I read two kinds of historical fiction, and I’m thinking you do, too. There’s …
These novels are historical because they were written way back in, well, history. Those would include Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen writing about 1800s England) and Uncle Tom’s Cabin (Harriet Beecher Stowe writing about 1860s America). And then there’s …
That’s where our blog writers come in: The writer researches some period in the past and sets her story there.
So why bother reading about times gone by when there’s so much going on right here and now? Here are my Top Three reasons:
Reason #3 They’re (Ugh) Educational
It sounds like a tedious, teachery reason, but actually, it isn’t. I read to be transported to somewhere completely different from my own experience. What could be more different than another time? I can never go to medieval England. The only way to capture that past is through someone else’s eyes. When I read about a character’s life, I taste the eel pasty, I feel the corset’s pinch, I smell the musket’s powder. It’s visceral. Suddenly I’m there, somewhere I would otherwise never get to go.
Reason #2 They Add Depth to My Experience
I live in the suburbs of Kansas City, a medium-size city in the American Midwest. Ho-hum. During my growing-up years, my home seemed so generic and vanilla that I escaped to New York City when I was twenty-two just to get a little more life into my life.
But a funny thing happened. While I was there, I read Pam Conrad’s novel Prairie Songs. Her descriptions of the quiet beauty of the prairie made me homesick. This place has history! My house sits on what was once a grassland prairie. One of the streets I drive down every day was part of the Santa Fe Trail. I’m spitting distance from a Civil War battlefield. Kansas City was once the home to gangsters and jazz greats. Reading about those people, or even characters who could’ve lived next door to them, makes me appreciate my roots. It’s the same reason that people named O’Malley who were born in New Jersey go to Ireland and kiss the Blarney Stone. Roots matter.
Reason #1 They’re Fantastic Stories
The past is a treasure trove for writers, and we readers reap the benefits. Imagine having a front-row seat to the Salem witch trials or being a chamber maid in the court of Henry VIII or eavesdropping as Elvis records “That’s All Right.” Every situation, every character, is so heavy with possibility because we know that what they do, what they did, created the world we live in today. That’s irresistible fiction.
SOME GREAT OLD-TIMEYS:
- Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (1860s America)
- Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens (Victorian London)
- Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery (Early 1900s Canada)
- The Secret Garden (1890s England)
SOME GREAT RESEARCHED HISTORICALS:
- Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan (pioneer America)
- The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak (World War II Germany)
- The Cheshire Cheese Cat (Victorian London)
- Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson (1790s America)
Claire M. Caterer is the author of The Key & the Flame, a fantasy set in an alternate version of medieval England. Look for it in April 2013 from Margaret K. McElderry Books / Simon & Schuster. Connect with Claire on her blog, Twitter, or Facebook page.