Let's Talk Bookish: Pros and Cons of Historical Fiction


As it was «Choose your own adventure» this week in terms of Let’s Talk Bookish hosted by Book Nook Bits, I decided writing about the pros and cons of historical fiction.

Now, before I dive in, I just wanted to point out that I have indeed read a few historical novels over the years, in addition to having a minor in history when I obtained my Bachelor’s degree at university (majored in English), so my opinions is of course influenced a wee bit by these facts.

While I do find historical fiction entertaining at times, the genre is not without fault. While it’s obviously fiction (just to quote Homer Simpson, “duh!”), it would be nice if a lot of the authors bothered to be a bit more historically accurate, especially considering that those of us who have enough knowledge about history to spot the inaccuracies. Let’s face it, if an author states World War II ended in 1983 (and the editor didn’t notice the mistake), there’s a chance some of us will have a proper facepalm moment as readers, just saying. Fair enough, there is a few books by authors that’s as historically accurate as one can get in terms of historical fiction, “A Pair of Silver Wings” by James Holland is one of those cases (as he’s an historian, he would shoot himself in the foot metaphorically if he didn’t do the job properly, so there’s that).

Speaking of World War II and historical fiction, a thing that’s been bothering me a bit, is the at times excessive use of Auschwitz and other camps as a setting. Don’t get me wrong, what happened at places like Auschwitz deserve attention, but instead of writing a love story and/or look at it with rose-tinted glasses as a few fiction writers have done and create a fictional story, I think the factual stories of what happened in such camps deserve a lot more attention instead of “just” being statistics of how many Jews and other “unwanted” people died there. I might sound cold-hearted for saying this, but among those 6 million Jews, in addition to all the other “unwanted” people of the Third Reich, such as Roma, gays, schizophrenic, communists, etc, there’s plenty of actual stories to be told, so why fictionalise the hell out of the atrocities that happened and create fictional characters? And please don’t mention The Tattooist of Auschwitz, as it was evident the author was used to screenwriting and not prose (it was a book I struggled to read due to the not-quite-good prose).

By now, it might seem like I hate historical fiction, which I don’t, but in some cases, there’s room for improvement within the genre. While not all historical periods and topics are that easy to find accurate source material for, the Vikings included, but that’s an issue even the historians have, not only authors of historical fiction. Another thing is that historical fiction might even spark an interest to look up history non-fiction or watch documentaries about a topic or time period, at least it has happened to me, so it’s not like I’m dismissing the genre as a whole. The important thing is perhaps to take historical fiction for what it is, fiction, but of course, it’s important to keep the facts straight, regardless of what genre (genres such as fantasy and sci-fi has of course a bit more wiggle room).

That said, as I’m a bit picky, it just might be better if I stick to non-fiction about history, written by historians, as I know that they get their facts straight (there’s after all a thing about triple-checking what one write, and citing the sources properly and NOT using ye olde Wikipedia).

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