If you happen to be near Leicester, England, tomorrow (May 29, 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.), you can attend the first Richard III Annual Lecture, co-sponsored by the University of Leicester’s Medieval Research Centre and the King Richard III Visitor Centre.
Has any monarch provoked more debate after such a brief, long-ago reign? Shakespeare portrayed a hunchback villain who murdered his young nephews to usurp the throne in 1483, only to lose it—and his life—to Henry VII two years later. Historical investigation by the fictional detective in Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time (1951) concludes Henry VII murdered the princes. Ricardians—Richard’s admirers—insist on Richard’s innocence and praise his judicial reforms. Click here for a teaser about the recovery of his bones.
You might find more Ricardian passion at a Society for Creative Anachronism event than a scholarly symposium on late medieval England. Ricardianism is part of a perennial grassroots rebellion against the perceived elitism of trained experts and smug academics.
It also reflects a human insistence on seeing our public figures as either saints or villains. Real-life trained historians are capable of thinking the same man a judicial reformer and a child killer, with morals irrelevant to the shape of his back.
American fascination with the British royal family used to leave me cold. Didn’t we revolt in 1776 partly to abolish such trappings? Lately I’m caught up in the excitement of royal courtships and weddings. The heritage of “the people’s princess” Diana moves forward with a new generation who talk openly about their feelings, promote human causes with empathy, and marry for love.
Some say instead of calling your daughter a princess, you should tell her she’s strong, or brave, or smart. (Or persistent, or hard-working, but that’s a topic for a different post.) Why not all of the above? Sleeping till kissed by a handsome prince makes a poor role model, but not every princess is so passive. One grew up to become Britain’s longest-reigning monarch.
For an African American girl, a girl of mixed race, a geeky high achiever, any girl who knows she’s strong or brave or smart, why insist fairy-tale beauty and grace are always for somebody else? A princess can be smart, strong, brave, and hard-working. A princess can be a leader who influences a nation or culture. Just look at Diana, Kate, and Meghan.*
* Never mind whether they all hold the title princess. This is about images, not titles or technicalities.
How do so many authors roll out one mystery novel after another, every year or two? Plotting a mystery is one of the hardest puzzles I’ve ever tried to conquer. Granted, it’s not in the same category as human and relational matters, or organizing for social and political change, or health or spirit or physical feats. But as mental challenges go, creating a mystery plot ranks right up there.
Beyond the central crime, investigation, and solution, mysteries interweave subplots and red herrings, motives and dangers, missteps and misdirection. Multiple points of view must dovetail, even when only one is overt. Pacing must vary without letting up. Playing fair means giving readers all the essential clues without giving away the solution. Every mystery I read sets me trying to figure out not only, Who’s guilty? but, How did the author do that?
Corrine is a visual artist. In response to my second-anniversary invitation to suggest a blog topic related to writing, reading, history, imagination, or the creative life, she writes, “Your five broad topics are a part of all of my art projects. I love to include words and read a lot to find just the right ones, or they find me. I research the history in art techniques and creations to fuel my imagination and creativity.”
The part that swirls in my mind most persistently is her use of words in visual art. I’ve heard since childhood that verbal and visual processing are distinct phenomena, opposites even. Pop psychology says left-brainers deal in language and logic, while right-brainers generate creativity and art. Where does that leave those of us whose creative medium is language?
Barring brain injury, the sides of the brain work together, though their differences are real. The left is more involved in speech, the right more attuned to “Aha!” moments. The right perceives an image and the left concocts a story to interpret it. Brain scans refute the myth that being rational or intuitive reflects which side dominates. Both analysis and creativity emerge in the connections between the halves. As Corrine suggests, art draws on all the parts working together.
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.