Denial – how is it different from historical fiction?

Argument is not denial.

Some time ago, I wrote about the destruction of statues by people who didn’t like the opinions or actions of the historical figures they commemorated. Both sides in that controversy accepted the basic facts of history. They just looked at them from different points of view.

I have recently tried to refute Kanye West’s suggestion that slavery was in some way a choice on the part of the slaves. On thinking about it, I realise that you could say all us historical novelists change the past to suit ourselves. We change history by inserting fiction into it to varying degrees. So is the kettle calling the pot black? Are we guilty of denial?

In what way am I in denial about historical facts?

I try to be true to the known facts of history most of the time. I usually take known facts as my framework and insert fictitious characters and events into them. Sometimes, I make minor changes to the facts in order to make a good story or to make one simpler. When I do that, I mention it in historical notes in the book, unless it is too trivial to mention. I try to avoid denial of known facts.

Disagreement is not denial.

There are many things historians disagree about. Mostly, these are interpretations rather than facts, but sometimes there are historical documents or pieces of archaeological evidence that contract each other. I claim the right to choose which ones to believe, like anyone else. However, I do not deny known facts and am not aware of any historical novelist who does. We don’t need to. The facts are interesting enough, and there’s plenty of scope for being creative without changing them.

Masks: do they hide the truth and is fiction a form of denial?
Masks: do they hide the truth and is fiction a form of denial?
Who is in denial about what?

It is amazing how many well documented facts people have chosen to deny in recent times. I cannot know the reasons. Perhaps some people find denial an easy way to deal with things they find inconvenient. Perhaps others are too lazy to go in for proper debate about the past. Here are a few things that some people have denied.

  • That the Twin Towers were destroyed by an Islamist group.
  • The Manchester Arena bomb.
  • The murder of Jo Cox MP.
  • The Holocaust.

In the Bible, it says the authorities paid some soldiers to say that Jesus’s disciples stole his body, so people could deny that he had come back to life.

Perhaps you know of a few more? 

Denial is the opposite of fiction. It doesn’t involve creativity and it prevents debate rather than stimulating it.

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