Thursday, November 8, 2012

Fact or Fiction?

“If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.”
― Rudyard Kipling

"Storytellers show you not only the trees in the forest, but the leaves on the trees." --Unknown


Everyone loves a good story. Toddlers, cool kids, adults. Paint a picture with your words, the who, what, where, how, when and why, and you will have hooked yourself an audience.

If you've ever watched a crowd listening to a speaker you can see them mentally checking out, until the speaker inserts a story, and everyone tunes back in, with ears perked up. The story ends, attention ebbs, until another story is launched. And the cycle repeats itself.

What is so intriguing about a story? It is taking bare bones, black and white facts, and inserting life and color into those facts. Stories engage their audience.

Which is why I am a huge fan of historical fiction. I learn me some facts, but I have gripping stories to connect with those facts. Real flesh and blood humans. And the story sticks with me.

Which is the subject Ms. Gregory takes up in the introduction of her joint work of essays The Women of the Cousin's War.

What is fact? What is fiction? What is historical? What is imagination?

In the historical retelling of events and the fictional retelling of events, that line between history and imagination is often smudged and grey. And why is that?

Well, it makes a better story. Authors and historians can say with accuracy quite often who did what, where, when. Sometimes the how is even clear.

But the why, the motive, is often left to speculation. Historical records aren't always clear cut on these things. Or there are gaps in the records. 

For instance, woman have conveniently been left out of most historical records, saving for brief mention. Women weren't considered important or they were considered to be moving out of their sphere if they dabbled in "historical" events. So, they just weren't mentioned.

Ms. Gregory's point in her introduction, is that if we don't look at history in black and white, but in color and by connecting the dots, we get a much fuller and accurate picture of history. Maybe you won't read pages and pages of records on any of the women in the Cousin's War, but you'd better believe they were all strong women, all working behind the scenes in history.

good reads, all

Margaret of Anjou had the nickname Wolf Queen. Not terribly flattering. She was the French wife of insane Henry VI. England is coming off almost 100 years of war with France, and here a French lady is ruling their country because her husband regularly checked out mentally. He went into a comatose state and wouldn't function for months. This joint woman/French thing was what the Earl of Warwick, Richard Neville, capitalized on to get rid of the Lancasters and reinstate the House of York.

Elizabeth Woodville was a commoner who married Edward the IV. The people of England widely and superstitiously believed she was a witch. She was a beauty, but even her beauty alone couldn't have convinced King Edward to give up a solid political marriage alliance to marry a commoner. She must have bewitched him. As she moved her family of commoners into high positions in England, she set off a whole series of events that led to the conclusion of the Cousin's War, her brother in law reigning for 2 years, her sons being killed in the Tower of London, and her daughter marrying Henry VII. 

These were women-married to rival kings. They were rivals. Historical fact is slim on them, but based on knowledge of the times, of the places, of the people, we can surmise quite a bit about them.

Morning snuggles (embrace the camera)

And that is what historical fiction does. It is what story telling does. It fills in the gaps with reasonable surmises. It colors in the outline, making a beautiful picture. It doesn't have a bibliography a foot long, but it leaves its audience feeling like that could definitely be the way it happened.

Story telling gives the characters heart. And by giving them heart, it allows us to empathize with them. 

What's your favorite story? Or favorite book of historical fiction? Why?