It affects the speed with which they can travel great distances, and it affects how they dress. It affects their horses, and that is a serious point to consider.
Medieval society had ways of dealing with the weather when they had to be out in it, and the internet is your friend. In medieval times, people of England, Wales, and Ireland didn’t have to deal with extreme temperatures the people of Northern Europe experienced in the 17th and 18th centuries, as it was a warmer time. However, they did get some occasional snow and cold in the winter, and at times they suffered heat waves during the summer.
How did they protect themselves against the weather? Here are several good websites for research:
In a lower-tech society fur-trapping is a common way of earning money, but only the wealthier classes, the merchants and nobility, can afford to buy those furs.
The average medieval agrarian society will have access to fleeces, though, especially if they are a Northern European type of society. Also, in the more urban centers of a low-tech society, the average person’s winter garments, hooded cloaks and gloves, and even bedding would be made of thick wool, layered and felted.
Wool has been a winter mainstay since humans first began making cloth. Some garments will be made of heavy canvas, or oil-cloth. Oilcloth, close-woven cotton canvas or linen cloth with a coating of boiled linseed oil, was a product available from the late middle ages on.
Clothing and cold weather gear will make their appearance in relatively few sentences in your novel. Most likely it will only be mentioned in passing, but it is important as part of what builds the world you are creating. A little research on your part regarding what technology might be plausible in your society will lend a sense of realism to your work.