Pat Rice checking in:
I’m still pondering last week’s discussions on why we choose certain historical eras and settings over others. As usual, the comments were quite enlightening, and I’m thoroughly enjoying this opportunity to pick the brains of our readers—especially since there are days when I’m quite certain my brain is made of limburger.
I think it was our littlest wenchling who mentioned that historicals struck her as fairy tales of the Disney variety, and I think there’s a lot of truth to that. We want those vivid images of our childhoods, the twirling ball gowns and glass slippers and justice (or the ugly duckling) prevailing at the end. And we want it all wrapped up in a pretty bow.
This theory would certainly explain why we can’t abide the dust of westerns or the perceived lack of cleanliness in medievals. But it certainly makes life difficult for a writer of historicals to get the details right! My heroines are much more likely to be rural (and let’s face it, hundreds of years ago, most upper class families were wealthy because they owned LAND) and falling in hog swill or mucking stalls than dancing at balls in the latest fashion. I can dress them up like Barbies, but if they’re going to be interesting to me, they need to DO something besides flirt and hunt for a husband.
I think this is where historicals meet fantasy. Once upon a time, readers gobbled up anything writers produced in the way of sexy historical romance, but now we’ve become jaded. We don’t want to read the gloomy stuff anymore, not after we’ve learned that escapism is even more fun when it’s all glamour and wit. But it’s really tough to write real history or even good conflict if everyone is rich and having a good time.
So, if we can’t write about bloody revolutions and civil wars or slums or even latrines in romance anymore, then what’s a writer to do? Write about evil magic, of course! Or superheroes or Glynda, the Good Witch. But with real history. That way, everyone knows it’s safe to read about a bloody war because it’s not a REAL bloody war. It’s one with ribbons and bows on.
A story needs some kind of conflict, some kind of battle to be won, to make it interesting. And if the protagonists can’t fight poverty or real wars or slumlords, then why not have them fighting imaginary—or metaphorical—evils? And doing so within the context of history, because that’s as distant and fascinating as any fantasy world that we can conjure.
Does this make any sense? Or is my brain so much limburger today?