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?

Until later,


slfrykholm said...

Gemi, We're much alike-historical fiction virtually always sends me to the encyclopedia. Well, actually, now it's google. I love to be surprised out of the stereotypes and cliches of history that we so often learn, whether it comes through fiction or non-fiction. And I like connecting history to real people, so I especially like fiction that focuses on historical characters.

N. Gemini Sasson said...

So maybe one component is that we like to learn and understand - what drives people to do certain things? Why did certain events happen, what was at stake? And maybe, knowing all that helps us understand the world around us just a little bit better, too.

Jen Black said...

There is so much risk in life in times gone by that just isn't here today. Chick lit, I think, points up the difference - when the Manolos getting eaten by the dog seems the biggest disaster imaginable.
So bland, all those shopping and sex books. And far too many of them!