Thursday, April 26, 2007

Run for your lives! The Mercians are coming!

I no longer believe in the Saxon invasions.

Okay, it's hardly something that has reduced the bedrock of my life to fine powder, or will bring about the downfall of civilization as we know it. But it is one of those beliefs that I picked up as a child and never really questioned. I've studied history a fair bit, but not that particular time and place, and the books I read tended to take Bede's line. Never underestimate the power of an ecclesiastical-sounding title, wise-looking beard and funny hat.

Then archaeological evidence (in book form) came along last week and wobbled a tiny corner of my worldview. It reminded me that histories are written by people who are ultimately fallible and biased, especially a hundred or so years after the events.

I wouldn't go so far as to call the Venerable Bede a propagandist (if I did, a certain relative would probably take me out in the dead of night, and that would be that), but let's just say that he had an Angle (heheh). Of course, archeaological evidence is itself subject to interpretation by similarly flawed humans. But for the moment, I'm quite enjoying trying on their reconstructed early Briton shoes, despite the blisters from the centre seam and undressed oxhide.

It also reminded me that writing always leaves out more than it keeps in. Even the most real-seeming, detailed book in the world is more like a map than reality. It leaves spaces for the imagination to fill - this is where the book comes alive in the reader's mind. These fragments of emptiness create places for interaction and dialogue between the reader and writer, uncluttered by words and filled with imagination. Maybe a writer's skill lies not only in her writing, but her not-writing - the way she carves out space in her work.


Bookwormom said...

History always seems to be skewed (sp?) by the victor. Then people begin to take that viewpoint as the only truth, leading us all down the primrose path.

I very much like the view of an author as a person who creates space for the reader.

EvilAuntiePeril said...

Hi bookwormom, I still have all kinds of ideas around connected with these two things running around in my head. DA has a post up today as well about historical accuracy which ties into this, too, so lots more to think about now.

Something that struck me after reading your comment about "going down the primrose path" is that the missing pieces in history act as spaces in the same way - they allow people to create a dialogue with the past. But then the dialogue becomes more "real" than the evidence itself. And then history-as-myth rears its ugly head.

Of course, it doesn't help that careful selection of evidence has a lot to do with the existence of some of those gaps...