Most Heinous Use of an Historical Character (So Far…)

Time to confess: I’ve been taking unconscionable liberties with a well-known historical character.

I took a very brief and most definitely dubious mention of a possible siege of Bebbanburg by Fiachnae mac Báetáin of the Dál nAraidi, turned it into reality (well, fiction). But that’s not the worst of it: then I had one of the hostages captured by Edwin turn out to be Fursey, aka Fursa, an Irish prince-monk who later in life spent time in East Anglia doing his best to bring Christianity to the godless heathens. (In my opinion, he didn’t do a spectacular job.) Saint Fursey was known as an ascetic, but in my novel, he’s a wine-swilling, foul-mouthed, sinfully proud, louche kind of fellow–but extremely well-educated. He spends a few months as Hild’s tutor. He is about to travel with her to East Anglia where he’ll see opportunities for the future, and then return to Ireland, go through a character volte-face, and return with his brother.

So if I know Fursey’s saintly character is utterly unlike the picture I’m painting in my novel, why am I using his name? I’m not sure. For some reason, I feel compelled to. I think it’s my Catholic upbringing; I am very (very) suspicious of ‘saints’. I’ve spent too much time with Religious who use their religion as a political tool. In my opinion, those who end up being beatified have worked entirely too hard at becoming well known. Seriously good people tend not to bring their deeds to the public’s attention. But, no, that’s not the whole story. There’s something about both kicking over stones, and about tying things together with familiar names that appeal to me.

Hild herself in my novel will have no unearthly, god-given powers–unless you count preternatural intelligence and a will of adamant. She has an innate sense of fairness but this will, of course, be tempered by her royal heritage: she’s been raised to believe some people are more equal than others. But I’m not actively going against anything known to be known about Hild. I can’t honestly say the same for Fursey. (At least I’m doing my best to make him likeable, in a bad-tempered kind of way.)

Anyway, I just thought it was time to admit my trespasses.

3 thoughts on “Most Heinous Use of an Historical Character (So Far…)

  1. Hi, it’s Jo from MySpace. For what it’s worth: I’ve read some historical fiction, and enjoyed some of it. The works I enjoyed were the ones that portrayed historical figures as real people, complete with flaws that most history books profess didn’t exist. You may not know exactly what the historical figure was like, but if they drew breath, when push comes to shove you can bet she/he was human.I guess it is the same as the way I think about Christ. I am a Pagan who believes that Christ was the son of a god Jehovah, who is just one god among many. It’s a little weird but it works for me. The way I see it, God created Christ so that he could live as a human and better understand all of our flaws. It probably got really annoying having to smite people all the time for not doing as they were told. If Christ wasn’t flawed, as fundamentalists would have you believe, then what was the point of Jehovah becoming incarnate in the first place?I’d say that in writing, real life is always preferable to perfection – you can learn a greater variety of lessons from the sinners than you can from the saints. And isn’t learning – whether emotional or technical – what reading is all about?

  2. I think reading is about all sorts of things: learning, escape, joy, relaxation, argument. For me, it depends on the book. Some novels I pick up because I want knotty, chewy experience; others so that I can simply fall into another world and ignore this one for a while.But, yep, we agree completely on perfection: it’s not only impossible, but boring.BTW, sorry it took me so long to get to your comment. Some of my blog settings were a bit screwed up, but I’ve now fixed that. Welcome!

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