On Thanksgiving morning, while enjoying my coffee and watching the parades, I discovered that there is a popular musical comedy on Broadway right now called Six – The Musical. It’s about the six wives of Henry VIII. Really? Of his six wives, only one truly survived (Anne of Cleves) and came out of her marriage debacle in relatively good shape. So now we have a musical about a wife cast aside, two wives beheaded, one wife dead from childbirth complications and his last wife, while surviving, also dead in childbirth after marrying again to a man whom history suggests only wanted her because she was the Queen Dowager. Somehow all this death and destruction doesn’t seem like the stuff of comedic song and dance. (Of course who would have thought the plight of five women accused of murder in Chicago would make for a compelling musical?)
If you look up “historical fiction” you’ll find definitions that all seem to include any story that takes place in the past but that’s just silly – unless it’s sci fi, set in the future, wouldn’t every book written be historical fiction after about a week in print? I’ve always thought of “HF” was any re-working of a historical subject/figure. Like Hillary Mantel’s book on Robespierre and Danton during the French Revolution (and all her Wolf Hall books as well). Or King at the Edge of the World by Arthur Phillips. Or The Other Boleyn Girl by Phillippa Gregory. And I haven’t read Nefertiti by Michelle Moran yet, but I’m pretty sure it’s mostly fiction and very little historical, since even Egyptologists admit to knowing extremely little about the ancient queen.
As these books sell well, I worry that future generations will think of the plots and characters as more historical than they really are. Of course in looking up Six online, it looks like the plot doesn’t even attempt to portray history, so hopefully no one will come away thinking that wearing a choker to represent that you got beheaded is a meaningful fashion statement.
When was the War of 1812?