"There was no better way to understand life than to live it—if not through your own life, then through another’s."
I recently read this quote in a Ted Dekker book. This, to me, says it well. I have long been fascinated by people, personalities, and human nature, how and why people interact, and how they live the lives they are given. History and fiction are two great ways to watch these things in action, and combining them makes it even better.
I find history fascinating now. It’s a bit like fiction coming to life, hearing wonderful stories of dramatic events and powerful characters, and knowing it’s all real. Unfortunately, many people—including me—found history a dull collection of facts and dates in school. Even in college, I remember only one professor who really pushed beyond the facts to see the humanity and personalities of the historical actors. And this, to me, is the beauty of historical fiction: it brings history to life. Few people are interested in facts and dates. Most people are interested in stories, fascinating people, and great adventures, and these elements are common to both history and fiction.
A typical history class says: Robert Bruce led the Scottish troops against the English at
on the 23rd and 24th of June, 1314. Do you care? Will you remember the name, battle, or date in two hours, let alone two years? Bannockburn
Instead, add sights, sounds, emotions, smells—these bring the man to life, as he should be, as he was, not as a dry fact. Put yourself in Bruce’s place on the hot, summer day of June 23, 1314: in the last 10 years, you have gone from your own noble castles, high status, and royal positions under Edward Longshanks, king of England, to hunted fugitive-king living in the wilderness; from fugitive to guerrilla fighter casting off the traditions of ‘chivalrous’ warfare which certainly would have cost your life and those of your friends and countrymen. You have lived hard and fought hard, and spent years trying to calm the brash hand of your own brother, who has now forced you into the one thing you rigorously avoided—pitched battle against a much greater army. Your wife, daughter, and sister are all imprisoned in
. You have not seen them in years, and they may die as a result of your actions today. How do you feel so far? England
Now, feel the weight of your chain mail, and the heat of the sun blistering through it. Feel the sweat dripping down your back. Look at your men, few in number and ill-equipped compared to the coming behemoth; your close friends who may die: Clansmen from the Highlands and lowlands; Angus Og, Lord of the Isles, with his Islemen in their saffron tunics, who have fought so loyally on their galleys in the western Isles; James Douglas, soft spoken and gentle with his friends, but known to the English these last 8 years as a bogeyman with whom to frighten their children.
Look out across the land you have chosen for battle. Its narrow entrance and spit of dry land will limit Edward II’s ability to throw the whole weight of his great army against you. The marshy ground will slow the fearsome charge of
’s mighty warhorses—against which you have only ponies. You arrived early; you prepared the ground well with murder pits and four-pointed caltrops. You have spent weeks drilling your men to fight in schiltrons—circles of hundreds of spears all pointing outward—that will allow your foot soldiers to take on mounted cavalry. You have carried the relics of England 's greatest saints and implored their prayers to God on your behalf. You have done everything you can to even the odds against an army three, even four times the size of your own. Scotland
But will it be enough?
What is Robert Bruce feeling as the midsummer sun beats down on his chain mail? Is he thinking of the men behind him, the army before him, his wife and daughter far away, whether he’ll be alive or dead tomorrow? This is a real man. He hurt and bled like any of us; he felt love and fear like any of us. What would you do in his place? What would you say to the men waiting behind you, willing to die at your side, on your word? What does Bruce say?
The sights, sounds, smells, and emotions of real stories: they help us to experience it as it was, and to learn from it, in a way we don't learn from a list of facts.
It was through historical fiction that I first began to understand and appreciate history, to discover the exciting stories in it, and learn something about the way the world and people work, from those who have gone before. It is through the human faces and emotions that I best continue to understand history. This is why I also love to write historical fiction. As a writer, I go even deeper, digging into the layers of causes, reasons, personalities, and how the smallest actions lead to defining moments, to change the course of nations and lives.
When we learn these things, we become wiser, and live our lives better, and that, to me, is the fascination of historical fiction.
Laura Vosika grew up in the military, visiting castles in England, pig fests in Germany, and the historic sites of
She earned a degree in music, and worked for many years as a freelance musician, music teacher, band director, and instructor in private music lessons on harp, piano, winds, and brass.
Laura is the mother of 7 boys and 2 girls, and lives in
Her latest book is Blue Bells of Scotland: The Trilogy book 1.
Come back tomorrow for my review of Blue Bells of Scotland
You can visit her website at www.bluebellstrilogy.com.
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