I have been reading non-fiction history books for fun for as long as I can remember. When I was in the lower portion of elementary school (it might have been as early as second grade, but no later than fourth) I took out a book on a Dakota (Sioux) Chieftan thirteen times in a row. Over the years I have learned that my propensity to read these things is rather unusual–even more so than the amount that I read is.
Even so, as a compulsive learner on the verge of entering a graduate program in history I feel myself also drawn to historical fiction; in an almost perverse manner I feel that this genre has a lot to add to the study of history, be it for someone simply for a glimpse of an event, a serious historian, or a teacher of new students.
I suppose that before I explain myself, I should qualify that statement. Most historical fiction is poorly written drivel that misleads, super-imposes the author’s morals and values onto the subject matter and may be entirely under-informed. The same may be said of actual historians.
I study history because I want to. I find it interesting and want others to experience the same enjoyment. I have stated my view of history here before and do not feel as though I should explain it all anew, but for this most critical aspect, historical fiction is invaluable. A well written historical fiction novel brings to life the events as they happen, bringing into focus the motives and characters of history. While not the same as what a historian does by reliving the past and making the investigation, this is similar and quite pleasantly fulfills the same niche in those people who have no interest in actually doing the investigation.
At this time I have begun designing five different classes and have completed one; three of these incorporate historical fiction novels, but with the explicit section of the course where the class looks towards what the author changed, why and were they valid.
Perhaps the metaphor that I am looking towards is that Historical Fiction is the television show to History’s life. For those so inclined history is preferable, but for many others, for whom life is another persuit, the show w – ill substitute well.
Good (or worthwhile) Historical Fiction – An incomplete list.
Lincoln – Gore Vidal
Creation – Gore Vidal
Julien – Gore Vidal
The Sunne In Splendour – Sharon Kay Penman
Here Be Dragons – Sharon Kay Penman
Andersonville – MAcKinlay Kantor
Killer Angels – Michael Shaara
Grail Quest, Saxon Chronicles and Arthur Series – Bernard Cornwell
Roma – Steven Saylor
The King Must Die – Mary Renault
The Praise Singer – Mary Renault
The Accursed Kings – Maurice Druon
The Gates of Fire – Steven Pressfield