Saturday, 1 February 2014

Historical Accuracy: Is it Okay to Bend the Truth?

Last night one of my favourite movies was playing on TV: Braveheart.

I know, surprise, surprise, huh? A romance novelist who writes Highland historicals loves Braveheart. Shocking!

Every time I watch this film, though, it gets me thinking about the topic of historical accuracy and, more specifically, when it's okay to disregard.

I'm not going to be a purist and pick apart the entire directorial interpretation. But what I am going to make mention of is the fact that in the movie, the Scots are wearing the belted plaid.

Kilts and plaids such as this were not worn in Scotland (or anywhere, really), at this time.

I read somewhere (exactly where escapes me, and isn't important anyway), that Mel Gibson and his colleagues decided to incorporate the plaid into the film to distinguish Wallace's Scots from the English soldiers during the busy and dramatic fight scenes. I am sure also that audience expectation played into that decision somewhat. After all, what is a good, Scottish movie without a dose of some good, Scottish plaid?

I face the same problem when I write my novels: I create stories in time periods where kilts were unknown. Yet I've put them in anyway. I am not alone. In fact, the entire genre of Highland historical romance relies heavily on this inaccuracy. Look at any book cover and you'll find plaid. And chances are the book you've picked up is set sometime before the last half of the 16th century, when kilts were known to have been worn.

I write my heroes in those sexy skirts because my readers expect it. I write my heroes in those sexy skirts because, heck, I expect it!

Of course the perfectionist in me worries that I'm doing a disservice to my readers. Am I selling out? Am I lying to them?

The rational part of me soothes my conscience, however. Here's the way I see it: for those of us who know the joys of historical romance, reading offers escape. It offers a chance to slip into a fantasy and get lost there. And whether it's historically accurate or not, our Scottie hunks are tartained to the waist (a shirt above that is optional).

It is known well enough that kilts were not a part of Highland dress until the late 1700s. The literature is out there. Highland historical romance novels have never been, and will never be, considered academia.

Therefore I don't need to feel bad that I'm indulging in a fantasy (read: pure lie). So the Scots of ages past didn't actually wear kilts. The Scots of ages past probably weren't as smooth and clean as most of the models on our covers.

But the Scots of our history-obsessed, hopelessly romantic imaginations are. And I don't think any of us Highland-loving lassies care one whit about what was historically accurate and what wasn't.

So I say: bring on the kilts!

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