Guest Post: Adam Haviaras on Historical Fantasy

Adam Haviaras is *the man* when it comes to history. A medieval history scholar with a background in archaeology and creative writing. Adam writes historical fantasy. Awesome historical fantasy. Well researched, well written and highly entertaining. He’s been kind enough to honor my blog with a guest post. If you like history, please have a look at his site — it’s a fascinating collection of history and writing. And pick up one of his books. You won’t regret it.

 

Reasons to Love Historical Fantasy
By Adam Alexander Haviaras

We all have a favourite genre of fiction, something that just feels like home. For some it’s detective stories. Other people might prefer romance novels. I remember working at a major bookstore in Toronto  and having some of my usual customers come in to buy $250 worth of romance novels they had already read because they wanted mint condition volumes as keepsakes. Very loyal indeed, to the genre and the author.

I love historical fiction, historical fantasy in particular. I write it, I read it and if I could, I would probably live it! Well, the fun parts anyway.

There are many reasons why I’m devoted to historical fantasy. Here are my top 5:

One: Each new iteration of a story or tradition keeps history and legend alive and breathing. The Arthurian cycle and the Trojan War are good examples of this. Every successive generation needs a new, revived version of a story and as a result, it persists.

Two: You can bring to life and come face to face with beasts or other beings that have always been considered mythological. Pit your heroes against, or team them up with, a chimera, a hydra, a minotaur, elves, fairies and of course dragons! Love the dragons.

Or how about the Undead? Zombies are great adversaries for protagonists to face off against. In IMMORTUI, the first novella in my Carpathian Interlude series, I wrote about a Roman legion of the Emperor Augustus battling zombies beyond Rome’s Danube frontier. Of course I’ve tried to ensure that my history and setting are accurate but the fantastical elements allowed me to get really creative within an historical context.

Three: historical fantasy can open the gates to an interest in history, especially at a younger age. We all know that young men are a tougher demographic to crack when it comes to reading books and going to a library. Like an historical movie, a good work of historical fantasy will certainly peak interest and could lead someone to read other books on the period or subject. I’ve always been an advocate for the study of history for broadening our understanding of so many aspects of the world we live in.

Four: Historical Fantasy is free from the constraints of academia. Sadly, many scholars frown upon historical fiction, especially historical fantasy. I agree that it’s possible for an author to take too many liberties when it comes to the history – when they do so, it should be revealed in the Author’s Note of the book. Gross inaccuracies are jarring and ruin the story. However, if the historic and legendary aspects of a book are well-researched, if they are well-pieced together, the story can still teach readers about history in a more interesting, accessible way. I’m a firm believer that every high school and university history class should have some historical fiction/fantasy on the reading list. I think it would be brilliant!

And Five

Historical fantasy makes ancient religious practices and beliefs easier for modern readers to accept and understand. This is important as this allows for the more ‘esoteric’ elements of historical fantasy. Things that were common and every day in the ancient world now seem fantastical or unbelievable to a modern audience. Who are we to judge the ancients whose religions lasted far longer than many ‘modern’ belief systems have existed to date? The ancients believed that the gods played a role in every aspect of their lives and this can make for some great storytelling. You can get closer to the gods, so to speak, and get right into their loves and hates, their compassion and jealousy, everything that made them, well, almost human.

This is something I explore in the first two books of the Eagles and Dragons series, Children of Apollo and the forthcoming sequel, Killing the Hydra. I’ve found in a lot of historical fiction that ancient religious belief and ritual (pre-Christian) is often shied away from, dismissed as quaint. It is not taken seriously. But why would I avoid something that would have been such an integral part of my characters’ daily lives, a force behind their thoughts and motives?

For me, the inclusion of religious beliefs, polytheistic or monotheistic, in fiction only makes the tale more fascinating and has the potential to add much greater depth to the story’s characters.

Historical fantasy allows for this and much, much more.

So, those are my top 5 reasons to love historical fantasy, or at least give it a try. I’m sure many of you who love the genre could come up with your own reasons. Let’s hear them! Or perhaps you have some historical fantasy recommendations for the rest of us?

Some great examples of historical fantasy that I have enjoyed reading are Ursula K. Le Guin’s Lavinia, Glyn Iliffe’s Adventures of Odysseus series, Gene Wolfe’s Latro in the Mist, the late David Gemmell’s Troy series, Steven Pressfield’s Last of the Amazons, Alice Borchardt’s Legends of the Wolves series and, of course Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon.

There is also a recent release that takes place in medieval England but instead of the bubonic plague it has zombies. It’s called The Scourge, that’s it! I think you must know the author if you are reading this. If you haven’t read it, do so. It’s awesome!

With hope, there will be many more such stories so that there is no end to this fantastic genre of historical fiction.

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Adam Alexander Haviaras is a writer and historian who has studied ancient and medieval history, archaeology, and creative writing at the University of Toronto, Canada and the University of St. Andrews, Scotland. He is the author of the Eagles and Dragons historical fantasy series set in the Roman Empire as well as the Carpathian Interlude series of novellas. He currently resides in Toronto with his wife and children.

Visit his blog at www.writingthepastblog.blogspot.com to read about ancient and medieval history and historical fiction.
Or, visit the Eagles and Dragons Facebook page for interesting information about the ancient world.
You can also ‘Follow’ Adam on Twitter @AdamHaviaras

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