Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Journey Into the Past

A huge chunk of my historical knowledge comes from the historical fiction I read, so I hope that the authors try to get things right. Sometimes it's realistic, and sometimes magic is used to get modern day characters with their comprehensible perspectives into the right place. I enjoy getting the feel of life in a different place, especially when the author is able to give the sense of a different culture, one with different moral codes and expectations.

Lolah Burford gives a double dose of this, as her book wanders between the distant world of Stephen and the less different but still alien world of the children his visits in his visions. Stephen himself agrees to things that would astonish my kids, especially in terms of what he owes his parents and the justice in punishment for rules he broke with a very good reason. Erik Haugaard's version of historical Japan doesn't dally with any fantastical elements, but manages to give a strong sense of place without lapsing into a didactic tone too often. And the fairy tales of Hausman read like ones from long ago, when fairy tales were told to families and not reserved for children or sanitized for tender adult sentiments.

The Vision of Stephen, Lolah Burford. One of the titles that Noel Perrin recommended in A Child's Delight, his book of neglected children's literature.  I found it fascinating, and I would have loved it as a kid, but I'm not sure whom to recommend it to. There is torture and death, which may turn off the young kids, but there isn't sex, so YA may see it as young. I liked the strong historical sense of Stephen's life, even as he finds himself in an untenable position. (I tried to get Xan interested, but the hazy cover didn't grab him and the book had to go back to the library.)

The Revenge of the Forty-Seven SamuraiThe Revenge of the Forty-Seven Samurai, Erik Christian Haugaard. I enjoyed the glimpse into historical Japan, where Jiro's lowly position gives him a reader's eye perspective on the world of samurai in the changing society.  I did occasionally wonder where the viewpoint was coming from -- it seemed too mature to be Jiro's childhood thoughts, but not removed enough to be his memories as an adult.  I enjoyed learning about Japanese customs and mores in the 1700's too much to worry about it much. Haugaard does a good job of letting Jiro question the samurais' willingness to face execution without making him appear as a modern character somehow plunked in a historical novel. In general I like Haugaard matter-of-fact approach to historical fiction, and I've read several of his books from Vikings through Japanese history.

The Rat-Catcher's Daughter, Laurence Housman. Noel Perrin also recommended the stories by A.E. Housman's forgotten brother, who apparently was the famous one during their early careers. These are beautiful fairy tales that remind me of my childhood book Great Swedish Fairy Tales. They are ruthless in the way only fairy tales can be (lots of kids and babies die, and the small child who grows up trapped in Sleeping Beauty's cursed castle is heartbreaking). Well done, Housman's younger brother.

1 comment:

Charlotte said...

I haven't read any of these! As someone else who likes to learn history through fiction, I'll add them to my list.