If you read my recent post about the progress on my 2016 reading goals, you may have noticed I’ve been reading a lot of period fiction this year, and it’s really been inspiring my fascination with history! I love reading stories set in the past for much the same reason I enjoy science fiction and fantasy: they show me a world I could never see or experience for myself. And what more could you want from a fiction genre?
So continuing through my “five reasons” series, here’s a list of five reasons I love historical fiction. Enjoy!
1) It offers a deeper insight into human history.
History is fascinating, but there’s only so much we can learn from textbooks and history lessons in school. It’s one thing to read facts about past events, it’s another to live them. And while living said events ourselves would only be possible with a time machine, we can at least get a taste of what they were like through the immersive experience of narrative. Action, emotion, drama, all the things that make us human have the power to make a historical account much more engaging and relatable. That’s why I feel like I learn more about history from certain fiction books than I ever did from history lessons growing up: you can only really understand the driving forces behind human history when you feel like you’re reading about, you know, actual humans!
2) It shows the evolution of human behavior.
Reading many works of historical fiction set in various time periods gives readers the opportunity to observe how human behavior has changed over the centuries. What ancient civilizations once believed to be the work of the gods, we now approach as topics of science, and several subjects that seem commonplace to us today were once considered too shocking and scandalous to even be mentioned in proper society. Human beings drastically alter their ways of thinking over generations, so indulging in historical fiction offers an entertaining means of seeing those changes: through a narrative timeline!
3) It reveals the most consistent traits of human nature throughout time.
On the other hand, historical fiction can also show us the things that haven’t changed over time. After all, no matter how far we’ve come as a species since the dawn of mankind, human beings technically still are and always have been animals. There’s a reason history tends to repeat itself, and many authors like to explore the most consistent patterns of society by implementing elements of past events into present- and future-setting stories. This is where historical fiction ties in with many futuristic works: the most fundamental human traits – love, fear, survival instinct, social bonds, etc. – often become the driving forces behind major events like war and revolution, regardless of generation or time period, past or future. And speaking of the future…
4) It helps predict the future course of human history.
It may seem odd at first to think knowing the past is the key to predicting the future, but my dad always taught me that it’s important to study history because only by understanding humanity’s past mistakes can we hope to avoid repeating them. When you have a clear picture of the direction in which the human race has been heading for the past few millennia, it becomes easier to predict which areas we’ll progress in and which patterns we’ll keep falling into. And as mentioned above, this often makes for great futuristic fiction material. For example, technology continues to improve at an accelerated rate, but there will always be people who try to use it for the wrong reasons. If history really does repeat itself, then the one thing you can expect with absolute certainty from future generations is that they’ll keep making the same mistakes their ancestors did for thousands of years!
5) It makes for entertaining reading!
This is just my opinion, of course, but there’s something vastly entertaining about diving into a book set in a past time period. It’s like stepping into a time machine and being transported back to days when people acted and thought differently, technology wasn’t quite as advanced, and society had expectations that would greatly contrast with our modern-day views. I especially enjoy historical literature that was written during the time period in which it takes place, as it offers the additional insight of authors who experienced those times firsthand. To be able to see the past through the eyes of people who lived it is what makes historical fiction such a unique and fascinating genre!
What about you? Do you enjoy historical fiction? What do (or don’t) you like about it?