Saturday, April 04, 2009

Alternative History

Re Charles’ additions to the seven classic plot lines :  Sinus sufferer vs. foil wrapper is particularly horrifying, pervasive, and insidious.

Returning to our theme of how to mix reality with fiction, Vicki asked if it’s all right to put non-real events into real times and places.  Of course, that is done all the time.  I certainly do it.  The author has his fictional characters interact with historical figures or become caught up in historical events, like Charles Frazier did with Cold Mountain, or in  Markus Zusak’s Book Thief.  I could go on and on, and I’m sure you could as well, Dear Reader.

We screw around with reality, as well. (Quelle surprise!),  Vicki has murders happen where none actually occurred.  I decide that there should be a storm in Muskogee County, OK, on June 3, 1917.  I could easily discover what the weather on that day in that place was actually like, but why bother?  I’ve already decided that there’s going to be a storm in my fictional world whether or not  there was one in the real world.  Over my little universe-of-the-page, I am God Herself.

In fact, the authors of some novels change major historical events to suit themselves.  This is called “alternative history”, and I love it.  I am quite intrigued by how the past can be reconfigured by an imaginative writer.  Have you ever read Fatherland, by Robert Harris? What if the Nazis had won WWII?  Philip Roth’s Plot Against America is another popular alternative history.  I also liked Robert Silverberg’s  Roma Eterna.  It’s actually a collection of short stories, but they all posit the idea that the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt didn’t go as planned, and Christianity never became the dominant religion of Rome.

I’d love to write an alternative history, some time.  But rather than change the outcome of world events, I think I might alter the past on a much more personal level.  What if the circumstances of my birth had been exactly the same, but I had been a boy instead of a girl?  What sort of life would I have lived?  I am the perfect age for the Viet Nam draft. How would that have played out?  

Now that I think about it, I actually do write alternative history, of a sort.  In reality, I’m a childless, over-educated, ex-professional, left-leaner, who, through her series protagonist, gets to experience the life of a traditional farm wife and mother of ten children.