Friday, 21 December 2007

Historic Heroes, Contemporary Readers - Part I

The Enchanted Faerie is a historical romance, taking place in the late 1600's. I and my fellow Spinners did a bit of research about that period in time--language and clothing, coins and kings. We wanted our details to be as accurate as possible.

Yet one thing had to remain "un-historical". We were writing for a contemporary audience. Therefore, if we wanted our heroes and heroines to appeal to them, we had to step outside of the pure historical framework and give our characters subtlely contemporary characteristics.

It's an interesting balance. Just how "historical" can one get before one loses the audience? Sure, we think about the language we use (and hope we have avoided vocabulary and grammatical structures that didn't exist until the 20th century) but what about the social mores? We pay homage to them, but do not embrace them fully.

Picking on poor Marian: first of all, if the story of Robin Hood (as told by Foz and Dom) had been an accurate historical event, she would not have been offered the choice of spouse, but Sir Edward would most likely have arranged her marriage for her, preferrably with a man who was of their social class or better.

Pre-Crusades, her marriage with Robin, Earl of Loxley might very well have been arranged. He was a wealthy lord with lands and a title.

Post-war, the matter would have been very different indeed. Robin lost his lands and his title. But all's not lost in Nottingham. There's fresh blood in town, a knight by the name of Gisborne. He may be a lord displaced by Norman conquests, but he is rich, he is ambitious, and he is now in possession of Loxley lands. Not only is he single, he's virile. (And probably the only person in RH that we know for sure is getting any action.)

Gisborne would have wanted to marry the ex-Sheriff's daughter. Sir Edward had position, status and respectability. Sir Edward may have accepted Gisborne's offer. While he may have had no family connections, he was strongly connected to Vasey the current Sheriff, was independently wealthy and looked to soon gain the Loxley lands, if not, eventually, the title.

A knight for a knight's daughter? You betcha. So what if Marian didn't love him? Who cares? Among the gentry and nobility marriages were not contracted for love, but as business arrangements, political alliances and social climbing. If it happened to be a love match, that was a bonus.

When we think of marriage, we think of romance, not business. Even Anna Nicole Smith claimed her marriage to gazillionaire J. Howard Marshall was a love match. But in historical times, everyone--including herself--would have accepted for fact that she married him for money and not bat an eye.

Now, in the 20th/21st Century, pretty much most marriages in the English-speaking Western world are contracted primarily because they are love matches (or at least lust matches, some of them). That is how the average contemporary reader of romance thinks. They want the love. They want that deep post-orgasmic satisfaction of HEA.

So, wanna write an historical romance for a contemporary audience? Get your details as accurate as possible, except for one: drop the costume-nazi concept of marriage as business contracts to second tier and be sure to include the oh-so-very-unhistorical idea of love first and foremost.

It is the one blatantly inaccurate thing you readers will completely forgive you.

I wonder... if Alishandra had given Marian an enchanted faerie, would it have led her to Robin or to Guy?

Next time: A Man's Man vs The S.N.A.G. Does Eleanor of Aquitaine have much to answer for?

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