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Historical accuracy in historical fiction


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38 replies to this topic

#1 Ouroboros

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Posted 20 June 2014 - 12:41 AM

What is the bar for you? What level of embellishment is acceptable?

 

I keep seeing Simon Scarrow books everywhere, and have been tempted to pick them up but I don't particularly care to waste money on books that will just annoy me.

 

Do any of you have any historical fiction authors you swear by? Other than Bernard Cornwall anyway.



#2 Roose Boltons Pet Leech

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Posted 20 June 2014 - 12:54 AM

Do any of you have any historical fiction authors you swear by? Other than Bernard Cornwall anyway.

 

Mika Waltari, Robert Graves, and George MacDonald Fraser.

 

The analogy I would use is science-fiction: writing a scientifically or historically accurate story is not necessarily the same as writing a good story, and vice versa. It's certainly nice to encounter an author who has Done the Research, but it isn't essential if it's artistic licence in the name of a good story. On the other hand, if it's just a sloppy error that could easily have been corrected, and can't be justified on a story basis, that's just annoying.

 

(An example of a sloppy error, even in the likes of Cornwall: his first Saxon book has a Viking leader dressed in black. Northern and Western Europe didn't have black dye at that time). 


Edited by Seņor Bolton's Latin Leech, 20 June 2014 - 12:55 AM.


#3 James Arryn

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Posted 20 June 2014 - 01:07 AM

Patrick O'Brian, GM Fraser, Dorothy Dunnett, Bernard Cornwell, and Sharon Kay Penman, are all varying degrees of well researched, off the top of my head.

Edited by Don Diego d'Arrynos, 20 June 2014 - 01:08 AM.


#4 James Arryn

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Posted 20 June 2014 - 01:14 AM

Mika Waltari, Robert Graves, and George MacDonald Fraser.
 
The analogy I would use is science-fiction: writing a scientifically or historically accurate story is not necessarily the same as writing a good story, and vice versa. It's certainly nice to encounter an author who has Done the Research, but it isn't essential if it's artistic licence in the name of a good story. On the other hand, if it's just a sloppy error that could easily have been corrected, and can't be justified on a story basis, that's just annoying.
 
(An example of a sloppy error, even in the likes of Cornwall: his first Saxon book has a Viking leader dressed in black. Northern and Western Europe didn't have black dye at that time).


Good call on Graves. How did I forget him? Another thought: Eco's my favourite author, and there is no denying the density of his knowledge, but I'm not sure he cares too much about accuracy.

#5 Mentat

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Posted 20 June 2014 - 02:06 AM

What is the bar for you? What level of embellishment is acceptable?

 

I keep seeing Simon Scarrow books everywhere, and have been tempted to pick them up but I don't particularly care to waste money on books that will just annoy me.

 

Do any of you have any historical fiction authors you swear by? Other than Bernard Cornwall anyway.

 

What's so wrong with Scarrow? My father lent me the first three books of his Cato series and they're perfectly entertaining, and from what little I know about history at least vaguely historical.

 

I'm normally not well versed enough in history to recognize anything but the more major alterations, so most of them go over my head, anyway.

 

I do enjoy when authors have an afterword about the sources they use and what alterations they purposefully introduced or what events we simply don't know about because the sources aren't contemporary to the history or because some classic historical treaty or document explaining it all has been lost to the times. I seem to remember Colleen McCullough (who is an author who seems to put a lot of research into her historical fiction) change something in one of her books (the order in which two very minor but documented events happened, or something like that) and then went on to explain for five pages in the afterword what she had changed, what sources indicated that this was in fact unhistorical and what narrative reasons had led her to do it. I though that was pretty cool.



#6 Ouroboros

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Posted 20 June 2014 - 02:49 AM

 

What's so wrong with Scarrow? My father lent me the first three books of his Cato series and they're perfectly entertaining, and from what little I know about history at least vaguely historical.

Nothing really, I just don't know enough about the 'quality' of his books to be willing to put money down on one of his books.

 

It doesn't help that Conn Igulden and he are often placed next to and compared to each other. Conn Iggulden is pretty bad on the 'historical accuracy' front.



#7 James Arryn

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Posted 20 June 2014 - 02:54 AM

Nothing really, I just don't know enough about the 'quality' of his books to be willing to put money down on one of his books.
 
It doesn't help that Conn Igulden and he are often placed next to and compared to each other. Conn Iggulden is pretty bad on the 'historical accuracy' front.


Lol, pretty bad is generous.

#8 lacuna

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Posted 20 June 2014 - 03:02 AM

[...]

(An example of a sloppy error, even in the likes of Cornwall: his first Saxon book has a Viking leader dressed in black. Northern and Western Europe didn't have black dye at that time). 

 

 

I haven't read Cornwall, or know much about early production of clothing, but do black sheep not give black wool?



#9 Roose Boltons Pet Leech

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Posted 20 June 2014 - 03:25 AM

 

 

I haven't read Cornwall, or know much about early production of clothing, but do black sheep not give black wool?

 

Black sheep wool is dark brown.

 

Before the New World opened up, the standard way to get black was repeated dying of cloth with dark colours. It was a time consuming and expensive process, and would have been unknown in ninth century England. 



#10 Night's_King

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Posted 20 June 2014 - 03:28 AM

I guess my view is different than everyone else (I love the emperor series for example). Although I'm a huge history buff, I don't really care for the accuracy of historical fiction. It's called fiction for a reason. If I want accuracy, I read history books.

I love Scarrows Revolution Quartet, which is rather accurate. (Scarrow teaches history).

#11 lacuna

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Posted 20 June 2014 - 03:56 AM

 

Black sheep wool is dark brown.

 

Before the New World opened up, the standard way to get black was repeated dying of cloth with dark colours. It was a time consuming and expensive process, and would have been unknown in ninth century England. 

 

Good to know, thanks :)



#12 James Arryn

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Posted 20 June 2014 - 04:00 AM

I guess my view is different than everyone else (I love the emperor series for example). Although I'm a huge history buff, I don't really care for the accuracy of historical fiction. It's called fiction for a reason. If I want accuracy, I read history books.
I love Scarrows Revolution Quartet, which is rather accurate. (Scarrow teaches history).


I liked the first book of his Mongol series, but it went downhill after that...maybe 2 books, I forget.

His Roman series...it was just so far fetched I couldn't get into it, and I love anything about the late Republic/Early Empire. Someone mentioned McCullough. I find her to generally be pretty much fluff, but I'll still read them. But Iggullen....maybe I'll give it another go at some point.

#13 James Arryn

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Posted 20 June 2014 - 04:01 AM

I haven't read Cornwall, or know much about early production of clothing, but do black sheep not give black wool?


You must read Cornwell. Now. Tonight. Before you go to bed. Before you finish reading this post. Go. Run. Read.

#14 lacuna

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Posted 20 June 2014 - 05:42 AM

You must read Cornwell. Now. Tonight. Before you go to bed. Before you finish reading this post. Go. Run. Read.

 

The best I can do is put it on the list. But thanks!



#15 mgambino

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Posted 20 June 2014 - 06:12 AM

Scarrow is the real deal, not like Igulden. He isn't quite up there with Penman, but who is?



#16 Mark Antony

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Posted 20 June 2014 - 10:58 AM

Colleen McCullough, Sharon Kay Penman, Hilary Mantel, Gore Vidal. Cornwell, Graves, etc. Some of my favorites. Most of them I was recommended to by this board :) all of them seemed to be pretty well researched. I think McCullough and Penman seemed the most thorough.

Mary Renault, Dunnet and Druon are next for me.

Edited by Shaq, 20 June 2014 - 11:00 AM.


#17 SeanF

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Posted 20 June 2014 - 02:08 PM

 
(An example of a sloppy error, even in the likes of Cornwall: his first Saxon book has a Viking leader dressed in black. Northern and Western Europe didn't have black dye at that time).


That's impressive. I doubt if one person in a thousand knew that (I didn't),

#18 SeanF

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Posted 20 June 2014 - 02:14 PM

I dislike it when writers completely disregard the history (eg Conn Iggulden's Roman novels).

One has to tread a narrow line between, being true to the time and place, while still being accessible to the modern reader. George Macdonald Fraser, C S Forester, Bernard Cornwell, Robert Graves, Mary Renault, Robert Harris, Harry Sidebottom, Sharon Kay Penman, manage it.

#19 Darth Richard II

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Posted 20 June 2014 - 02:55 PM

Yes see, it is fiction, but its HISTORICAL fiction. It's called that for a reason, for fucks sake.

 

My opinion on Conn Igulden is pretty well known, but the short version: He sucks ass. Ceaser and Brutus grow up on a farm and have zany adventures? What the fuck? That's alt history/sci fi right there.



#20 lady narcissa

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Posted 20 June 2014 - 03:12 PM

If a book is being presented as "historical fiction" then I pretty much want accurate history that might or might not have fictional characters in it. If they are fictional characters I don't mind if they witness or participate in well known historical events just so long as they aren't credited with doing something someone else was known to have done. If they are real characters I don't want them saying or doing anything that we know they didn't really do. But I don't mind an author guessing at portions of their lives that are unknown so long as its based on what is known.

I guess I am pretty picky, I once gave up on an author because they had their character walking down a street in London that didn't exist at the time the story took place.

If an author wants to set a book in a historical period but ultimately disregard history for the sake of their story, then it's "fiction" not "historical fiction". Philippa Gregory is the perfect example of an author whose books about real historical people are "fiction" not "historical fiction". (ETA: I'm not recommending her books.)

Edited by lady narcissa, 20 June 2014 - 03:12 PM.