Wednesday, September 9, 2009

If you could turn back time

A segment on NBC's Today show this morning yanked me out of blogging limbo (I could blame vacation, the start of the school year and being up to my ribs in heavy revisions on the second Robert the Bruce book, but really it was lack of initiative, IOW - laziness). The topic was time travel and while I can't wrap my brain around how you would actually achieve such a feat, it does get your imagination flying in a very H. G. Wells-ian way.

Recently, I was exchanging messages with another historical ficiton writer and we were talking about how drawn we were to historical sites and aritifacts to the point that when we were near them we felt a connection to the past. I still remember going to Caernarvon Castle a decade ago. After a short scan of the bailey, I ran up the spiral staircase of one of the towers. Standing on the castle wall, palms pressed to the stones, I imagined Longshanks arriving there with his entourage, his son Edward (II) toddling about the rooms, and the bustle of activity in the town. Forty-five minutes later, I remembered my friend, who did not like heights and had been paitently waiting for me at ground level. At Harlech Castle, I could practically sense Owain Glyndwr gazing out over the sea as the wind whipped around him, reflecting on how he had united Wales and defied Henry IV, only to have his princedom slowly crumble away as alliances failed him.

I could stare for hours at old architecture and works of craftmanship. Ken Follet's Pillars of the Earth held my rapt attention as much for the story as for his in depth explorations of stained glass, stonework and the building of a cathedral. Set me down in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, and you'll likely find me hours later still reading the plaques in the medieval weaponry area.

Imagine being present at one of history's pivotal events: battles such as Pearl Harbor, Hastings, Waterloo, or Bannockburn; the invention of penicillin or powered flight; Martin Luther King Jr's 'I Have a Dream' speech; the San Francisco earthquake or the hurricane that swallowed New Orleans.... Days, moments or events in which the course of mankind or nature was forever changed. It boggles the mind to think of being able to go there to witness them.

If I could go back in time (not forward, I don't want to know what lies ahead), rather than witness an event, as incredible as that might be, I think I'd want to speak to historical figures - interview them in Barbara Walters fashion: "King Edward, what were you thinking when you recalled Piers Gaveston for the third time?", "Queen Isabella, at what point did you decide you'd had enough of your husband and were going to do something about his misrule?", or "Robert the Bruce, at any time, did you think you just might fail in your quest for independence? What inspired you to stay so focused and determined?".

So if you could turn back the clock, be there, what would you see or do, who would you talk to?

Until later,



Anita Davison said...

I too feel that connection with the past, and sometimes I can visualise ladies in long gowns and men in wigs walking through the buildings.
I'd like to ask Henry VIII:
'Did it ever occur to you, sire that it might have been you?'

Jen Black said...

Oh Anita I think every woman today would long to tell Henry it was his fault!
As for the connection to the past -don't all we writers have it? The necessary interest in the past, the willingness to imagine things as you think they ought to be and the delight in walking across worn flagstones and wondering how often Mary Stuart dreamed of Bothwell as she worried there in Edinburgh.

N. Gemini Sasson said...

Now there's a thought! What if Henry'd had the intervention of a psychotherapist early on?

Anonymous said...

My ABSOLUTE favorite topic--time travel. I think I'd love to go back and just observe daily life, it wouldn't have to be any event or historical figure. The food, the smells, the different from today! I would definitely go on a 1920's Harlem jazz club crawl in my red sequined flapper dress, daring-the-limits-of-decency hair bob and long cigarette holder. And not just the famous clubs; basement clubs where the unfiltered jazz and gin rocked the very foundation of the Harlem Renaissance. I can almost hear the whine of the trumpet and smell the smoky room as I type this in my silent, febreeze scented office. Is it a memory from a past life or the curse/blessing of an over active imagination? Either way, I'd really love to be there now! That's what's so wonderful about writing historical fiction. Our imaginations, plus our research, let us time travel.
The past calls out to us, and we cannot ignore its lure.

Anne Gilbert said...

My problem is, there are so many eras and so many people I'd like to meet! I guess if you wanted to go back in time, I'd choose the Depression era. This may sound strange, but adversity brought out a whole bunch of ways people solved problems! And I'd like to see how ordinary people tried to solve them, on so mnay levels.