We often think that writers of history stick to the facts, working to present a fair and accurate account of the past, and that writers of historical fiction can pretty much make it up. It doesn’t always work out that way.
History can be intriguing, and sometimes it’s really funny. I called my website History Muse, intending it to be a thoughtful and sometimes amusing look at history. Now I’m starting to think: What does it do for my readers?
You’ve probably seen at least one movie about Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots. Dramatists love a story of beautiful, doomed, feminine Mary, and her scheming, stone-hearted rival Elizabeth, who had Mary killed because she was jealous. Sure, such productions give strong actresses some rare juicy parts, but the significance of their struggle gets lost.
The governor of Virginia recently referred to the Africans brought to Virginia as slaves in 1619 as “indentured servants.” There was a big difference between slavery and indentured service, and you can see it in the history of my Duncan ancestors in Virginia.
Hanukkah started out as a minor Jewish holiday, with a little dubious history behind it. But now,those eight candles can light the way for all of us.
Historical fiction can bring history to life in ways non-fiction does not.
Leonardo actually tried to invent contact lenses. What he tried didn’t work, but he kept thinking, kept learning, and he keeps amazing us today.
Many Americans seem to think that the vicious racism that has stained our history all happened in the South, the states of the old Confederacy. Not so. Not even close.
When we talk about the heroic journey of myth and story, we’re usually talking about a man’s adventures. A woman’s heroic journey often starts in different circumstances, and it ends differently. And it can be harder to write in historical fiction.
When Martin Luther King was killed, some cynics in my home town said he died for a dues check-off. My home town is Memphis, and I was there in 1968. The dues check-off is an important part of his legacy--one we are likely to lose.