Thursday, June 27, 2024

The Historian and the Novelist Are Seeking The Same Thing—And So Are We

June 27, 2024

   Sometimes people criticize our efforts at True West with this complaint: "Just print the facts, man. I only want the facts!"  

   Sometimes we do just that, but, I'm sorry, the truth is not facts lined up. I know some of you think it is, but here's an example on why that isn't true. Ted Turner spent $90 million on "Gods And Generals," with the intent of getting the facts of Gettysburg right. He optioned a great book on the subject, hired a fantastic cast, filmed great battles with 8,000 extras, but, as a withering review put it, "it didn't have a point." It made back a piddly $12 million. And here is the reason: it didn't have a compelling story. In movies and books and history magazines we need to tell better stories! Has our history been picked clean? Hardly. Are there new ways into old stories? Yes, read Brad Courtney's groundbreaking research in the current issue on the many trails Doc Holliday went down before he landed in Tombstone and you will see what I mean.

   So, let's review: how do we fix our history problem? We need to tell better stories. That is the mandate, that is the trick, that is the future. I'll see you there. Or, will I? he said closing on a classic cliffhanger narrative, storytelling bit.

Daily Scratchboard Whip Out:
"A Cackling Old Vaquero"
(no doubt laughing at my presumptions)

Or, Put Another Way. . .

   "The point I would make is that the novelist and the historian are seeking the same thing: the truth—not a different truth: the same truth—only they reach it, or try to reach it, by different routes. Whether the event took place in a world now gone to dust, preserved by documents and evaluated by scholarship, or in the imagination, preserved by memory and distilled by the creative process, they both want to tell us how it was: to recreate it, by their separate methods, and make it live again in the world around them.

   "This has been my aim, as well, only I have combined the two. Accepting the historian’s standards without his paraphernalia, I have employed the novelist’s methods without his license. Instead of inventing characters and incidents, I searched them out—and having found them, I took them as they were."

—Shelby Foote

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