Historical Fiction: Entertaining or Confusing?

If it’s not obvious to you by now, we here at Literally, Darling love history. Our editors and writers might have slightly obsessive crushes on Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill. In addition to liking history, many of us like historical fiction: If you don’t believe me you need to check out our post of our “To Be Read” Piles.

So historical fiction is a genre defined by the telling of stories that take place in the past. That is the simplest definition, but to round it out, here is the definition from Wikipedia.

“The setting is drawn from history, and often contains historical persons. Writers of stories in this genre work to portray the manners and social conditions of the persons or time(s) presented in the story, with due attention paid to period detail and fidelity. Historical fiction is found in books, magazines, art, tv, film, theater, video games and other media.”

It would be easy to say that historical fiction is on the rise, but the truth is the cycles in what’s being published and what’s hot comes in and out of fashion every few years. Most agree that there is a upturn in historical fiction being published, but that could be an effect of what authors are writing, what people want to read, or a general upsurge in history-loving nerds. That being said, I have observed more of my friends reading this genre, a genre I have previously avoided in search of a good modern day love story or action plot. Recently I have found myself picking up books set in centuries past and loving them. While discussing with my sister, I realized that I’ve always loved these stories; I just forgot while I was being forced to read about medieval knights and romanticism in college.

Does anybody remember these books? The Royal Diaries Series: AnastasiaIn middle school, I devoured The Royal Diaries series and anything else relating to the Tudors. I loved them, but I never for a moment thought they were 100 percent accurate. I always assumed they were just stories about things that could have happened to princesses and queens. After all, who doesn’t love a good period piece with plenty of lords and ladies? “Downton Abbey,” anyone?

Recently there has been a bit of an argument (mostly with my dad and sister) about historical fiction and whether it confuses between reality and fantasy. My father claims that historical fiction is confusing, and the line between what happened and what was fictionalized is too blurry to distinguish. My sister and I claim that it is up to the reader to discover what information is real or false. People who read something from the fiction section expecting a history book obviously need the help of a store associate.

The new CW series “Reign” has been a new favorite of my sister and me… not really surprising to anyone who knows me (or follows me on Twitter). However, I was upset to read a review from the Hollywood Reporter. Among other things, the article said,

“What The CW is doing here (and Kane perpetuates with her take on teenage girls and their intelligence) is approaching television with the perspective that the target audience is profoundly idiotic. Young girls can’t be expected to pay attention to anyone who isn’t outlandishly good looking. They can’t live in a world where a character—even one based in history—is old. And to recreate the history of a woman who actually lived an incredible life would be too arduous a task. Better to have her pine over someone named Bash.”

One the one hand I agree that the CW and television in general is perpetuating an unrealistic idea of beauty, on the other I think that anyone going to the CW for an accurate representation of Mary, Queen of Scots life is pretty dumb already. This seems kinda like putting your kids in front of a Disney movie and expecting them to learn math from “The Little Mermaid,” which is good for so many other things, but not math. When I watch TV, I’m looking for well-rounded characters, not ugly or pretty people. One of the first things I did (while watching the “Reign” series premiere, in fact) was google Mary’s life to find out what was real and what was totally false. And let’s be real: Anyone who watches “Reign” and says they don’t like Bash is lying.

One of the best parts of the historical fiction genre is that we get to open a book and read about characters or places we know. For those of you who don’t like history very much, historical fiction gives us the opportunity to learn about something you would otherwise look over. I confess historical fiction isn’t for everyone I think it would be a sad place if we couldn’t imagine our favorite presidents as vampire hunters or reading the royal diaries of Cleopatra and Elizabeth.

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Do you read historical fiction? What are you favorite works? Tweet us @litdarling.

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