Time Travel

Two of my favorite genres are historical fiction and mysteries; therefore, when I find a historical mystery, I typically at least attempt to read it. Sometimes, it depends on the time period though. (Check out the Bridgette ni Brian Facebook page: if you could travel back in time where would you go?)

War of 1812 Encampment, Fort Niagara, 2011
I like the Georgian Era, including the later Regency because I think the clothes look cool, and because it's such an interesting time period. You have the Jacobite Rebellions in 1715, and 1745; American Revolution in 1775, the whole Napoleon thing, French Revolution, exploration of new worlds and the beginnings of the modern world.

Another time period I would like to visit begins in 1910 and ends in 1950; it's the time period that truly bridges our modern world with the old world. Then of course, I wouldn't mind taking a trip back to Ancient Egypt, or China, or Abbasid Empire, or Al-Andalus, or a half-dozen other time periods. Thankfully, I have books, because there is no way I could guarantee I would be in the upper social classes; and honestly, who would want to be poor in those time periods?

It's one of the joys of reading: be able to take a trip through time and space to see another's point of view. It's also one of the reasons I enjoy reading books from other time periods and culture. Jane Austen does not have my viewpoint on life - her viewpoint is decidedly middle-class, Regency England. Can I relate to her? Certainly, but I do not share her world. The same is true in reading a modern book written by someone outside my American world. I share a similar world in regards to the time period we live, but I do not share their national culture, but I can learn, and relate to some of it.

Developing a character who lives and breaths in a world not my own can sometimes be difficult. Orfhlait ni Sorcer, the main character in my up-coming series, is a fifteenth century Irish princess/nun (technically, not a nun since she hasn't taken the vows, but all that is explained in the book). Because of her background, Orfhlait is an independent woman, but I have to remember to keep her authentic to the time period. She knows her position in her world, and she knows how to push her boundaries.

Modern versus Historical

I live in a world where women have the freedom to vote, choose a career, purchase property, start a business, in fact do many things that some men, let alone women, in Orfhlait's time period could not do. Add to those basic aspects, the real and imagined dangers women faced. We might laugh at the issues a main character faces without a chaperone, but in most of human history, especially for certain classes, that was a real problem. Thankfully, we have histories of women who both lived within their boundaries, meek and mild; those who pushed out of their boundaries, and those who utilized the boundaries set for greater things.

The vast majority of women probably simply did what they were expected, because that was how most humans behave. A drastic example might be Lady Jane Grey, who really did nothing more than was expected of her, and allowed her family to use her as a pawn for political gain. Mary, Queen of Scotland, I think, shows a woman who pushed the boundaries. She was queen by right, but through her actions, she eventually lost everything. Elizabeth, Queen of England, used her very limitations as a woman to control England. One of course can argue Elizabeth and Mary into the other positions, but ultimately, Elizabeth won and Mary lost.

The other major considerations for stories is the audience. We're often more intrigued by Mary and Elizabeth than we are by Jane. We can relate to the Mary and Elizabeth, but to Jane, we might struggle to relate. Mary and Elizabeth changed things. They did things. Jane followed orders.

How do you tap into what modern audiences expect with the limitations of the time period? First, you tap into the culture of that world, and second, you figure out how to bend the rules. Rules can be broken, of course, but only for a specific reason. A main character who constantly flouts the rules will eventually run into trouble ... or the story won't feel right.

Orfhlait lives in Ireland; she is a princess, and lives in a convent. The rulers of Ireland are the English, much like absentee landlords living in another state. They care little for the Irish, and prefer them to leave well-enough alone while other, more important things happen. Orfhlait lives in the time period that establishes the groundwork for the War of the Roses. Henry Bolingbroke is now Henry IV, and he has rebellions to put down in Wales, and the constant struggle with Scotland. So long as Ireland is quite, Henry is pleased.

Ireland has been a part of English territory since the beginning of the twelfth century, but the only part of Ireland seemingly under English laws is the area surrounding Dublin, called the Pale. Outside the Pale (or Beyond the Pale as the saying goes) Irish laws and customs control. There are still kings in Ireland, though some are basically chiefs and others are simply lesser knights. In Orfhlait's kingdom, this is the case: her father is a petty king in Ireland, but in English rule he is lower than a duke in rank.

Into this world, I placed Orfhlait: a character who can annoy those around her, but who somehow endears herself to many of them as well. She struggles to obey her parents, follow their commands for her life, even while she wishes to live her own life. She struggles because she is destined to be a nun, and she really isn't nun material.

The mother superior sees the potential Orfhlait has, and guides Orfhlait's education in order for Orfhlait to become a brehon (lawyer of Irish law). To this end, Orfhlait has an extensive training in history, medicine, world culture, languages, religious and politics. When the series begins, she has, in essence, finished her high school training, and is preparing for whatever her next step will be. Added to her training, she has a father and older brother who, for reasons of sheer sanity, have taught her how to protect herself. Orfhlait can, and does, shoot arrows using a smaller bow than the longbow of the time period.

Hobbits in Time

There is a photograph I saw once in Williamsburg, Virginia, taken in the 1930s at a party around the time period when John D. Rockefeller, Jr. began purchasing property for what became modern Colonial Williamsburg. The photograph shows a variety of people in Revolutionary costume: breeches and vests; gowns and bodices. They attempted to recreate the world of the 1770s, with one glaring problem: it didn't look right.

Why? Because they had 1920s attitudes about 1770 clothes. A study of fashion history shows this: the Georgian Era was rigid; the 1920s, comfortable. The Georgian women had stomachers which gave the appearance of flatter chests; Georgian men had their chests pushed out (shoulders back and down). The cut of the clothing was different. In the Twenties, women wore modern undergarments without corsets; men had looser clothing.

When re-creating a world, we will never fully understand it; we rarely fully understand our own, but we can adjust our perceptions of the world and how we portray it so it rests comfortably on the shoulders of the readers. We don't want to romanticize the world by any stretch, but at the same point, we don't want the world to be so alienating that people won't read it.

In essence, we want hobbits to inhabit time. When creating the world of Middle Earth, J.R.R. Tolkien gave us Bilbo and Frodo Baggins, hobbits. These hobbits were wealthy farmers who lived in a small town. They liked tobacco and beer, taking long walks, food and gardens. They were, in essence, the world Tolkien loved: Edwardian England.

Through the eyes of Bilbo and Frodo, the reader meets wizards, elves, dwarves, orcs, humans, dragons and other races. We see Middle Earth through the eyes of characters to whom we can relate and love. We understand Bilbo's annoyance at all these unexpected guests; and we relate to Frodo's desire for an adventure.

I would love to travel through time and space: learning about new cultures and new civilizations. I would like to live with a family who went through the American Revolution or lived in 1920s Philly, but I don't want to lose my 21st century worldview or comforts either. I want to wear the clothes of the past, but still feel comfortable in them.

Our main characters are the ones to whom the audience relates. Can they be a little annoying? Temperamental? Human? Of course, but they need to live in their world and fit, but at the same time relate enough to us to understand.

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