Dan Jones’ The Templars: The Rise and Spectacular fall of God’s Holy Warriors is being released in conjunction with the new History Channel series Knightfall. Dan Jones acted as the series’ consultant and his book vouches for historic accuracy of the TV production.
As far as both fiction and nonfiction publications go, the market for books that touch upon the subject of the Knights Templar is a very crowded one. Apart from periodic ebbs and wanes there is definitely a core of readers who strive to know everything that has to do with the famous medieval order. For a “Templar” book to be successful, its author must offer something to the audience well acquainted with the subject, as well as members of the general public who are swept up by the tide of current trends. In the nonfiction segment, this task has been most recently taken on by Helen Nicholson and Michael Haag. These two authors found their own balance between relating verifiable historic accounts and discussing the rich lore that surrounds the Knights Templar. What was Dan Jones’ approach, you may ask? It was actually quite different.
Jones’ intention was to entirely dismiss anything that does not have a firm footing in historic facts. Legendary and dubious accounts have been assigned zero weight. Of course, any writer on the subject knows that it is precisely the sensational and unverified information about the Order of the Knights Templar that happens to be the most entertaining. As a result, the ever growing body of highly questionable information is usually somehow addressed– even by authors who are decidedly sceptical. This fascinating corpus of Templar miscellany can even be the primary focus of study without being given any credence (e.g. Peter Partner or yours truly). Dan Jones operates on the conviction that history (and especially the history of the Knights Templar) is more entertaining and more captivating that any related legends and myths. Personally, I believe this to be a judgment call. The mere knowledge that a particular event truly happened and involved actual breathing human beings definitely adds gravitas to any story. However, a good story which is only loosely, if at all, connected to reality can still be supremely captivating if it is capable of hitting the right chords within our souls. And it must be noted that pure entertainment only represents the lowest register of what good storytelling is capable of doing. True or false, legends and myths run the entire gamut of human experience which transcends visible and known reality. To stay on course of “telling it like it is” is certainly a worthy endeavor, but this requires a particular kind of voice: authoritative, precise and well… entertaining. Dan Jones has established himself as the author of books on English history, in which he honed this exact narrative and factual approach (The War of the Roses, The Plantagenets, Magna Carta). The Templars: The Rise and Spectacular fall of God’s Holy Warriors is very well written and well researched. Its narrative is nicely paced and the rich details and side accounts introduced to flesh out the story are well balanced. The book’s apparatus is not a hefty encumbrance laced with unexpected gems of knowledge (as it is often the case with academic publications.) Instead the notes simply provide references to primary and secondary sources, making for an uninterrupted read.
Dan Jones’ new book can serve as a good introduction to the history of the Knights Templar. It can also provide a fresh look at familiar events for those who are well versed in the history of the Order. You might only become disappointed in the book if you want to find in it that which Jones categorically and manifestly refuses to talk about: the dubious, the sensationalist and the paranormal. Such a reader will have to be satisfied with the final short chapter on the Holy Grail, the most inescapable Templar-related myth which appears to be relevant to the plot of Knightfall.