Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Seeing the Past In Time Travel Novels

If you don’t follow my “A Merry Heart” blog (check out today's post--very exciting), you might not know that I’m taking a MOOC class (massive open online course) on historical fiction. It’s called “Plagues, Witches, and War.” And it’s great.

So many topics the professor has discussed have got me thinking about how they apply to my Screwing Up Time series and other historical fiction I write. One of the topics the professor discussed was the diachronic elements of historical fiction, i.e., the fact that in historical novels at least two historical times are at play, the time that the novel is set in and the time in which the author lives and writes.

One of the interesting things about time travel fiction is that it’s very honest in its diachronic elements. For example, when Mark time travels, you know he’s seeing the past through the eyes of a modern person. So as a reader, you know he’s seeing things just like you would if you were there.

In other historical fiction, that’s not as clear. The characters are all in the past. But, you’re still getting a modern reading of the past. It’s just not as clear that that’s case. Neither is “better.” They’re just different. And, as an author who writes both kinds of historical fiction, I love being able to show our modern prejudices (many of which I share, *swallows uncomfortably*) through Henry. And I love being able to show Miranda’s perspective, which, don’t forget, is my idea of how a Medieval girl would view modernity and the ancient past.

Without droning on too long, my view of historical fiction (which many may disagree with) is that it shows that no matter how strange the past is (and I LOVE the strangeness), people and human nature aren’t really that different. Or, in my favorite quote from our readings thus far, speaking of the benefits of historical fiction, “…Much more profound is the realization that history is not primarily about the past. It is about human nature. What makes it historical is that it examines human nature through the prism of a different age.” ~Ian Mortimer.


  1. Historical fiction is one of my absolute favorite genres to read. I like it when a book stays true to the time period and develops human nature at the same time, although sometimes if a story is told well, I don't mind if the author takes liberties with past events :) I just went to a talk where the authors commented that we often romanticize the past though... definitely true!

  2. I love historical fiction and even tried writing it once then realized just how hard it is.

  3. When I was asked the other day what the most important part of writing historical fiction was, I answered, "Getting into the thought processes of the day." It can be so tricky to make sure your modern day biases don't infiltrate characters whose perspective is so different. --Much easier for sure when you have a time traveler from our modern age involved. =)

  4. One of my favorites is Time and Again by Jack Finney. Great, realistic time-travel novel.