Historical tidbits are hidden in plain view all around us. Sometimes they are the statues in public places, on words carved into clay tablets, in the Bible, in the Dead Sea Scrolls, in pictures in museums, in fictional stories that take place during actual historical events, and even in our homes on the kids’ book shelves as nursery rhymes.
We may not like the bias or actions of the cultures they represent, and so sometimes people want to tear them down, throw them away, or color them with the current cultural biases. But they represent that past, and perhaps instead of erasing or changing these reminders, we should focus on the lessons we have learned and can still learn from them.
In order to understand the lessons of history, we sometimes have to do the work to uncover the realities of the past: the culture, the geography, and the day-to-day lives of the people through the ages.
Also keep in mind, history is recorded through the bias of the recorder—by what it meant to them in their time and place. Historical fiction—such as Less Than a Widow, the book I wrote about the Biblical Ruth—also come out of the beliefs and truths of the author. There is no such thing as truth without a bias in human understanding.
Here’s one last nursery rhyme to enjoy as we end this three-week discussion of historical fiction.
Sing a song of sixpence
a pocket full of rye,
Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie.
When the pie was opened the birds began to sing,
Oh wasn’t that a dainty dish to set before the king?
The king was in his counting house counting out his money,
The queen was in the parlour eating bread and honey
The maid was in the garden hanging out the clothes,
When down came a blackbird and pecked off her nose!
I have great childhood memories of singing this song, then either protecting my own nose or trying to pinch someone else’s. I love the pictures this rhyme painted in my mind. In the mind of the common man of the day, this may have answered their question, “What do members of the royal class do all day long?”
During Medieval times, blackbirds (and other songbirds) were considered a great delicacy. Feeding them rye seeds brought them close enough to catch. The court jester may have thought to make the king laugh by hiding live birds in a pastry crust, but if so, he was obviously not a “cause and effect” thinker. I can imagine the birds tried to exact their revenge before they escaped from the hall. I hope the cook had another “real” pie waiting in the kitchen to appease any hungry members of the royal family.
For those of you who enjoy nursery rhymes and would like to dig into “The Rest of the Story” (remembering Paul Harvey!), check out this fun website: http://www.rhymes.org.uk