Historical fiction and the value of history

11 Jan

In order to get a perspective on where you are now it is certainly helpful to know where you came from and how you got there. That is unless you subscribe to the statement of Doctor Pangloss that all is for the best, in this, the best of all possible worlds. In this age of information overload and unreason it is increasingly difficult to know what to believe unless you use your critical faculties and an attuned BS detector.

The study of history, if it involves some research and the examination of the texts which represent the raw material of information, is one of the best forms of training for a detective. The two types of university degree the Police in the UK primarily look for are History and Psychology. This kind of training can help you work out what can be relied on and what should be flagged up as problematic.

The worst kind of history is the reletivist position, where all stories are regarded as equally valid. If some information comes from a source that is deeply prejudiced, stupid or ignorant, it must be considered to be of less value than if it comes from a thoughtful and reliable source.

The second bad type of history is that which makes assumptions before it starts and comes in half-way through the story. Much of the history I learned in school suffered from that point of view, and I always found it to be condescending of my teachers that they could not trust me with more of the truth.There is nothing which cannot be questioned or must be regarded as sacred in the texts.

There are some wonderful stories in the past, which is what history is really about. Many of the characters you come across are more interesting and remarkable than any fictional character. If you are writing historical fiction you must be careful to keep the narrative true, or you may become a propogandist for a particular political opinion. For an example of this, take the film ‘Braveheart’, which a leading Sc ottish acadenic described as, ‘A remarkable film. It manages to get every significant detail wrong, including who Braveheart was.’ (The Scots used to bring Robert the Bruce’s heart in a casket with them into battle. This was the “Brave Heart”). There are scottish nationalists who implicitly believe in the narrative of the film, and hate the English because of this belief. Nearer to the truth is that William Wallace was an Anglo-Norman leader fighting another Anglo-Norman leader. Only the sword and arrow fodder were locals.

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