At the Black Gate

After reading through the various responses to my post two weeks ago, some of which were insightful and intelligent, others perhaps a little less so, I found myself concluding that I had probably gone a little too far in the process of defending historical authenticity against Daniel Abraham’s charge that it is not an effective defense against charges of insufficient strong women, excessive white people, or a surfeit of sexual violence. Upon further reflection, I don’t think it is correct to conclude that a work of fantasy will necessarily be improved by additional historical authenticity. Would The Chronicles of Narnia be improved by religious schism or removing the historically ludicrous notion of four siblings ruling simultaneously? No, I can’t honestly say it would. Would Abraham’s own The Long Price Quartet be improved by making the imperial Asian culture utilize a historically authentic kanji/hànzì system of writing that would be all but unintelligible to the various warlike Caucasian surrounding it? No, I don’t think so.

On the other hand, I still think Abraham goes too far in dismissing the importance of historical authenticity with regards to works that are billed on the basis of, as he says, their ability to “show medieval life the way that (we’re pretending for the sake of argument) it really was.” It is highly probable that George R.R. Martin wouldn’t have gone so far off the rails with his most recent two books in A Song of Ice and Fire had he stuck a little more closely to the historical Wars of the Roses and the violent struggle between York (Stark) and Lancaster (Lannister). Historical authenticity does not require that every fantasy novel concern itself with the life and times of Peasant John and his epic battle to save his diarrhea-stricken pig, after all, only that the author make a reasonable attempt to either a) get things reasonably correct, or b) provide the reader with some modicum of a rationale for departing from the realm of historical fact and plausibility.

Read the rest at the Black Gate.