Epic historical fiction comes in many shapes and is usually the same size—long. They are challenging to write, and many readers find the genre an acquired taste. But what sets aside these tomes of sagacity from other categories? And can you find them in the Christian market?
Let’s take a moment and define epic historical fiction. The novel is about crises. Society cannot tolerate disorder, so we give power to specific groups of people so that order can be reached and maintained. In other words, in the United States, we vote for a president and give the person the power to send off our armies or write a check to care for those in an emergency. Sometimes, the president is busy, and at other times, things are quiet.
At every point in history, society has been in a stage of order or disorder, constantly shifting. And sometimes (or usually), people in power misuse their role.
People don’t have to be in absolute power to create chaos. Here are a few examples of both leaders and regular people in history sowing disorder.
Persian leader Xerxes had his men whip the sea with chains when it wouldn’t behave. Caligula made his horse co-emperor. Two people have been conned into buying the Eiffel Tower. In 1932, Australia fought a war against emus and lost. A 1631 Bible was printed with the commandment, “Thou shalt commit adultery.”
An epic historical fiction writer’s job is to show (not tell) the context behind unique moments in history.
For an epic history in the Christian market, it is the writer’s job to coax Christ’s mercy and redemption from the hopelessness of civilization. We can show that despite mankind’s madness, 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 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 society’s 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 the Bible and 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 is your favorite historical fiction?
Beliefs represented by individual authors are not necessarily shared by all members of ICW.