Scientific feat in a medieval setting

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t0dd

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I'm writing a MG fantasy about a boy who goes back in time to early medieval Wales. In his first adventure, he makes some use of modern-day scientific knowledge to solve a problem at a castle, in a way that seems supernatural to the people there. I'm trying to work out exactly what piece of information he makes use of. I know the following:

1. It should be something "general-knowledge", since he's much better at history (particularly medieval history) and English than science or math. (He's not bad at the latter two, just average.) He's also around twelve, which would make it "general-knowledge" for that age. (It should also be something he would know without needing to look it up, since he didn't bring any books or other written material back with him - just the clothes he's wearing, a digital wristwatch, and a flashlight.)

2. Ideally, the problem he solves would block his journey as well as creating trouble for the people living in the castle; he's trying to get to a "time-portal" to return to his own time. (To give some idea of what I mean, the original idea I'd had was that a strange water-beast - based on the addanc, a mythical Welsh water-monster - was causing a flood that rendered a stream or river between the castle he was at and the "time-portal" impassable, as well as threatening to inundate the area around the castle, and the MC would have to get it to leave. That idea ran into problems, so I decided to replace it with something more mundane.) Thus he has two objectives in solving it - first, remove the obstacle to his journey, and second, help the people in the castle.
 

Woollybear

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Lenses come to mind.

And navigational 'stuff.' north pole, making a compass, that sort of thing.
 

MaeZe

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In your example there's a flood problem.

Can you suggest what other kinds of barriers and castle trouble might occur besides a flood? It would help to start with what the barrier possibilities are.

There are lots of possibilities for the boy to know something about infectious diseases that weren't known in medieval times. It wasn't known at the time that cholera was spread in contaminated water and that plague was spreading from fleas on rats.

Superstitions might be a source of material, like your sea monster.

Maybe a weather prediction?
 

MaeZe

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Lenses come to mind.

And navigational 'stuff.' north pole, making a compass, that sort of thing.

Mechanical engineering and navigation were skills in those times that might even surpass today's common knowledge. They built castles and sailed the seas. And compasses were used more than 2,000 years ago.

Lenses are an interesting idea, telescopes were used in the 1600s. Not sure if the average knight knew how to make a fire with one, though.
 

Brightdreamer

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Not much of a suggestion, but a note: beware of making the medieval folks out to be total jumping-at-shadows dunderheads simply for not knowing modern science. Some may grasp at superstition, but humans are humans, and not all are easily spooked or fooled... especially if you deal with anyone from a more educated class. (I've read a few books with time travel that had our ancestors behaving so ridiculously our species would've died out long before modern times.)

As for something that would probably appear uncanny and potentially superstitious... could you do anything with electricity or lighting, or possibly magnetism? That can produce some odd effects, and the MC could have some experience from science fair experiments or some such. (Do some research, though, not only on what would be available for the MC to work with but what tech was known and in use in the area and time; it would be a mistake to just assume ignorance because Medieval.)
 

t0dd

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Thanks for the comments so far.

The people in the castle vary in their responses to the MC and his "strangeness"; they certainly don't form a "burn-the-witch" mob. He does face a few awkward questions, such as his clothes and where he comes from. (The castle's in southern Wales; his home in his own time is southern England, and he has a hard time explaining how he got from one place to the other without mentioning the "time gate".) And one of the castle officials is especially uneasy about the MC, because he's had a couple of past encounters with beings like faerie-folk (who turn out to be real in this setting, and many of them are unpleasant), and fears that the MC may be linked to them. The lord of the castle is friendly, on the other hand; he has scholarly tastes (I saw him as originally a younger son who was meant for the Church until his older brother died in a hunting accident, promoting him to be the heir), is delighted to meet someone who can read and write as well as the MC does, and even quizzes him on his school.
 

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The lord of the castle is friendly, on the other hand; he has scholarly tastes (I saw him as originally a younger son who was meant for the Church until his older brother died in a hunting accident, promoting him to be the heir), is delighted to meet someone who can read and write as well as the MC does, and even quizzes him on his school.

You say Medieval . . . roughly when? What era? How are you handling the language problem?

Just curious; I'm a Celticist by training.

I'd suggest rather than something brand-spanking modern, he use his knowledge of Roman engineering, and sewers, both of which are often featured in well-illustrated kid's books.

And I'm not sure the Romans knew about "French" drains; a way of draining ground water (say from rain or ice melt) and redirecting it. Gravel covers pipes with holes in them. Water filters through the gravel, and enters the pipes which direct the water elsewhere.
 
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t0dd

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You say Medieval . . . roughly when? What era? How are you handling the language problem?

Just curious; I'm a Celticist by training.

I'd suggest rather than something brand-spanking modern, he use his knowledge of Roman engineering, and sewers, both of which are often featured in well-illustrated kid's books.

And I'm not sure the Romans knew about "French" drains; a way of draining ground water (say from rain or ice melt) and redirecting it. Gravel covers pipes with holes in them. Water filters through the gravel, and enters the pipes which direct the water elsewhere.

The era is a bit complicated; on the timeline, it's the 5th century, but the castle is more 12th century in architecture. (To be even more precise, it's set a few years before the birth of King Arthur - and the young time traveler's first name happens to be Merlin....) I plan to acknowledge the anachronism in an Author's Note.

The language issue - since the time travel's done here through a fantasy procedure (a portal), I have the MC automatically switched over to the local languages so they seem like English to him. (He realizes what's happened after thinking about it for a bit - he knows enough about the period to know that they wouldn't be speaking modern-day English then.)

Interesting thoughts about Roman engineering - I do have the MC get involved in an engineering problem in a later part of the story, though that might be saying too much. At any rate, thanks for your comments.
 
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