How historical do you want your historical fic?

Discussion in 'Historical Fiction' started by Martin Gill, May 4, 2016.

  1. aThenian

    aThenian Well-Known Member

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    I've written something that I think of as historical fantasy. It doesn't actually contain magic though. I think it's more the "want to use some part of it as inspiration" that's led me down the fantasy route, plus I've amalgamated aspects of two different historical periods. Plus it lets me leave out the things about my period of inspiration (Ancient Greece) that I don't want to use.

    There's also the point that I could spend decades of my life researching Ancient Greece and still feel I might be getting things wrong...
     
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  2. aThenian

    aThenian Well-Known Member

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    As well as those @Brian Turner has mentioned (I'd def have mentioned Guy Gavriel Kay too) Neal Stephenson's Baroque Trilogy might be an example? Packed full of history but definitely fantastical, if not magical. There's also Mary Stewart's Merlin books - there's lots of fantasy inspired by King Arthur of course, but she's rooted her novels quite carefully in the history (at least that's how it feels) but also included some supernatural elements.

    Or how about Susannah Clarke's Jonathan Norrell and Mr Strange?

    An aside - I don't see Game of Thrones having much to do with the Wars of the Roses, other that it's about feuding families in a vaguely medieval world, but maybe I'm missing something.

    I've wondered a bit about how to define "historical fantasy" too and whether my own stuff fits it. Maybe "Speculative Historical" describes stuff which is historically inspired, but not actually including magic? Or maybe that would just be a tag that wouldn't mean anything to anyone?
     
  3. galanx

    galanx Well-Known Member

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    YES!!! THIS!!! (And it was my fault for not being clear).
     
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  4. catsrus

    catsrus New Member

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    Is it too late to jump in with a couple comments?
    I enjoy historical fiction and nonfiction, and while its most important to capture the mindset and general lifestyle, the tale shouldn't use more than minor tweaks when it comes to large scale events... That said, since superstitions died hard, you wouldn't need a major event to prove magic or favor of God or the gods - just a minor event at the right place and time...
    And on the inspiration for Thrones, it was the French monarchy (Accursed Kings series) that provided some of the best characters...
     
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  5. galanx

    galanx Well-Known Member

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    Too late??? Baylor commonly resurrects threads that are older than En Sabah Nur ;)
     
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  6. Brian G Turner

    Brian G Turner He's a very naughty boy! Staff Member

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    Not at all, and welcome to the chrons forums. :)
     
  7. galanx

    galanx Well-Known Member

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    "Flashman" is a good example of 'hard' historical fiction. Though of course it's mostly set behind the scenes, if Fraser says a certain historical figure said something publicly, you can be sure ha said it; if he says such and such a person was at the Battle of So-and-So, you can be he sure they were.
     
  8. Martin Gill

    Martin Gill Well-Known Member

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    Yep - but its "easier" for him to do that as he's writing about a well documented period. I say "easy" because I know how damn hard it is. I'm looking at a period around 7-800 AD in England and Scandinavia where there were relatively few records kept, much of what we know comes from archeology and sources written 2-3 centuries later and in many cases there are conflicting dates. Some sources, like the Anglo Saxon chronicles are conspicuous in their lack of detail, which gives a lot of wriggle room.

    I do fancy having a go at something that is based around an existing yet poorly documented event.
     
  9. galanx

    galanx Well-Known Member

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    This is true-I'm currently doing an Alternate History Time-Line around the late 18th C. and there's an embarrassment of riches- so much so that i keep having to go back and say "Hey, let's throw this in...."
     
  10. aThenian

    aThenian Well-Known Member

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    Feeling embarrassed that I didn't know who En Sabah Nur was.
     
  11. galanx

    galanx Well-Known Member

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    I must admit I had to Google his name; just had heard there was some ur-Mutant in the latest X-Men.
     
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  12. Tanja Bisgaard

    Tanja Bisgaard Well-Known Member

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    Hi Martin Gill.

    Sounds exciting. I am writing a children's book (middle grade) set in the viking ages - so I have been doing loads of research too! I have chosen to keep the historical events to the dates they took place, geographical locations true, as well as the tales of the Nordic Gods. And then worked the fantasy story around that. It's not published yet - so will be very interesting to see if others than myself find it exciting!

    And on a different note, I am Norwegian, living in Denmark, so if you need some help finding sources, let me know. I don't think everything has been translated into English.
     
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  13. MWagner

    MWagner Well-Known Member

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    Guilty as charged. I tend to go through phases with historical periods - Napoleonic, WW2, U.S. Civil War, etc. However, for the last eight years or so I've been obsessed with the classical world. In particular, classical Greece and Persia.

    The funny thing is, when I started outlining my novel a few years ago, I went back and forth on whether to go straight historical fiction, or historical fantasy in the vein of Guy Gavriel Kay. In the end, I decided to go historical fantasy for a number of reasons (greater freedom, pushing the envelope on the supernatural, wider commercial appeal), but one of the biggest was a concern that I wouldn't be able to pull off historical fiction with the degree of authenticity that I expect as a reader. It would take years of research.

    Well, it turns out I have done years of research, to the point where I'm about as knowledgeable about the subject as you can be without studying it at the post-graduate level. Too late to change now, though.

    Agreed on Gemmel, but disagree strongly on Abercrombie. His books may be gritty, but there's very little historical authenticity or even coherence in his settings. He has iron age cultures cheek to jowl with late-renaissance cultures, the politics don't really make sense, the technology is all over the place, the military strategies are nonsensical, and, the thing that bugs me the most, his characters all talk like they're in a Tarantino movie set in WW2. To me, his books are pretty much Hollywood action movies with a fantasy skin.
     
  14. Elventine

    Elventine Trouble

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    Going back to the original question I think that what matters most is a realistic showing of the time period even if the people and events are fudged. At a look at The Merlin Codex or The Troy Series (David Gemmel) or Ancient Egypt series (Wilbur Smith) as example of novels that are set in times that are both well known and not so well known but the feel and people of the time work because of that authenticity to that period.

    Truthfully most people don't read historical - fiction or fantasy for their accurate detailing of historical events... we read them for fun, so as long as that feel and culture is right then I don't think that the moving of a few events or people are going to be an issue. Especially if you put a little disclaimer in the front of the book.
     
  15. svalbard

    svalbard Well-Known Member

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    You hit the nail on the head about Joe Abercrombie. Somehow, though, he manages to make it work. I have just started The Red Country and it has a distinctly Western feel to it at the moment.
     
  16. The Big Peat

    The Big Peat Well-Known Member

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    You just know Abercrombie can quote half of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly by heart.
     
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  17. WaylanderToo

    WaylanderToo Well-Known Member

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    Historical fiction - I've just re-watched (and LOVED!) Gladiator. Does that count?
     
  18. aThenian

    aThenian Well-Known Member

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    Me too. My historical fantasy is also based around the Ancient World - Ancient Greece, specifically Classical Athens. My other reasons for going with fantasy were a bit different from yours, though: I wasn't interested in introducing supernatural elements, but there were aspects of historical Athens I wanted to ditch - slavery and the extremely subordinate position of women being two of them.

    Am intrigued to think we are both working on what are probably very different reinterpretations of the Ancient World, and wondering if they will ever make it into print.
     
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  19. MWagner

    MWagner Well-Known Member

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    I'm intrigued! Keep me posted on your progress.

    My work in progress is loosely based on the Ionian revolt, an event largely neglected by historians and pop culture alike. The position of women in ancient Greece, especially Athens, is a tough one to address as a writer. My task is a little easier because Ionia was notably liberal in that respect, compared to mainland Greece. Still, I do present a culture where it's unusual for women to play a part in public life, and where choices of marriage and childbirth are rarely choices at all. I've tried to address those limitations by presently strong female characters who plausibly defy the norms of their culture.

    The slavery I've kept, though it's mostly in the background, and household slaves are referred to as servants. And there is nothing like the racial chattel slavery that is so politically sensitive with modern Americans. I even have a major character of high birth essentially reduced to the status of slave after his capture in war, though it's not a manacled in chains kind of slavery, but as an indentured household servant to another lord. That fluid nature of who is a slave and how and why is a cultural reality I definitely want to keep.
     
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  20. aThenian

    aThenian Well-Known Member

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    I'm not familiar with it - just googled in fact - but sounds fascinating. My inspiration is the Peloponnesian War - much more mainstream. Though with some significant differences!

    Yes, Athens is really tough - apart from a very few exceptions, like Aspasia, most women, at least in richer households, were pretty much confined to domestic life. Either you go with it, or you write about a different world.

    Yes, that reality that somebody can go from the highest pinnacle to the lowest subjugation is such an amazing aspect of the Ancient World. Like Homer's Trojan women - from royal princesses to slaves; like Phaedo - from being a free high born youth in Melos, to slavery in a brothel in Athens, to becoming a friend of Socrates; like the Athenian aristocrats who fought at Syracuse and ended up in slavery in the quarries... A gift for a writer!

    How far along are you with your book?
     
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