Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Historical or Fictional Protagonists

Yesterday, I wrote in my review of Gloriana's Torch, "I think fictional protagonists are one of the more successful strategies for grounding a novel in a historical period."

I would like to expound on why I have found this to be so.

1) The reader has no expectations for the fictional character. Therefore, the author is free to characterize him or her as he or he chooses, without falling into the snare of contradicting the personalities of historical characters or running up against readers' preconceived notions of them.

2) The author can place a fictional character in any life situation or historical event that is convenient for the author's purposes and there is no historical contradiction.

3) A fictional character can have more in common and more appeal to the modern reader than a historical character might. For example, a fictional character could have anachronistic opinions about women's rights or minority rights without causing contradiction with a historical character (if the author is careful not to be TOO anachronistic)and therefore be more in tune with the average modern reader's sympathies.

What do you think? Do you prefer historical or fictional protagonists for historical fiction? A mix of both?

1 comment:

Biblibio said...

There was a time (in my youth...) when fictional protagonists in historical fiction confused me to no end. I immediately knew to recognize the major historical players, but some of the side characters would elude me and I would never know if I was reading about someone real or made up.

At some point, I realized that I like the two extremes - lots of real, historical characters or a book built around completely fictional ones (and a mostly fictional setting). This way, it's as though they're two separate genres - historical fiction and fiction with a historical twist. One demands some level of historical accuracy and research. The other... less so, I suppose. Or less stringent research and accuracy, anyways. False facts and anachronisms drive me nuts, after all.