Epic historical fiction comes in many shapes, but usually the same size—long. They’re difficult to write, and many readers find they are an acquired taste. But what sets aside these tomes of sagacity from other genres? And can you find them in the Christian market?
Epic historical fiction is about crisis. Society cannot tolerate disorder, so we give power to certain group of people hoping order can be reached and maintained. Security, both for our lives and our consumables, is our goal.
Every point in history, society is at one stage of order or disorder, and it is constantly shifting. Sometimes (or usually) people in power misuse their role.
Any writer would think that men and women chosen to lead a nation would show reason. But just the opposite. It seems the job only fills their minds with an obstinate preordained notion of how things must be proceed, and no matter the circumstance, the path laid before them marches towards failure so clearly that one hundred or one thousand years later, even grade school children understand the historical implications. For example, why does a perfectly self-contained society make war on another with assured resource loss it can never hope to regain through conquest? Why, when sciences and arts create such beauty, do governments make war and other perverse decisions? It makes no sense.
Reflecting any civilization’s state of rise or decline demands massive study. The finds, though, can be disheartening. Historians have long argued that locked inside humans’ genes is a need for failure. Many times we read that, when forced with a decision, ‘he did the worst thing he could have under the circumstances.’ These effects are profound when a nation’s sovereignty is locked in a single individual, like a monarchy or dictatorship.
An epic historical fiction writer’s job is to show (not tell) this idiocy in hopes someone might follow Plato’s cry for reason amongst those who make decisions in governments. For an epic historical in the Christian market, it is the job of the writer to coax Christ’s mercy and redemption from the hopelessness that is civilization. We can show that despite the madness of mankind, beauty and hope can be obtained through Christ. It was humans, after all, who ate the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, a deed that was incredibly unintelligent and something every person would do.
No historical epic has a perfectly happy ending, nor does it waste time condemning society as a whole for its actions (the story itself does just fine). A well-researched historical epic is simply people doing the best they can against the changes in society. A Christian historical epic points to redemption and hope, despite societies failures. How to write one? All it takes is epic historical research.
A few of my favorite epic historical novels come from the Christian and general market. Some include violence, language, and sex. Ironically, so does history. Ben Hur by Lew Wallace, Shōgun by James Clavell, The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet, Roots by Alex Haley, Killer Angels by Michael Shaara, Iscariot by Tosca Lee, and I’m running out of word space. There are five hundred more.
What are your favorite historical epics?
Peter Leavell is an award winning historical fiction author. He and his family research together, creating magnificent adventures. Catch up with him on his website at www.peterleavell.com, or friend him on Facebook: Peter R. Leavell.