Tuesday, March 1, 2011


Currently I'm reading GWENHWYFAR by Mercedes Lackey. It's a fictional account of Guinevere, King Arthur's wife. Actually his third wife, apparently he had three wives all named Guinevere or Gwenhwyfar the Celtic spelling of her name.

The prose is compelling to read, but I keep getting tossed out of the story by little mistakes she's made in the background information. While I am quite sure that she thoroughly researched the literature about Guinevere, I am not so sure that she thoroughly researched the history of the time period. There are mistakes that I am aware of because I have studied that time period in history, circa 500 CE, the transition from Roman Rule to Anglo-Saxon rule.

But they're mistakes that most people wouldn't recognize as mistakes as they haven't studied that time period in history as much as I have. Which leaves the author in a conundrum, do you accurately portray the setting or do you use the commonly held beliefs?

For example, as a child Gwenhwyfar lives in a stone castle. There are two private rooms off the Great Hall. She and her sisters sleep in one. Her parents sleep in the other. Nothing wrong with that, right? Except that castles weren't made of stone until the eleventh century and the private room off the Great Hall didn't come into being until the twelfth or thirteenth century. This is five to seven hundred years after the time of Arthur. But most people reading a story about King Arthur or one of the ancillary stories would expect them to live in a stone castle with private rooms for the King and his family. And I believe the literature from the eleventh and twelfth centuries have them living in such a castle.

When I started writing this post, I was firmly on the side of get it right. But now that I have had more time to think about it, I am not so sure that is the best approach. How many readers would get thrown out of the story because Gwenhwyfar lived in a Roman style villa with a bath and a courtyard?

I'm only a few chapters into the story, but I have realized that if the names of the characters were changed or if I wasn't aware that I was reading a retelling of Guinevere's story that I would enjoy the story more. All of my expectations as a reader would be gone.

What are your thoughts about this?

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