My young readers love fantasy and they often ask: “Why don’t YOU write fantasy?” My response is that history is my fantasy. As an historian I am fully aware that however much I seek authenticity, the past is unknowable.
One of the most famous quotes about history comes from a novelist, and not an historian. L.P. Hartley started one of his books with the words: “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” I fully agree. I do extensive research and I have studied history all of my adult life, and yet the past remains illusive. Part of history’s appeal is this quest to understand how people did things differently.
Another part of its appeal is that in its long record, I keep finding fantastic stuff. In my forthcoming novel, THE VISCOUNT’S DAUGHTER based on a real 12th-century heroine, a young heiress escaped an unhappy marriage and waged war against her husband. I’ve heard of a lot of unhappy marriages; few end in war.
And what could be any more fascinating than an actual battle called the Battle of Old Men and Young Boys? I explored that in my kids’ book, ANYBODY’S HERO. Is there a person with soul so dead that such a conflict wouldn’t peak their interest?
And what could be more fantastic than the British casting slaves–to whom they had promised refuge–out between the lines during the Battle of Yorktown. How could I not try to capture this in my kids’ book BETWEEN THE LINES?
So I do not have to go to fantasy literature to get my fill of the bizarre, unusual, and unexpected. Sometimes, I’m bothered by the appropriation of medieval garb, weaponry, and settings for novels and movies that have no basis in fact. And yet, I fully understand the continuing appeal of the medieval world.
One of the reasons this blog is called the grace of iron clothing is because I am aware of, and enjoy, the Miniver Cheevy in all of us. On those days when I grow impatient with fantasy’s preemption of the medieval world. I’m reminded that in the medieval world, fantasy had a great appeal. I immediately think of BEOWULF, SIR GOWAN AND THE GREEN KNIGHT, and of course all tales of King Arthur. Wouldn’t be be much poorer without Grendel, The Green Knight, and Merlin?