marycatelli (marycatelli) wrote,


Reading back in time to rip off research history for use in fiction often means you happen on stuff that is not immediately intuitively obvious why they do it that way.

The fun part is that there are two reasons why it might be so.

The first one is that you are just missing some information.  The British practice of demanding that officers buy their commissions may seem odd, until you learn it was introduced after the English Civil War so that the officers had to have a stack in society -- both their investment, and the position from which they could have bought the commission.

That doesn't exhaust the possibilities, though, and the other reason is harder to work out, because it means that they are operating from entirely different premises than you.  It's not enough, then, to figure out what they are thinking.  You have to figure out what you are thinking that doesn't apply.

I observed once, in an online discussion, that the two largest witch hunts in history, with victims in the thousands, were during the Roman Republic.  One participant waxed quite astounded at the notion of why on earth would the emperor (his slip, not mine) object to other people's magic when he had his own in the imperial cults.  Didn't want to realize that the whole neo-pagan claims about witchcraft and paganism are in fact a modern mixture.  Greco-Roman paganism knew the difference between magic and religion all right, and sometimes prosecuted the former as impiety.  (To be sure, in the same discussion, some people tried to blame Christian influence.  Not the most historically educated group ever.)

Impiety, of course, was prosecuted because it was a public menace.  As well turn over the nation to a foreign power as tick off the gods.  Which is not the only offense that can bring shocked looks from people.  Recently was in an online discussion where a woman was asking why on earth was suicide a crime.  Even when people pointed out it was murder, she insisted that it can't possibly be a crime, you have a right to destroy your own life, and nothing should be a crime that hadn't been shown to infringe on someone else's rights -- which, obviously, she didn't think it did.  That the number of laws against suicide show that many, many, many people either disagreed about the grounds on which a law could be enacted, or did think that it infringed on other people's rights did not seem to be something she got easily.

Tags: the past is a different country, thinking, world-building: law, world-building: magic (effects), world-building: religion, world-building: social structure

  • stealing the back story

    Sometimes the thing you want to rip off is an element of the backstory. Perhaps you think it's more interesting than the main story, or perhaps you…

  • tale of a child

    There are fairy tales with child protagonists, of course. If you read up on them, there are even tales that start with child protagonists who are…

  • ages of history

    So, once upon a time, there were evil wizards making everyone miserable. Some of the more minor wizards banded together and took over and made…

  • Post a new comment


    Anonymous comments are disabled in this journal

    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    Your IP address will be recorded