This post came to me when I was thinking about films for a previous post. I came to the conclusion that yes we can ‘do history’ by watching films and this leads to my next question, can we ‘do history’ by reading historical novels?
First a little bit about me. I am dyslexic and I find reading difficult. you might think I have picked the wrong vocation, a historian, because that involves a lot of reading. Well you are right but I did not choose my vocation, its the only thing that I can do. To escape the limitations posed by my disability I have to be humble and wear funny coloured glasses, read very slowly and use audio-books where ever possible. I also use a variety of books which include historical fantasy books.
One of the best authors that I have ever come across is Harry Sidebottom. I have just finished his new book, <a href="http://<a target="_blank" href="https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B08GSSS2J3/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1634&creative=6738&creativeASIN=B08GSSS2J3&linkCode=as2&tag=historytalk00-21&linkId=a63d3af91145a0e7ef172cb6ed0a3487">The Burning Road: The scorching new historical thriller from the Sunday Times bestsellerThe Burning Road, which was brilliant. Mr Sidebottom is an academic and a teacher so alongside being an author completes a disgusting holy trinity of over achievement. I first came across his work in <a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="http://<iframe style="width:120px;height:240px;" marginwidth="0" marginheight="0" scrolling="no" frameborder="0" src="//ws-eu.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?ServiceVersion=20070822&OneJS=1&Operation=GetAdHtml&MarketPlace=GB&source=ac&ref=qf_sp_asin_til&ad_type=product_link&tracking_id=historytalk00-21&marketplace=amazon®ion=GB&placement=B002RI9JNM&asins=B002RI9JNM&linkId=2910c49317ff956ece4f823102e81966&show_border=false&link_opens_in_new_window=false&price_color=333333&title_color=0066c0&bg_color=ffffff"> Warrior of Rome which I found to be an incredibly haunting novel. I have come to the conclusion that Mr Sidebottoms success lies in his incredibly good writing skills. These allow him to paint such vivid pictures of the ancient world, pictures of semen stained statues, soldiers in the tavern and the scene of the day after the siege failed. Somehow the wordsmith manages to allow you to look into this world and that is the value in my mind.
The power and value of good historical fantasy is that the material is as ‘true’ as a text book but at the same time over painted by false characters who open the doors and allow our imagination to gain access to those facts. For me this has been helpful. As a guide at the Lunt Roman Fort in Coventry I had to create an imaginary image of the fort that I could communicate to visitors and Warrior of Rome certainly had a role in that.