Sunday, September 6, 2009

What is historical fiction?
Recently I read a post at one of the many blogs I visit asking that question. What is historical fiction?
I thought that should be a fairly easy question to answer. Is it primarily fiction?
If it is described by the author as fiction, then we have to accept that it is indeed fiction. Even if someone completely familiar with the event in question can say from their own knowledge or experience that ALL the facts presented are true that knowledge is completely irrelevant to the classification of the material. If the author claims it as fiction it is fiction.
Does it depict a historical event or describe with some accuracy a historical society? Is some aspect or part of it undeniably historical? If it contains any of these then it is historical fiction. No question.
However, that could be all out the window with changing just a few things.
For instance, let’s change the timing.
Let’s take a story about the arrival of Samuel de Champlain on the St. Lawrence River in 1608 and the building of his ‘Habitation’ at the site of present day Quebec City. We check it against all available diaries and journals – most notably Champlain’s – and find it is historically accurate in every detail. Does that ensure it is history?
Now we look at the front-piece of the work and find the author says it is fiction.
That makes it fiction, not history, despite the accuracy of events depicted.
Then we see it was written by Jacques Cartier in 1554.
That makes it science fiction.
This concept can be further strengthened by simply looking at the work of some of the popular authors of the past few years.
For example, Tony Hillerman has written several novels depicting obviously fictitious events in the ‘Four Corners’ area of the South West US. I can’t think of a single one that doesn’t contain some historical information about the Anasazi, Navaho or Hopi peoples or perhaps the history of the four states. However, Mr. Hillerman never put the title of ‘historical fiction’ on any of these works. They are all fiction.
Elmer Leonard’s work is another example. In many of his novels, most notably the ‘Carl Webster’ series, there is a great deal of historical data. In the novel ‘Up in Honey’s Room’ he talks about the (verified and documented) infiltration of Nazi spies into Washington DC, FDR’s touring around in a Ford convertible and the timing of FDR’s death. Despite all that it’s still fiction and Mr. Leonard makes very little effort to explain how much of the story includes verifiable historical information.
Its fiction, because Mr. Leonard says so.

By the way I'm still waiting for my YouTube video on 'Homesteader' but they (SBP) has done a good job on on the 'Partners' vid at
It's much better than the first one ... it's so good that Doug (my son the Engineer) sent me an Email asking if that was me on the horse. No, it isn't.

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