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Factually-Based Historical Fiction And Spoilers

Can factually-based historical novels be spoiled? That was the question that entered my head a few weeks ago when I was pondering my last post on the general subject. I think there may be a few genres where the question ‘do spoilers affect your reading?’ needs more details prior to answering but the most obvious in my mind is factually-based historical fiction. Be it historical in general, historical romance or historical fantasy (less likely, I think we can say, to be completely factual), it’s harder to say that fiction based on history, particularly history that we know a fair bit about, can be spoiled.

I suppose you could liken this to the argument that we should get over ourselves when it comes to spoilers for the canon, that they’ve been around too long for anyone to walk on eggshells; a substantial number of people are likely to know the historical details of a historical novel, be they readers or not, and they aren’t going to keep quiet about them. After all, history is a different discipline to literature; to use the favoured turn of phrase, so-and-so would roll in their grave if we made something of their story having been spoilt for us. Where history is concerned, the issue of spoilers is moot.

I reckon the concept is more prevalent in the film industry, where people don’t want to know the ending of a story unless they’re currently watching it. Of course this sort of no-knowledge tends to depend on the person not being into the history except in the context of films.

If a book is based on a real person/people and/or events, I don’t think you can expect to read your book free of spoilers. Not only would you have to watch out for the writings and conversations of other readers but also of historians in articles, in television documentaries and for random occurrences like a 500 years late funeral. And the more popular the history, the more the discussion.

But in this there’s a big positive – if you are sensitive to spoilers this is one genre where you can throw caution to the wind and research. You get to read the book for the first time as though it’s a re-read. Historical fiction is full of opinion and interpretation, more so, perhaps, than other genres and it offers an easy way to study History, to study without studying and to gain knowledge, to learn academic methods and disciplines in a non-academic environment.

I’m thinking we can’t apply the concept of spoilers to factually-based historical fiction in the usual way, that at most we can say that authors’ interpretations and retellings can be spoiled for us.

Your thoughts?



April 13, 2016, 6:03 pm

On the whole you can’t escape spoilers in historical fiction because let’s face it has already happened in real life. I suppose if you gave away too much detail about the writing and detail in a crucial scene from an historical book you could perhaps be accused of spoiling it…but it is unlikely you would give away that much.

Jenny @ Reading the End

April 14, 2016, 12:14 am

I know this is a minority perspective, but as a person who has never really understand exactly what constitutes a spoiler (people have such widely variant definitions!), it can sometimes be a real relief to me to be dealing with history where nothing I say can be a spoiler. With Hamilton, for instance, when it came out last year and as more of my friends started listening to it, it was lovely to be able to say whatever I wanted about whatever element of the plot I wanted, and it couldn’t be a spoiler because History.

Alice Farrant

April 24, 2016, 8:15 pm

I think this is one of those situations like Jenny has mentioned. Where you can talk about what has happened to that historical figure, and not spoil a book on them. Enough time has passed and authors take their own perspective. I think if someone began telling me about the book itself I’d consider it spoiling.


April 25, 2016, 9:04 am

Jessica: That’s true, you could speak of the writing and details but that’s not considered as ‘spoilerish’ as plot. Though I suppose if someone’s looking forward to reading another point of view they’d prefer to discover it themselves.

Jenny: On what constitutes a spoiler I think there’s the general idea which works, the ending and twists, but yes, then there are so many individual thoughts as to level of detail it can be difficult to navigate. I’ll have to look Hamilton up.

Alice: That’s a good distinction; talking about the person as opposed to the book itself.



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