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Homer Nods Too (A Symposium on Historical Fiction) (Historical Novels)

JNZL: Journal of New Zealand Literature 1991, Annual, 9

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Of course writers of fiction try to get things right. But it isn't the end of the world if they don't. The book which stands at the beginning of Western literature--The Iliad--is loaded with anachronisms. Homer knew about chariots, but he didn't know what they were for. He concluded that they must have been used to ride into battle (not to battle from). So we have his heroes riding to the scene of fray and then enigmatically departing from their chariots in order to fight. This of course is comic. Indeed The Iliad is an anthology of absurdities--not least because we now know that Troy was little more than a village. I have twice walked its ruins and marvelled at the fact that in area it was little more than the size of a rugby field. A determined siege should have levelled so paltry a place in ten minutes; Homer tells us Agamemnon's host took ten years. They must have been the most incompetent belligerents in military history. (The likelihood is that they were no more than a cut-throat gang of pirates anyway. Even so, they should have turned Troy over in an hour or two.) Despite such nonsense The Iliad survives and will. An historical novelist tries to get it right for himself and his readers; he requires suspension of disbelief himself. I remember Eric McCormick reading my novel Strangers and Journeys in manuscript. He pointed out a fault in the opening chapter. I had people hiring pillows on the platform of the Wellington Railway Station in the year 1919. Pillows were not rented to passengers until 1930. It killed Eric's belief in the scene. I couldn't get home quickly enough to cut the offending lines. Why? (After all, how many would now know or remember?) I cut them because they were killing my belief in the book too. But in The Lovelock Version, an historical fantasia, I used anachronism to propel the narrrative here and there. (The novel was shamelessly written from the vantage point, or with the hindsight of the twentieth century anyway.) A number of readers, accustomed to the naturalism of New Zealand fiction, took offence and made their feelings known to me. Probably I did no more than confirm the widespread belief that novelists are a devious and unreliable lot. Too true. They are.

Homer Nods Too (A Symposium on Historical Fiction) (Historical Novels)
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  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: Language Arts & Disciplines
  • Published: 01 January 1991
  • Publisher: University of Waikato
  • Print Length: 9 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.3.1 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

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