Did you ever feel like you were born in the wrong time? I get that feeling all the time. It’s probably why I am such a huge fan of Doctor Who. I could spend a thousand lifetimes travelling throughout history to see everything imaginable. I want to stare in awe at the building of the pyramids or laugh with Queen Elizabeth while watching A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the Globe Theater; but I also want to bear witness to the horrors of humanity as well. From the Holocaust to the “Trail of Tears,” there are events we must never forget or else we may repeat them.
That’s something I hate about the “PC” world we live in today. To ensure we don’t hurt people’s “feelings” or make them feel inadequate about themselves, some people are trying to rewrite history to make it conform to popular thinking. The movie Interstellar had a great example of this when a teacher tried to explain that the moon landings were faked just so the U.S. would win the Cold War. Ridiculous!
I know they’re not teaching this in schools but, you have to admit, it’s a real possibility. There are people out there today who think events like the Holocaust and the moon landings were faked, created by the government to control people. That’s like saying Africans weren’t thrust into slavery, they walked on those boats of their own free will.
You can’t change history, and if we try to, we are a failure as a society and as writers. We take history and make it real through our stories, myths and legends. There are books that tell the story of a generation within their pages: To Kill a Mockingbird, The Grapes of Wrath, and Gone with the Wind just to name a few.
Even by taking liberties with history, we are telling a very important story. One of my favorite authors of alternate history is Harry Turtledove. He takes one event in time and changes it, then follows it to fruition from past to present. The best example of this is in my favorite book of his, How Few Remain.
The novel starts with a Confederate courier, carrying the plans laid out by General Robert E. Lee, wrapped around some cigars. In history, the courier dropped those cigars where they were picked up by a Union Soldier, revealing Lee’s plans to the Union Army, thus winning the war for the United States; but that’s where the twist comes in. If those plans were never lost, could the South have succeeded in winning the Civil War? Turtledove picks up ten years later, with a divided country heading into another war but with England and France as allies of the Confederacy and Germany allying itself with the U.S.A. Through the next 11 books, he takes you through the Industrial Revolution, World War I, the Depression and ending at World War II, but with a very different but equally shocking Holocaust as African-Americans became the victims of a ruthless Confederate regime that acted like Nazis, sending them to gas chambers and mass graves.
Even in a twisted universe like that one, there are still lessons from our world history written into every word. This is our mission in life as writers. We cannot change the past but we can write about it so that, generations from now, people will know how we lived, laughed and loved … That is until The Time Machine is invented, but H.G. Wells timetable is way off by now!