Historical fiction?

As I have said before since I was fourteen and first read Skye O’Malley, Bertrice Small has been one of my favorite writers. It took me years to realize how accurately she portrayed history in her books. Among my other favorites is M. K. Hume and now Phillipa Gregory.

I had spent years avoiding Gregory’s books because of my own prejudice against best sellers. Then I got sick and binge-watched The Spanish Princess, The White Queen, and The White Princess. I noticed that they were based upon her books. I had already seen The Other Boleyn Girl but not been very impressed because of bad acting.

So, I decided to buy one of her books the next time I saw them in a charity shop. I did not expect much from a best seller. But I was very pleasantly surprised at the depth of meaning, character development, and historical accuracy of The Queen’s Fool.

But it was not until I picked up The Kingmaker’s Daughter that I truly appreciated Gregory’s skills as a writer. Why? Because in this book, she has taken a villain from another of her works and made her the heroine of this one. She has flipped the point of view.

The thing is…that is the nature of history itself.

We like to think of history as fact. And if all you consider is dates and places, you can. But beyond that, the moment that you begin to examine the whos and whys of it then the ground becomes far less solid. For the simple reason that people are complex.

The truth is that most people do not even understand their own motivations for the things they do, the decisions they make. Now complicate that with more than one person involved and the mix is confusing at best.

Think about family, say a family event, perhaps a certain history. You have the father, who may be worried about how much money they spent, the mother, who wants everything to be perfect, and the children, each with his or her own emotions and thoughts. Is it any wonder that decades later, looking back on that one day, no one can agree on what happened?

Now, make that a nation or nations, each with leaders, religions, and cultures their own. Both likely believe that theirs is the right way.

We have heard the saying ‘the victors write history.’ And that is true. But even when they do, it is often not accurate. They too often write what they want people to know not what actually happened and why.

Of course, none of this would be a problem, whether it was our family or world history, except for the fact that our human brains want to operate in absolutes. We want to see patterns. We need black and white, good and evil, right and wrong.

What Gregory touches on by switching points of view is that in any situation, it is not that simple. The good guys are not pure. They are flawed, sometimes as deeply as the bad/losers.

Even to say that there are always two sides to the story is overly simplistic. Usually, there are many, many sides to a story. All of them subjective.

But when our brains look at complex issues and trying to create patterns and absolutes where there are none, well, that is a huge portion of what is wrong in our world today.

I got into a Twitter disagreement along these lines yesterday. Someone asked what an unusual American was. Now I try desperately to avoid such things. That is why I left Facebook. But this response from someone whose Twitter name placed them in the UK made me see red…

One who has a passport, has been travelling, reads novels from non-American authors, watches movies with subtitles

Having lived in the UK for over a decade, I have often been the victim of such prejudice. As I pointed out in my response…

The fallacy here is that there is a ‘usual’ American.

Or that America is one place. She is many. The South is vastly different from California. Texas is nothing like New York.

When we simplify any country or race, we become the very thing we need to be most wary of.

That was the most loved response in the thread.

If we want to become better writers and human beings, if we want to leave this world a better place for our children, hell, if we want our grandchildren to have a planet at all, we need to start thinking more deeply. We have, to like Gregory has, see that there are no true heroes and villains, just self-motivated people.

History is not absolute. And elections, be they British or American or a tiny tribe of indigenous peoples in the Amazon, cannot be reduced to party lines.

I am reminded of a quote attributed to Albert Einstein:

We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.

And before that can be enacted on a global or national scale we must embody its wisdom on a personal one. We must learn to examine why we do stupid things…like get involved in Twitter arguments with what otherwise might be good people who are absolutely, positively convinced that their narrow-minded and prejudiced view is the right one.

And we have to learn to admit that we did it out of the same hurt that has been inflicted upon us for over a decade by people like that. Then we have to rise above it and see that not all Brits or all people are like that.

That is not easy. As Jesus is credited with saying in the christian bible (Matthew 7):

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

“Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.

I may have outgrown my need for absolutes that kept me tied to that faith for the first three and a half decades of my life, and I have most definitely come to separate the wisdom accredited to this Jesus guy from the atrocities that have been done in his name for over two millennia by a religion that does not follow his teachings. But there ain’t much that the dude is said to have taught that I can find fault with. This included.

I should have known better and done better. Social media is swine haven. And casting pearls of wisdom in a couple hundred characters is not wise at all. Oh, well, I am as flawed as the next person.

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