License, or – ?

I’ve just started reading The Revenant, a Novel of Revenge by Michael Punke.  It recounts the story of Hugh Glass, a legendary mountain man/fur trapper who was horribly mauled by a grizzly bear and left for dead by his companions.  Against all odds, he not only survived but dragged himself (literally) hundreds of miles, without food or resources to obtain it, to the nearest fort.  Once recovered, he set out to find and confront those who had left him.

I’m writing a novel about the same time period, with some of the same characters, and have done quite a bit of research in order to make my book as historically accurate as I can.  I am reading The Revenant to gain more perspective on the lifestyles of its characters and settings for the events.  Boy, is it different!  By page 51, I find major discrepancies between this author’s presentation of events and the historical information my sources give me.

It raises interesting questions about “literary license” in historical fiction.  I find it disheartening that this book is being made into a major motion picture.  Unless my research is wrong, the movie will be portraying erroneous information.  Maybe it doesn’t matter much, since all the characters are long dead and the events are perhaps not very consequential at this point, but it still bothers me.  People read historical novels and see historical movies, I think, to learn as well as be entertained.  I know I do, and I want some reasonable diligence about the truth.

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2 Responses to License, or – ?

  1. K. Reid says:

    It seems ironic that the very subject matter and time period in which you have immersed yourself and have been researching would be the subjects of a movie while you’re still in the process.

    I know that you did your research so as to be accurate in writing your historical novel. Maybe other authors are more fast and loose with accuracy so as to strengthen a story that is otherwise not gripping enough, perhaps? Did the novelist include a bibliography?

    It might be more interesting to read your review of The Revenant than the book itself!

    i think it’s great that you’re in the position to critique another’s work based on accuracy, as well as the storyline.

  2. Thanks, Kim. I have been unsure how much license a novelist can/should take with historical facts. The Revenant’s author says he has tried to keep it accurate, and does have a bibliography. In his favor, I have found that there are often wide variations among different accounts of the same event, so maybe his sources just report differently from mine. I have in fact done some pretty serious re-writing of sections where I have found more complete reporting after my original. However, the disparities I’ve found in The Revfenant don’t seem likely to be of that nature.

    One problem for me is that, if the promised movie is very popular and enters into the general historical consciousness, and then my book is finished and published, those who read it will assume my facts are in error because of what they “know” from the movie.

    In any event, it’s exciting to me that this fascinating time period, and these people, are being immortalized after a fashion. They are part of our heritage and deserve to be remembered.

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