Snarkling Clean

Snarkling Clean- because you don't have to cuss to make fun of stuff. Two dedicated readers discuss romance novels- from what made us weep with joy to what made us want to poke pencils through our eyeballs.

Friday, March 03, 2006

History Ho: Is You Is Or Is You Ain't? Part One

I've seen a lot of debate over the research used, or not used, in historical romances. Many readers feel that meticulous research pays off; others really couldn't care as long as the story's good.

I can see both viewpoints. I am a history ho of long standing, and when certain details are wrong it drives me insane. Case in point- one scene I read had the requisite beefy Scottish hero (don't you know ALL highlanders were built like seven foot tall linebackers?) running up a stairwell in a tiny English inn. These stairs, if described like every other I've ever read about, would be a nice fit for the Munchkins. This hero's just heard his lady scream, so he draws his sword as he runs up stairs. Okay, fine. But the author doesn't call it a sword. Not a blade, not singing steel, but identifies it as a claymore.

I'm aware that the average reader may not know what a claymore is. But the author obviously didn't, either. I'm guessing she saw the word in some other research and liked it, thinking it was interchangable with any other kind of sword. For the uninitiated, a claymore is a six foot blade. A weapon with reach to it, and heft. It's called a two-handed sword for a reason. It did not rest lightly in a scabbard attached to a man's belt; it quite obviously had to be slung across the back. When this hero ran up a close, cozy staircase while drawing one of the biggest swords ever made I got sucked right out of the story. I kept waiting for him to get stuck, or at least brain himself.

I shook it off and kept reading. It was a decent story. Later, the poor hero has been tortured, one hand crushed and basically useless. He still uses the called-by-its-name claymore. If he had arms strong enough to use that sword one handed then he moved out of the realm of muscled hunkiness and onto the "we're so bulked we have no necks" cover of Ripped magazine. That was it- I was out of the zone completely and it left a bad aftertaste in an otherwise good book.

Suspension of disbelief is a weird, subjective thing. If you are building a world based loosely on history but plainly your romanticized view of it, I can go there. Julie Garwood is the prime example of this. I absolutely love her 13th century highland romances, but they might as well take place on Venus. In her world, highlanders are all honorable, honest, noble men who would never raise his hand to a woman or be mean to a child. They are all huge supreme warriors (see linebacker comment above) who wear their clan plaid proudly. Being a good history ho, I know that plaids didn't come along until much later- they didn't wear those in the 1200's. And having a certain pattern for a certain clan is a fairly recent construct, too- how much sense would it make for these expert soldiers, who were at war with just about everybody, to ride about in a tartan that proclaims "Hey! I'm a MacLeod! Come get me!" Think of it this way: Braveheart got it wrong. Rob Roy got it right.

But I'm okay with it, because the books scream My World And Welcome To It. It's when all the history is taken seriously that I get kind of nitpicky. And in case any of you think I'm going to talk about Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series, I'll simply say this. I liked the first one until the pervert Randall got his hands on the hero. Sorry, I just don't want to read about that sort of thing. I can look at objectively and say it was a fine piece of writing, but I only have so much time to indulge myself in a good book and I don't want to waste it. Ms. Gabaldon took a lot of grief when she had her highland hero Jamie actually beat his wife for disobedience. I say it was one halfway truthful episode in a whole book where Jamie was more sensitive and loving than any modern man I know. Medieval anywhere was a brutal place, and men, even good men, were more parental to their wives than partners. Her inclusion of that one scene didn't totally impress this history ho.

Next: The Old South and the Old West: Hit weren't nuthin like ya think!


Blogger Abby said...

I love history, but I'm not much of a ho. I would have missed the claymore thing, though I would have wondered what it was. I'm not big on the Scottish stuff.

I remember, though, once reading a medieval Scottish clan leader using the word "exponential". Took me right out of the book. I don't think too many of those guys learned exponents.

And that book by Putney, the one that everyone loves, where the Regency gent goes through the 12 steps of AA - I never bought that. Because in real life he just would have been a drunk, you know?

2:10 PM  
Blogger Robyn said...

Because in real life he just would have been a drunk, you know?

WORD. And still been treated as if he were captivating, witty, and urbane if he had sufficient title and money.

2:34 PM  
Blogger Missie said...

Thanks for stopping by here. We are always glad to have another romance fan join our horde.

3:40 PM  
Anonymous Michelle said...

I know just what you mean about the claymore thing.

Now, I was judging a contest entry once, and the author mentioned that the hero was using his sword like a walking stick, letting it drag in the dirt. I was pretty horrified. Most of the swords were meticulously cleaned, sometimes oiled, to keep them in good working order. Drag them in the DIRT? As expensive as they were? Yikes.

4:02 PM  
Blogger Abby said...

Thanks for thanking me. I'm a fan, by the way, I link to you on my blog.

4:23 AM  
Blogger Bernita said...

My biggest peeve is when the battlefield smells like the botanical garden rather than the slaughterhouse.
I actually will go check something out if it sounds wrong, just to see if the writer is screwed or if I am.

5:37 AM  
Anonymous Kaitlin said...

I remember once reading a book where the heroine walked amongst the knights of the hero's keep. I don't remember how, but somehow she got hit with the sword or some such nonsense. I was all of 15, but I remember thinking that there was no way she'd be able to escape that unhurt. She walks away without a scratch. Weird.

8:54 AM  
Blogger December Quinn said...

Oh, geez!
If junk like the claymore (I would have thrown the book across the room!) gets through, people think it's right. And then you have readers insisting that medieval people did not drink from wooden or metal goblets, or something, because they read a book once where crystal was used. This scares me.

You don't get a chance to defend your research to an agent on a partial, you know? So is the asnwer to go with the "everybody knows it was this way" school, or with the truth?

Really, really scares me.

8:31 AM  
Blogger Robyn said...

Hey, december quinn, welcome. And I know, I know, it's not like the fate of the world hangs on the average reader's knowledge of ancient weapons. ;)

But I'm with you on defending your research- any editor worth his or her salt could have caught stuff like the claymore, and other examples mentioned above. I'd research the publisher (or the agent) thoroughly before submitting, just to see how they handle things like this. You might be able to weed out some of the worst rulebreakers.

12:44 PM  
Anonymous nessili said...

Oh dear. I guess I must be one too. Tho' shouldn't it be called a "history-harlot" instead? Ho is just too modern a word.

Anyhoo, I'm one of those who insist my romances be accurate. Or if they can't be (for the sake of a huge, unchangeable plot point) then at least I know exactly what I changed.

For example, I have the 4th PA Cav fighting on Brinkerhoff's Ridge the third day of Gettysburg. ACtually, it was the 3rd PA Cavalry fighting there, but I really, really needed that plot point...

Okay, so it's official. I'm anal.

Tho' I'll admit (to my shame--I'm a bit of a weapons buff) I missed the claymore thing (if it's the book I think you're talking about). My only excuse is I read waaayyyy too fast and just skip over a lot of the little details like that.

When's part Two coming out? This is a fun topic :)

10:14 PM  
Blogger Robyn said...

History strumpet? History trollop? Hmm...

6:38 AM  
Anonymous nessili said...

Oooo--I like the strumpet! Maybe Bernita's little book of bad words could give some other options :)

9:32 PM  
Blogger Bernita said...

"Ectually",she said, "ho" is simply a street reversion to the Middle and Old English "hore", akin to Old Norse "hora" and "horr" (adulterer).

7:25 AM  

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