Monday, November 9, 2009
Why Read Historical Fiction?
To my infinite delight, last night The Man in the Iron Mask was on the local TV station. Even though I've seen this movie before (the 1998 version with Jeremy Irons and Leonardo DiCaprio), my teenage daughter was watching it for the first time. She was entranced and so was I. So much so that I totally forgot about The Amazing Race, which was on at the same time. It bears noting here that I am wholly devoted to my favorite reality TV shows. I do not miss them and every time my favorite player or team doesn't win, I vow never to watch that show again - but I always do.
Anyway, it reminded me that the first book that really captured my imagination and made me a lifelong fan of historical fiction was another of 19th century French writer Alexandre Dumas' timeless works, of which the above is the sequel: The Three Musketeers. After that, there was no stopping me. I devoured every historical work in the classics section and then went on to read more contemporary HF authors of that time, like Jean Plaidy.
All this time, I was also scouring the historical entries in my encyclopedia set. Odd for a teenager, I know, but there was something about not just reading for pleasure, but dipping into the past that made the escapism factor that much more powerful for me. I never actually believed Louis XIV had a hidden twin brother, as is the pivotal element in The Man in the Iron Mask, or that d'Artagnan, Athos, Porthos and Aramis even existed. I simply enjoyed the stories. If Alexandre Dumas were writing today, I sometimes wonder if he'd be able to get away with his creative license, because his stories do involve real historical figures?
Still, I often ponder on why historical fiction has so many ardent readers? What is it about events and people from the past that so fascinates us? Adventure, romance, simpler times, or making sense of complex events and how human nature molded them? Lots of reasons, I suppose. What's yours?