In terms of my own academic fields, there are some great strides being made in addressing the lack of research on the effects of African thought on Christian theology. Some great works here include by Thomas Oden and Justo Gonzalez’s two volume history of Christianity also emphasizes the benefits of Africa upon this religion.
It’s actually very difficult to separate the historical fiction from what is generally considered the fundament of realist fiction, or whatever fiction mode it takes as its fundament. The widely-acknowledged first work of what we call the modern novel described as a novel, Don Quixote, was about a character who read to much historical fiction, hearkening back to a different time. The character of Don Quixote, himself, became so enamored of the past that he invented his life into a historical re-enactment. He was perhaps the original member of the society of creative anachronism.
Great post. I greatly appreciate the points you bring up here.
Speaking of whitewashing, the great absence of historical fictions that are only recently being addressed by working authors involve the world where most people are not white. Take Africa, as an example: For centuries empires rose and fell immune to the influences of Europeans. So much of what happened to shape the modern world happened in Africa in cultures and communities that most of my countrymen couldn’t find on a map. Timbuktu was the cradle of science and culture for hundreds of years. The great Christian thinkers that have gone on to shape all Christian theology take as their foundation stone an African, St. Augustine of Hippo. Things that we take for granted, now, like wheat and coffee and cotton, were cultivated and developed by brilliant African farmers for thousands of years and we reap the bounty of their genetic breeding efforts. There is plenty of work being done on ancient Egypt, but once Greece and Rome rise in the world, the story of Africa is hard to find. This is true of everywhere in the world where the Colonial story is the dominant one in history books and fictions.
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Even such Ur-texts as The Illiad, The Odessey, and The Epic of Gilgamesh seem to be acts of historical invention in their own time. Telling the story of “where we came from” is one of the fundamental stories that drives narrative forms, because it seems to speak to where we ought to go, and who we ought to be. The past tense is a standard mode. Nearly all fiction is driven by a sense of the past, hopefully one that bridges to a future.
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An author that embodies this is a fantasy author, but he is as close to a historical fictionist as it is possible to be, while still being solidly a fantasist. Guy Gavriel Kay writes meticulously researched historical fantasies that use the tools of the fantasist to make beliefs and folktales and miraculous wonders physically present inside the history books, and to hide our own prejudgments about terms and cultures behind a veil of the unreal. Thus, no one is allowed to look down upon these historical figures as believers in foolishness when the shambling mound appears and the warhammer is sacrificed to appease the spirit of the old forest. The magical beliefs are physically present. And, when that forest of magic is pushed back over time, becoming a quotidian place more resonant of modern life, the reader physically feels the shift in known reality that emerged in human consciousness out of the beliefs of the old world passing away. (This was in The Last Light of the Sun, by the way, which was an excellent look at the Norman raids of England, and the rise of the culture of mounted knight.)
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One of my favorite writers of historical fiction often wrote specifically about his island nation among the volcanoes and the ice. Haldor Laxness won a Nobel Prize for his astonishing fictions, that take as a backdrop life among the shepherds and peasants of historical Iceland. Two books that stand out as potentially very interesting to readers and writers of genre fiction are Iceland’s Bell, a dark comedy and pastoral story about a wife-beating shepherd, a beautiful, elfin woman, and the pages of books that were stuffed in the shoes and the walls of the starving common folk. The sheperd’s peripatetic comic pastoral becomes this far-ranging journey across Europe in a period of time where the modern world isn’t even close to coming together, and could fall apart at any moment, and the identity of a people is being lost to poverty and indifference. Another amazing work by Laxness that contains multitudes is Independent People, that begins with the curse of a witch and ends with the curse of a witch, and in between a stoic shepherd pushes back against the brutal elements with his own sense of right and wrong, a morality that consumes his family and his future worse than the witch’s curse. These tales are structured like Icelandic epics mashed with modern novels. They carry a past and a future simultaneously, a history of Iceland and an argument about what the little island nation had better learn before its too late – what all of us had better learn about love and interdependence and a darkly comic cosmic indifference.