Something Old

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Here is my “something old” :

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It’s a silver sixpence from 1885, given me by a friend. Not only is it an actual Victorian sixpence, it’s dated from 100 years before I was born: this is a pretty serious something old for me. With this, my crazy shoes, my new dress and veil, and a ring borrowed from the same friend, I’m completely set for my wedding, according to that old poem.

The whole poem goes like this:

Something old, something new
Something borrowed, something blue
And a silver sixpence in her shoe.

So not only do I have something old, I have that silver sixpence so often overlooked.

This delightful little coin makes me think of just how hard it is to portray history in fiction. I can hold this 100-year-old sixpence in my hand, feel it, see the wearing of the profile and the date, and I can show you this photo of it, but, in this blog post, I can’t make you feel its weight or its smoothness. And I can’t know just how many people have held it, spent it, and saved it. It’s undefinable.

Historical fiction (and historical fantasy) is hard. I know: I’ve tried. You can read all the books about your time period, you can read contemporary fiction, you can look at images and artifacts and clothes, but you can’t ever really convey what it was like.

Mary Robinette Kowal wrote about how she used only words Jane Austen used in her historical fantasy. Many readers don’t like Brandon Sanderson for using contemporary language in semi-historical fantasy. (That’s not an opinion I share, but it’s one I can respect.)

But language doesn’t fully capture history. There’s something in detail, setting, and mindset that creates realism. As a writer, it’s so hard not to let modern observations and attitudes shape the way we view a semi-historical world. And as a reader, we’re all influenced by different ways of conveying history.

What, as a reader and a writer, evokes a sense of the past for you?

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