As soon as a back cover reads “Set in France in the time of…” I am completely hooked.
What is it about historical fiction that draws me in so deeply?
Here’s a formula for a book that Mandi is 100% likely to read:
Set in the past, in an exotic-sounding place, and involving some sort of drama.
Thinking about this today, I realized that of those three criteria, the first is undeniably the most important. I am far less likely to read any combination of qualifiers that doesn’t include that particular detail.
My favorite drool-worthy stories have taken place in medieval Scotland, 1700s India, and practically ANYWHERE during the industrial age.
This makes me wonder if I really do yearn for another time, another place, another world.
Growing up, my very favorite series involved interesting tidbits from history. I adored the “Dear America” series, “The Royal Diaries,” all of the “American Girl” books, and countless others that transported me through time.
I have always held a fascination with fairy tales taking place centuries ago… and somehow, their modern-day interpretations never satisfy quite so well.
People often scoff when I mention the sentiment that “I feel as though I were born in the wrong time period.” They insist that I would not enjoy my idealized version of those times any more than I enjoy today. That I would soon regret the loss of rights, technological options, and choices that I am used to.
Something in me doesn’t really believe them.
It may be arrogance, or at the very least over-confidence, to assert that I believe I would survive perfectly well anywhere(when?) I found myself.
I would make it work. I would work within the system. I would fight my battles, and I would win some and lose some. Just like today.
And, also like today, I would not settle for a situation less than I was capable of attaining… whatever that happened to mean.
I do idealize the past, and for good reason.
Today’s world is fraught with strife. We are bombarded with murder, scandal, and injustice at every single turn. What’s worse, we are made overly-aware of these events due to our inescapable media and technological dependence.
2016 might be no more or less violent than 1916 or 1816, but somehow our global awareness makes today’s violence unbearably overwhelming.
This month’s high-profile events alone run the gamut of human indecency: murder of innocent black men, retaliation against innocent police officers, mass killing in Nice, a military takeover in Turkey… the list goes on.
In 1816, the global death toll might not have been any lower this month. But I can definitely assert that I wouldn’t know about it.
Ignorance is bliss. Truly.
What is the value of seeing the injustice around the world, every single day, and knowing that no matter how much money or access you possess you can’t POSSIBLY make a difference in all situations?
What can we gain from “being informed” of every single shooting, murder, terrorist attack, or genocide, when there is no possible way for us to change these things?
These hypothetical thoughts plague me. The arguments against are clear and obvious. This does not stop me from feeling discouraged and deeply sad.
If I can’t stop the killing, if I can’t end racism, if I can’t free the oppressed, and if NOTHING I can personally do will make a conceivable difference to global victims of injustice in these situations, maybe I’d prefer to only be aware of the things that I DO have control over.
Maybe I want to know about the injustices that CAN be stopped.
Maybe I’d rather hear solutions.
Maybe I’m just overly disheartened by all the carnage and should give up this existential crisis, keep avoiding the news, and continue to live my life.
A little part of me is sad that the last option is an impossibility.
Knowing these things, it is hardly remarkable that I would rather read a novel about the holocaust than read the front page of the New York Times.
I would rather learn about medieval serfdom, the brutalities of slavery, the gender constraints of 1700s China, or practically ANYTHING other than the current events over which I am powerless.
Historical fiction is my escape.
Until I can figure out a better way to make the world a bearable place to live in– other than donating to the Red Cross, advocating in my personal life for cultural tolerance, and supporting human rights causes with my voice– that will have to suffice.
Those actions are great, and praise-worthy on social media and in the public eye.
But I’m not saving the world here, and I REALLY wish I could.
Since I can’t, I’ll stick to my fairy tales.
“The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” ― L.P. Hartley