Mystery Writers: Know thy history. #1
SPOILER ALERT: I'm gonna give away the whole plot of The Scarlet Pimpernel below. So if you've not read the book or seen the play, it is well worth it to do so.
All the characters like Clark Kent, the Lone Ranger, Zorro, Batman, Spiderman, and Iron man to name a few, have their roots in The Scarlet Pimpernel (S.P.). So, first S.P - very early 1900's and second, super hero's - after the Great Depression. The S.P. was like Robin Hood (and he's from maybe even as early as the 13th century) but with way more serious consequences. As a teenager it had to be explained to me - cuz u kno I wuz 1 of thoz teenagers. (Luckily I had a clever teacher who used metaphors, comparisons, and humor to get through to us. Thanks Mr. D.)
Back in the turn of the century in post-Victorian England, ("back row, listen up!") The S.P. was kind of what Ironman is to us today. The setting is England, 1792 just at the start of the French Revolution. Sir Percy Blakeney pretends to be an incompetent aristocratic dolt while he "cleverly" goes around in a mask rescuing his French aristocratic counterparts from the guillotine and brings them back safely to England. Sir Percy is the leader of 19 others in his "League of the Scarlet Pimpernel". His wife, the beautiful French actress Marguerite outs him to his enemy in France and the hilarity ensues. (Just as a side note here. This is a VERY over simplified plot summary.)
This is a much studied and written about play and novel. There are entire doctoral theses' written about The Scarlet Pimpernel for the curious and like-minded. Some will argue this book is the most historically accurate fiction created in this era. Others disagree and say the actual S.P. was an amalgamation of people who helped the French aristocrats escape the Revolution. And that Orczy bent the historical facts to fit her fiction. However, what they don't argued is the events she wrote about were accurate and many of the characters are thinly veiled caricatures of actual people.
Now on to my point. I stumbled across a line by Charlene Harris in one of her Sookie Stackhouse books. Her character Sookie said something to the effect that she didn't go to college so she gets all her 'learnin'" from fiction books. (Forgive my feeble memory Ms. Charlene; you have so many great lines.) And I think that's very true for a lot of us who aren't the smartest people in the world. We learn so much about cultures, history, science and life in general in our fiction reading. We learn everything but math. (Damn it.) Cuz you never hear of a GREAT story about how prime numbers are the devil's work and they all moved to Borneo to take over a tribe of calculator's. And as authors we have some obligation to at least get historical facts correct in our writing fiction.
I decided to start doing a few of these Mystery Writer's, Know thy Histories blog posts because I was reading a New York Times Bestselling Author's book last night and this author completely and totally erred in recounting a historical fact. The little nugget of misinformation had nothing to do with the plot, it was supposed to be one of those interesting asides. And no I wasn't reading some Lincoln Vampire shlock. But how could the editor's miss this? I mean it would be interesting to learn that Anne Boleyn had six fingers but the truth is she had an extra fingernail growing out of one of her fingers, which frankly I find even more interesting and fascinatingly gross. I don't want to rant about this, but I was very shocked. We can't all be Orczy's or Tuchman's, grant you, but if you're going to touch on some cool piece of little known fact, get the factoid right! Even if it is about Super Hero's or The Reign of Terror or Anne Boleyn's fingers.