So if you could go anywhere, anywhen and see anything what would you do?
What makes any particular location interesting? Is there a famous person you’d like to meet or observe, some aspect of your life you’d like to re-visit, a subject from school that has nagged at you either because there wasn’t enough information or because you thought it was wrong?
Do you want to change the past or learn something about it or yourself? What will you bring back with you to your life now? What, after all, is the point?
And what if you were going to write fiction about a time-period? Its not enough that you are interested in the subject matter but rather you have to know enough about it to make it convincing but not get so caught up in the details that it becomes overwhelming. Ideally your readers should already be broadly interested in the time-period but neither know so much about it as to get bored nor so so little as to be confused. And again what is the point – why that time period and not any other one? what is it about then that shows off the ideas you are bringing out?
Naturally, I tend to think that the ancient classical world offers an excellent setting for fiction. Apart from the obvious fact that we tend to define it rather loosely – it easily covers 1000 years (are we including Myceneans or Minoans? Is 476 the real fall of the Roman empire – what are you doing with the East?) and covers (at various times) from Britain to the Middle East with a chunk of North Africa thrown in – and that means there is plenty of scope for exploring, it is also something that many people are able to recognise and pick out stories from. Not only have chunks of its history and literature been traditionally taught in Western schools but it has also been absorbed into our culture in more subtle ways (such as architectural iconography and narrative tropes).
OK so far so obvious but actually it raises more questions for me:
Who chooses to write fiction about the classical world, especially to contrast it directly against their contemporary world? Is there a gender bias? a racial one?
Are some parts of the classical world more popular than others – what makes them so, their familiarity or shared themes (I tend to notice themes of imperialism everywhere so…)?
What do the characters learn? Is it the same as the readers?
How does the portrayal of the ancient world react to scholarship on the topic?
Does the immersive potential of fiction allow scholars to examine the past differently or do we simply partake in the wish-fulfilment?
So… as part of my ongoing thinking/research on the topic I want to collect examples.
I am focusing on time-travel and NOT historical fiction so there must be some element of the character(s) experiencing contrasting time periods but I don’t mind if thats by magic or a device and I am willing to be persuaded on what counts as the ‘classical’ world – if you have suggestions please add them to the comments.