Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Book title needed

I am working away at a book about French military history in the 14th century, and I've just come to the realization that my planned title probably won't work out.

I was thinking of calling it Men-at-Arms, which goes nicely with my previous book Deeds of Arms. It is also appropriate because people holding the status of men at arms hold a key position in the mental universe of the document I'm working on. It's men at arms this, men at arms that, men at arms the third thing.

So if this is the case, why not use Men-at-Arms?

Well, there are two other books that already have the title. One is a general history of -- men-at-arms! I have never read it, but a former colleague of mine used it in his military history class, and he had a good instinct for what students might find accessible. My guess is that this book is used by a lot of profs. The other book is even worse news. Terry Pratchett has written a book of that name, and when you go to Amazon.com and put into words men at arms, you get screens worth of Terry Pratchett-related material before you ever find anything else.

So I hesitate to use what might be the most natural title in fear that potential readers will never find the book. Is this an unreasonable fear? If I am right, what might be a good replacement?

If you want to help me with this, let me tell you a little bit about the book's subject matter. in about 1350, a prominent French knight named Geoffroi de Charny was inspired or even asked by the King to put together a list of questions about how the law of arms, which regulated the relations between one night and another, applied to three knightly activities, jousting, tournaments, and war. Charny came up with some interesting legal problems, which are group of prominent French knights were to sort out. We don't know if this actually happened, but we have no answers to these problems, which is why most of you have never heard of Charny's questions. I am using the questions, however, to show what Charny thought was most important about the law of arms, as well as a number of other issues of honor and military science. Even with no answers, questions themselves stake out some interesting territory. I have already talked about the jousting and tournament questions in a book called Jousts and Tournaments. This book is about the much longer section of questions on war.

Given this, relevant subjects touched on by this book include: Royal reform of the French army, the Hundred Years War, the law of arms, Charny (increasingly well known among fans of chivalry), chivalry (but not as much as you might think).

I would like a title where the first phrase or main title is not obscure. There are too many academic books where a boring subject is disguised behind a title like this:
Long Words Bother Me: Winnie the Pooh and Heiddiger's influence on modern readers. Not a very successful disguise, is it? But people do this all the time. I don't want my very interesting book to look like this fortunately fictional monograph.

I appreciate all serious or hilarious answers. If it is just vaguely cute, though...

Image: the competition.

10 comments:

  1. Susan2:48 pm

    I think "Laws of War: [Illuminating Subtitle]"

    Law(s) of War is not unknown as a book title, but no one so prominent as the esteemed Pratchett has entered a title, and your subtitle will of course make all clear.

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  2. "Arms and the Man" is already taken. "Frenchmen-at-Arms" is not euphonious

    "Charny's Questions" would be unique and descriptive, with perhaps a subtitle, thus "Charny's Questions: Men-At-Arms in the 14th century"

    Anyway, good luck!

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  3. Clearly as Charny is without equal for this era "One Knight Stands over the Medieval Period" suggests itself.

    or seeing how Wikipedia describes him as the last of dying breed: "The Law of the Last Knight"

    I don't see that many books called Men-at-Arms, so it's a plausible title. Anyone who knows that it's a book about the 14th century they're after will probably scroll down the page.

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  4. Knightly Law: Charny's Legal Problems for 14c Men at Arms

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  5. This is a little off-topic, but out of curiosity I checked into the origin of the town of Charny in Quebec. It is named after Jean de Lauzon, Sieur de Charny, an official of New France who was killed by the Iroquois in 1661. Could he be Geoffroy's descendant?

    For the title, how about "The True and Perfect Knight", an epithet often attached to Charny... or a more offbeat approach: "The Orifflame" --- which would need a little explaining in the preface but might work as an enigmatic teaser.

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  6. "War and other Knightly Activities" - then that illuminating subtitle Susan referred to.

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  7. b01319449:00 am

    A series of words in your post caught my eye: the law of arms.

    Perhaps something along those lines-

    The Law of Arms: The Question That Changed Medieval Warfare

    I'm not fond of that second part though - some alternatives might be needed

    Questions that shaped medieval warfare

    Charny's Reflections on Medieval Warfare

    Sorry - not my area of strength. But I am fond of "The Law of Arms" - perhaps with the double-entendre relating to heraldry.

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  8. Phil,

    I think that Charny's direct line died out in the 14th century.

    According to the French Wikipedia, there are no less than 5 places in France named Charny. So what does that tell us!

    Also there is a novel by Dumas called *The Countess of Charny.* It's about the French Revolution, part of a series.

    It strikes me that Charny might be a vanilla-aristocratic name. I'm trying to come up with an English example -- there are plenty -- but my mind is coming up only with too-famous ones with very specific associations.

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  9. what 'Deeds of Men' or 'Deeds of Men-at-Arms' or 'Of Arms and Men'

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  10. What about something from Charney's statement of purpose: "The Knights of our Noble Company: Charney's Questions on War"

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