Welcome to the Historical Fiction Online forums: a friendly place to discuss, review and discover historical fiction.
If this is your first visit, please be sure to check out the FAQ by clicking the link above.
You will have to register before you can post: click the register link above to proceed.
To start viewing posts, select the forum that you want to visit from the selection below.

Why is historical fiction such a popular genre?

For discussions of historical fiction. Threads that do not relate to historical fiction should be started in the Chat forum or elsewhere on the forum, depending on the topic.
User avatar
Misfit
Bibliomaniac
Posts: 9581
Joined: August 2008
Location: Seattle, WA

Why is historical fiction such a popular genre?

Post by Misfit » Sun February 13th, 2011, 3:41 am

And why may you ask why I am starting this topic that we all know the answer to because we love this genre to bits?

Because I received an email from a lady who is researching the topic and is interested in our answers - so please EVERYONE fire away and participate. I believe she's just joined the site and hope it hear her pipe in on the subject anytime.

*waves to Amanda*
At home with a good book and the cat...
...is the only place I want to be

User avatar
MLE (Emily Cotton)
Bibliomaniac
Posts: 3562
Joined: August 2008
Interest in HF: started in childhood with the classics, which, IMHO are HF even if they were contemporary when written.
Favourite HF book: Prince of Foxes, by Samuel Shellabarger
Preferred HF: Currently prefer 1600 and earlier, but I'll read anything that keeps me turning the page.
Location: California Bay Area

Post by MLE (Emily Cotton) » Sun February 13th, 2011, 4:45 am

People are swamped with the ever-increasing complexity of modern life. They want to relax in a time that was slower and simpler. I believe this is also true of High Fantasy (I think that's what they call Lord of the Rings and the Last Unicorn style fantasy, as opposed to Urban Fantasy which is modern with fantastical elements or Steampunk which is Victorian with mixed elements of science and magic). The HF reader, unlike the fantasy reader, also expects to learn a little (or a lot) about the antecedents to our modern world while being entertained.

In summary, readers who are seeking an HF book (on average) want something
1. exotic
2. no computers, phones, television. And for the diehards like me, no gasoline engines either.
3. in the real world--no fancy magic rules to learn, no odd alien cultures on strange planets or warp-drive imaginary science.
4. real conflict, real danger, real relationships, real hope, really good entertainment.
5. reasonably accurate historically (this last being the most tenuous)

User avatar
SarahWoodbury
Avid Reader
Posts: 496
Joined: March 2009
Location: Pendleton, Oregon
Contact:

Post by SarahWoodbury » Sun February 13th, 2011, 5:01 am

I second what MLE said. HF implies a simpler time technologically, though generally not simpler culturally (them Tudors!). For me, I have a hard time with a lot of fantasy because it takes so long to get my head into the world and sometimes it seems that the author makes up the rules as s/he goes along. HF starts with a base that's semi-familiar--a map I recognize if nothing else--but still a world that isn't mine.

User avatar
Michy
Bibliophile
Posts: 1649
Joined: May 2010
Location: California

Post by Michy » Sun February 13th, 2011, 5:52 am

I am drawn to HF for the escapist element of it. It is a way to enter a time and place that is so much more romantic, engaging and interesting than our own (at least, viewed through 21st century rose-tinted glasses it can seem that way :) ). And it is a "fun" way to learn a little bit at the same time (when I want a more heavy-duty and undiluted educational read then I turn to NF).

Also, I like HF because I do NOT, generally-speaking, like contemporary fiction. There are several reasons for this, but two of them are: 1) the present day, or even the past 25 years, just isn't very appealing to me as a setting; 2) it is a rare writer who can do a good job with contemporary dialogue. Most of them end up making the conversations and emotions sound and feel exaggerated to the point where I just want everyone to take a tranquilizer and go lie down. With HF I don't have this problem because, obviously, I don't know how people really talked to each other "back then." And so if the author doesn't strike quite the right tone I don't know; as long as the characters' interactions sound and feel reasonably authentic I'm satisfied!

User avatar
Margaret
Bibliomaniac
Posts: 2440
Joined: August 2008
Interest in HF: I can't answer this in 100 characters. Sorry.
Favourite HF book: Checkmate, the final novel in the Lymond series
Preferred HF: Literary novels. Late medieval and Renaissance.
Location: Catskill, New York, USA
Contact:

Post by Margaret » Sun February 13th, 2011, 7:23 am

One of the great things historical fiction does is give us perspective on our own time by helping us understand something about how we got here. The great themes of historical fiction include war, the constricting roles forced on women (and men, too, for that matter) during much of the past, the abuse of political power, and the beneficial or destructive role religion has played in the world. All these things are still with us, though generally to a different degree and in somewhat different forms than they took in the past, and are still subjects of controversy. It's reassuring, I think, to realize that things have improved, because it shows both that things could be worse and that we have the power to improve things that haven't changed enough.
Browse over 5000 historical novel listings (probably well over 5000 by now, but I haven't re-counted lately) and over 700 reviews at www.HistoricalNovels.info

User avatar
Vanessa
Bibliomaniac
Posts: 4231
Joined: August 2008
Currently reading: The Farm at the Edge of the World by Sarah Vaughan
Interest in HF: The first historical novel I read was Katherine by Anya Seton and this sparked off my interest in this genre.
Favourite HF book: Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell!
Preferred HF: Any
Location: North Yorkshire, UK

Post by Vanessa » Sun February 13th, 2011, 10:57 am

I enjoy reading about the past and how we've evolved. I find it quite educational, too, without being boring. What's the phrase - without the past there would be no future?

I enjoy historical thrillers, too, as they don't 'do' all that DNA stuff - they have to use their powers of deduction instead! :D
currently reading: My Books on Goodreads

Books are mirrors, you only see in them what you already have inside you ~ The Shadow of the Wind

User avatar
EC2
Bibliomaniac
Posts: 3661
Joined: August 2008
Location: Nottingham UK
Contact:

Post by EC2 » Sun February 13th, 2011, 11:25 am

I had this question sent to my in box too.

You might just as well ask 'Why are crime novels popular?' or 'Why is chic-lit popular?' HF isn't exclusive in this aspect.

Why do I read and write historical fiction?
I like stories where I can recognise the broad sweep of emotions that we all share, but that are different from the humdrum. If I want life in my own time and place, I can just step outside my door and sniff the air. I would rather read abut times and places that are different and that enrich my reading experience by taking me outside my own zones. A modern shopping and girl chat novel is boring to me because if I want, I can do those things for myself. But a historical novel of the same ilk - if well written and not just modern people in fancy dress - is fun and interesting because there's a different slant.
As a reader and a writer, I enjoy the scope for more adventurous story telling.
There's a song by UK folk group Show of hands. It's titled 'Roots' and has the lyrics 'Without our stories and our songs, how will we know where we come from?' I believe that is another strong reason why people read historical fiction. To keep the past alive and know their connection with it.
Often historical fiction is read in the same sort of mindset as Errol Flynn's Robin Hood - for pure derring do and escapism. It feels historical while not necessarily having much to do with the history of the time in which it's supposedly set!
Les proz e les vassals
Souvent entre piez de chevals
Kar ja li coard n’I chasront

'The Brave and the valiant
Are always to be found between the hooves of horses
For never will cowards fall down there.'

Histoire de Guillaume le Mareschal

www.elizabethchadwick.com

User avatar
Madeleine
Bibliomaniac
Posts: 5710
Joined: August 2008
Currently reading: "Fear on the Phantom Special" by Edward Marston
Preferred HF: Plantagenets, Victorian, crime
Location: Essex/London

Post by Madeleine » Sun February 13th, 2011, 12:52 pm

I read mainly for escapism and entertainment, and like HF because it's refreshing to read about a world with no electricity etc, and when it would take days to do a journey by horseback or boat, which in the present would probably only take a couple of hours - it just feels more relaxing, even though in real life it was probably pretty hazardous and downright boring! I also like to feel as I'm learning something, which is why I also like reading about real people, but in a novel's setting, although I also like historical fiction, pure and simple, especially historical crime, although this is often set during a real framework of events. I think I've learnt more from HF than I ever did at school!

In summary, for me it's a mixture of escapism, entertainment, and hopefully a bit of education too. And the scary thing is, there are so many parallels that can be drawn with the present day - a comfort in one way, but I also say scary because it shows that human nature doesn't change, and people don't learn from past mistakes.
Currently reading: "Fear on the Phantom Special" by Edward Marston.

User avatar
Susan
Bibliomaniac
Posts: 3746
Joined: August 2008
Location: New Jersey, USA

Post by Susan » Sun February 13th, 2011, 1:06 pm

I echo many of the reasons already expressed. I find historical fiction an enjoyable way to learn about historical people and to meet new historical people. It serves as a jumping point to do some more research about these people. A few examples... I know a lot about royalty, but French royals are one of my weak points. CW Gortner's The Confessions of Catherine de Medici set that time period and those French royals straight in my brain. Susan Higginbotham's The Queen of Last Hopes helped me immensely in sorting out all those nobles during the Wars of the Roses. Two historical people I enjoyed meeting are from Anne Easter Smith's Daughter of York. Of course, I knew of Margaret of York, sister of Edward IV and Richard III, but always as a footnote and here she was the main character. The story of Margaret's stepdaughter Mary of Burgundy touched me, especially her death. As I read the novel, I never would have imagined that within the year, I would be standing at Mary's beautiful tomb in a cathedral in Bruges. If I hadn't read that novel, it would have been just one of the many tombs I passed by on that European trip.
~Susan~
~Unofficial Royalty~
Royal news updated daily, information and discussion about royalty past and present
http://www.unofficialroyalty.com/

User avatar
Misfit
Bibliomaniac
Posts: 9581
Joined: August 2008
Location: Seattle, WA

Post by Misfit » Sun February 13th, 2011, 1:41 pm

[quote=""Susan""]I echo many of the reasons already expressed. I find historical fiction an enjoyable way to learn about historical people and to meet new historical people. It serves as a jumping point to do some more research about these people. A few examples... I know a lot about royalty, but French royals are one of my weak points. CW Gortner's The Confessions of Catherine de Medici set that time period and those French royals straight in my brain. Susan Higginbotham's The Queen of Last Hopes helped me immensely in sorting out all those nobles during the Wars of the Roses. Two historical people I enjoyed meeting are from Anne Easter Smith's Daughter of York. Of course, I knew of Margaret of York, sister of Edward IV and Richard III, but always as a footnote and here she was the main character. The story of Margaret's stepdaughter Mary of Burgundy touched me, especially her death. As I read the novel, I never would have imagined that within the year, I would be standing at Mary's beautiful tomb in a cathedral in Bruges. If I hadn't read that novel, it would have been just one of the many tombs I passed by on that European trip.[/quote]

That's what does it for me, I am a history geek and I love learning about the past and people and events they didn't teach us in school. Like Susan, often a book can send me reading for more on an interesting subject. Lol, even though Auel's new novel is terribly tedious, I did enjoy looking at the French websites about the real Painted Caves. Wowza. Too bad they had to be closed to the public.

HF is also great time travel as others have noted. I really don't care for contemporaries, nor do I enjoy having telephones, cars, cigarettes and gawd knows what else in my novels. Older Mary Stewarts I can handle, but outside of that I'd rather be living in the past.
At home with a good book and the cat...
...is the only place I want to be

Post Reply

Return to “General Discussion”