ladyofastolat: (Rhymer icon)
[personal profile] ladyofastolat
I was musing a weeks ago about historical novels, and the fact that I can very seldom get emotionally involved in a story starring real people. Even in novels that avoid blatant historical errors, an annoying little presence in my mind keeps jumping up and down, shouting, "but they didn't really have this conversation in these exact words, or feel these exact emotions! There is a real story, yes, but this isn't it! It's all fake!" It creates a distancing effect, a barrier against emotional involvement. There's absolutely no logic to it. I can quite happily immerse myself in a story of a fictional character who rampages through history doing various deeds that never happened, or even doing deeds that in real life were performed by somebody else. Within the world of fiction, my emotions can accept this as real and allow themselves to get immersed, whereas with real people, they usually dig in their heels and refuse to get past that pesky barrier.

From then, I went on to muse about the fact that I sometimes have a similar problem with novels that are fairly straight retelling of familiar myths and legends. In this case, it's not a barrier caused by some Real Story lurking in the background, but a barrier caused by the fact that there is no single Real Story. If a story has been told over hundreds or thousands of years in numerous different forms, once again those illogical, treacherous emotions want to kick in and say, "Ah, this is just one version out of many. There's no point caring, because it's not real."

In fact, I was going to write a post about all this a few weeks ago, but didn't get round to it. And it's just as well that I didn't, really, since I'm currently reading Gillian Bradshaw's Arthurian trilogy, and my emotions are very definitely engaged. I'm about a fifth of the way through the final book, and I've taken to whimpering, gasping "No!" at the screen, and even rushing in to Pellinor in tears, saying, "Arthur's kingdom is going to fall and I don't want it to happen!" I don't think I've really felt the tragedy of the Arthurian story since... well, since I was 11 and first discovering the tales via Roger Lancelyn Green? A bit older, and reading The Once and Future King? Ever? Even though it's breaking my heart, I'm really rather pleased that I can still feel this way about a (broadly) familiar tale. Maybe I should give novels about real people another go, too.

EDIT: Oh, and because I'm currently so emotionally involved in this series, please don't leave comments along the lines of, "I hate that series and here are all the things that are wrong with it.

Date: 2012-02-15 06:18 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Actually, I like these, particularly Hawk of May, though I have a couple of friends who loathe them.

While on the whole I agree with you - I don't like historical novels and am often uneasy with 'retellings' - I get very emotionally involved with Guy Gavriel Kay's characters which are often based on real people, even if I'm not keen on the real historical person. (Not keen on Justinian and Theodora, though Kay is plainly in love with both of them...)

Date: 2012-02-15 10:35 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I've not yet got round to reading his Sarantium books, although I did get the first one for my birthday in November. With his other history-inspired books, things are sufficiently different from real history for me to relate to them purely as fiction.

Date: 2012-02-21 04:12 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
OMG read those Sarantium books ASAP!!! They are his best to date (which is saying a lot) and are incredibly emotionally engaging!

Date: 2012-02-15 06:33 pm (UTC)
ext_189645: (Trust me)
From: [identity profile]
HURRAY you finally got to them! I KNEW you'd like them!

Though mind you, the Arthurian legend can get me weeping every time, unless very incompetently told, but I do think GB's version is something special.

Date: 2012-02-15 06:54 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I was fairly sure Hawk in May was the book you'd brandished enthusiastically at me late, late one night After Fondu, but for some strange reason my precise memories of the recommendation are blurry. :-)

Date: 2012-02-15 08:28 pm (UTC)
ext_189645: (Trust me)
From: [identity profile]
That's a very obsequious otter.

My memory is that I've been pushing Hawk of May at you intermittently for yeeeeeears, muttering hopefully about how it's full of angsty pretty men - but it's entirely possible that you have been moderately pished every time. :-D

Date: 2012-02-15 08:41 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Only moderately? You have clearly been falling down on the job! ;-)

Date: 2012-02-15 10:25 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I thought it was an evil plotter otter, who was trying to out-evil the evil manipulative whatever-it-is in your icon...

I have actually had the book on my Amazon wishlist for a good long time, following one of your past recommendations, and Pellinor finally got it for me for my birthday. I do remember you recommending her several times, but that particular post-fondu night - for which "moderately" is definitely not the right word - there was much enthusiastic brandishing of one of her books, I just can't remember which.

Date: 2012-02-15 10:39 pm (UTC)
ext_189645: (Default)
From: [identity profile]
Either Hawk of May or Island of Ghosts, but probably Hawk of May given that I was brandishing it at you, I think...

ISTR that I have read something from Bradshaw about how she prefers not to write about real historical figures as there are too many inconvenient facts.

Date: 2012-02-21 04:15 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I agree with that. The 'Down the Long Wind' trilogy was the second version of the Arthurian legend that I read, I think when I was about thirteen or fourteen, and I adored it. The first of course having been the Ladybird book of King Arthur when I was six. The third book in the sequence breaks my heart every time I read it, not just for the scale of epic loss represented by the downfall of the entire kingdom, but by some of the more minor griefs accumulated along the way. Certain character deaths have me welling up every time, even when I know they're coming; it's the way GB has of writing, I think.

Date: 2012-02-15 07:18 pm (UTC)
ext_3751: (Default)
From: [identity profile]
I enjoyed Hawk of May very much, many years ago, but I don't think I ever got around to the sequels. Possibly because I knew how it would end.

I take it you're not a fan of RPF? I only ask because sometimes I think I'm the only one.

Date: 2012-02-15 10:29 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Not a fan, no - sorry! I did have a very short phase of reading one particular type, though with some very specific selection criteria. But for some reason, fictional characters feel more real to me in fiction than real ones. It's quite odd.

Date: 2012-02-16 05:47 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I confess I hadn't come across them before - but then, I read very little modern fiction.

Date: 2012-02-26 11:16 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
a barrier caused by the fact that there is no single Real Story. If a story has been told over hundreds or thousands of years in numerous different forms, once again those illogical, treacherous emotions want to kick in and say, "Ah, this is just one version out of many. There's no point caring, because it's not real."

Interesting. My first thought was how does this mesh with your appreciation of fanfic - I'm thinking here of reading more than of writing? I think you are pretty canon-ish, but presumably once you've read a sufficient amount of fic you'll come across different takes on the same events, say reactions to particular canon incidents, so does this sort of un-engage you in a similar way? (Obviously, from the rest of your post, this lack-of-engaging isn't a hard-and-fast rule, but is there a similar tendency?) I'm wondering this I suppose because I always think of myths and legends as in many ways the original fanfic. Or at least some of the literary versions thereof can surely be considered in that way; Vergil is writing fanfic of Homer almost explicitly, right? I'm rambling, but I just thought this was really interesting and would like to know your thoughts!

(Also, I'm definitely putting those books on my to-read list. When/if I find the ability to read properly again.)

Date: 2012-02-27 05:14 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
The fanfic issue did occur to me while I was writing this post, though I stayed discreetly quiet about it, since it seemed to contradict my theory - especially due to the fact that I really like fanfic AUs. :-)

Thinking about it then, I came to the conclusion that although fanfic gives me 1001 different realities about the same characters, they remain the same characters. I mean, yes, there are often variations in the way they're characterised, but in my head they look the same, and they sound the same, and I respond to them emotionally the same way. I have already given my love to the characters, so the emotional engagement is already there, even before the story starts.

I'm not really sure why it's different with versions of myths and legends, but... well, it just is. :-)


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