I’m a sucker for historical fiction.
During my ten years of being a Girl Scout, my troop took a trip up to Salem, Massachusetts during October. Of course, the town is now notorious for the Salem Witch Trials, an event that occurred in during the end of 1692 and the beginning of 1693 where nineteen people lost their lives because of mass hysteria set off by teenage girls who claimed they were bewitched. We entered the town and went on a short tour almost immediately. Going around town, our tour guide showed us the sights of the major events of that time period and asked us what we thought about all of what we were seeing and hearing about.
I answered all of the tour guide’s questions and then some.
Maybe, it was a need to be a know it all. Maybe, I just wanted something I could focus all of my attention on. Maybe, I was genuinely curious to know more about the place I was visiting. In whatever case, thanks to my literary habits and ability to speed read, I became my own sort of expert before the time our bus made its way into the city for our first tour around town.
I read up on the real life events that made Salem, Massachusetts infamous, but it wasn’t necessarily the historically accurate books of facts that capture my obsessive passion regarding the time period. While I did read the biographies and descriptions of the time period, it was the fictional accounts set during this era that caught my interest and introduced me to my favorite genre of literature.
It was a genre I had never fully explored in my literary pursuits over the years. How could stories that actually occurred find themselves alongside books like Great Expectations or Jane Eyre? These stories weren’t conceptualized in the mind of a playwright or novelist; they are our history. Yet, in my hands, I held novels like The Scarlet Letter and plays like Arthur Miller’s The Crucible that used those real historical events and characters to tell incredible fictional stories.
This was more than realistic fiction. It was something entirely new and enticing to me.
After a few more years of trying to unbury the ghosts of the Salem Witch Trials, my mind travelled farther back in time to a court of royals, betrayal, and a king who made marriage a sport.
Tudor-era fiction: Same true story with the same real characters told hundreds of different ways.
Based on the best selling novel. That phrase has led me down more literary habit holes than I could have ever dreamed of in a lifetime. It was the movie and book The Other Boleyn Girl. I have a habit of reading the novel or book right before seeing the adaptation. I have to know the story before everyone else does. This time, I first met Henry VIII’s second wife Anne as a vain and villainous women who met her end due to her ambition.After watching the television show The Tudors, I met an entirely different Anne Boleyn, one who was just as clever but not as cruel, who met the same fate as she always does in both her real life and fiction stories.
I think the genre of historical fiction is enticing to authors as it gives us the ability to change history. It’s arguably the closest we can get to our past and the closest we can get to changing it to fit our preference. It also gives the writer the chance to flesh out figures of history that only exist in history textbooks. We can’t change their course, but we have a little wiggle room regarding their character.
We cannot change actual fact, but we can change the detail