Monday, May 21, 2007

Right Faith, Wrong Trimmings

Rant Warning: the following has some of the characteristics of a diatribe. Discussion, sharing of ideas, or conflict may ensue. You have been warned.

Recently on a lively writing loop, a topic arose about historical fiction. Now, just so we're all on the same page: much of CBA historical fiction consists of the Sweet Prairie Romance with the Bonneted Woman on the Cover. This is a known genre. Do not attempt to argue: it just IS.

Why do all CBA historicals have a woman wearing a bonnet (often a transparent bonnet, so you sort of wonder-what was the point?) on the cover, you ask? Very well, I will attempt to answer this burning question. They are there so innocent readers will know this is fiction set in an Acceptable Era: the 1800s.

The nineteenth century is the only acceptable time for stories to be set because it meets the criteria for acceptable fiction: the characters must be Protestant. Fiction dealing with Puritans, the Revolutionary War period, etc., should not be written. Worse, we should not write about pre-Reformation Christians: these would of necessity be Catholic.

Now, before you run screaming for the door: if you write or read historical fiction, you must to some extent abandon your current-day prejudices. People in the pre-Reformation centuries did not think of themselves as idolators, Papists, hidebound or any other stereotype we sneer at today. They called themselves CHRISTENDOM, and the reason they referred to themselves this way is that they kept Christian writings, Christian learning, Christian tradition alive during centuries when my ancestors were worshiping Odin and eating foul-tasting lutefisk...

Ahem. I digress.

We authors must not attempt to write stories set in these benighted times. Do you ask why? Because we'd be writing about Catholics.

I say no. We'd be writing about Christians. People of their time, like us. Many, many of them loved their Savior and served Him in the way the current day permitted. So do we. Some of them were "surface" believers. Some of us are. Some of them abandoned family, friends, and a normal medieval life in order to spend 100% of their time in prayer and learning. Some of us are blessed to do that, in this age.

Do not tell me not to write of these people because they were not Christians. You're wrong. If you don't want to read my work, that's fine, and your privilege. But don't use this most specious of reasoning to say that historical fiction must deal only with people who think like we Protestants do. Don't you dare forbid me to write of people in earlier eras and shed some light on their most-interesting lives and times.

Who knows, maybe we'll all learn something.