Wednesday, December 9, 2009

History's Compelling Characters

posted by Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy

Back in my college days (oh so very long ago!), I was a history major and totally enamored of Tudor and Elizabethan England. (Yes, I know I was a geek.) But when several of my friends recently encouraged me to watch the new TV series "The Tudors" I was less than enthusiastic. I felt pretty much as I had about Peter Jackson releasing his "Lord of the Rings" flims. I just didn't believe someone else's version could live up to my own private imagination.

However, since I'd been more than pleasantly surprised with Jackson's films, and I happen to think Jonathan Rhys Meyers is one VERY HOT Irishman (though certainly not my first choice to portray Henry the Eighth), I rented Season 1. I watched the first two episodes with a great deal of skepticism and kept muttering between bites of popcorn, "This isn't very historically accurate." "Give me a break with all this melodrama!" But I kept watching, and I gotta admit that by episode three, I was HOOKED!

But WHY?!?!

For starters, the sets and costumes are sumptuous! There are heaps of gorgeous statues, draperies, jewels, and all the actors look incredible in their satins, velvets and furs. All right, all right, they look good OUT of their costumes too, and there are plenty of those scenes. And even if I do know how this story is going to turn out, I'm still loving all the twisty turns and political intrigue in the storylines (I'm almost finished watching Season 2).

In fact, knowing how it all really turns out is one of the things I like most. I don't have to worry about missing anything in some of various plots and subplots and I can concentrate on the absolute BEST part of the story -- THE CHARACTERS!

Jonathan Rhys Meyers may not look anything like all those museum portraits of King Henry, but he captures his intensity perfectly! Ditto with the two actress who play Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boelyn (who both have way better hair than their historical counterparts, I'm sure). Their emoting may go over-the-top sometimes but it's always real. I felt Anne's anguish and desperation when she suffered that miscarriage. And when the dying Katherine dictates her last letter to Henry and says, "My eyes still desire you above all else." I believed it!

I don't think it is a coincidence that we find Henry, Katherine and Anne compelling, even five hundred years later. These were real people with the same passion and flaws that still resonate with us today. No wonder their story keeps being retold (Ever see Anne of the Thousand Days? RENT IT!) to the delight of generations of audiences. We might not like, or completely understand the things they do, but we can definitely identify with their emotions. Plus, no contrived plot could ever play out as perfectly as real life.

These are the kind of characters I strive to create for my books, heroes, heroines, and supporting characters so compelling that readers become enthralled with them. Characters who are realistically flawed but passionate in their actions and emotions. And I don't have to look any further than my nearest history book to find real people with the traits I need and want to portray!

Who are some of your favorite historical figures? Are there fictional characters you find more compelling?

15 comments:

  1. The fact that Henry and Co's tale is still hooking people even after 500 years is no surprise. It's a darn good story!
    Thanks, Cindy!

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  2. Good question, Cindy. What's funny is that it was one I was asked on a blog tour and I answered it along the lines of: "Most people will probably say Jesus or Mohammed or Mother Teresa. Me, I'd love to chat with Henry VIII. Find out what made him tick and tell him the results of his self-centeredness and wife-swapping (LOL)." I, too, find them fascinating. I'll have to rent The Tudors. Now all I need is the time to watch it...

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  3. I caught a few episodes of the Tudors and loved it...then our cable was switched. I'll have to go out and rent the DVD now that I know it's available. Thx, AC! Oh, and on a side note, did you ever see Marie Antoinette with Kirsten Dunst? It's also sumptious, alghough done a bit tongue-in-cheek, but I found the costumes historically accurate...except for one scene, where Marie is trying on tons of shoes, and behind a champagne glass is a pair of beat-up old tennis shoes. It's quick, you gotta watch for it, but it cracked me up!

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  4. Cindy,
    I have followed the Tudors from the first episode! Wait until you see the episode where Thomas and then Anne meet their destiny. I get chills just thinking about them. It was superbly done. I think the man playing Henry does a fabulous job of playing the spoiled brat who must have his way! Wait until you hear him say "She looks like a horse!" But, of course, that is in Season Three. Well, as you can see I am so hooked on the series and it's the actors and actresses who have brought these people to life for me. Thanks for reminding me that I can hardly wait for the new season to begin!
    Amelia

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  5. Baby, you had me at "history" - LOL!

    I am a geek right there with you, Auntie. My love for history dates to high school and a fabulous teacher (love you still, Mrs. Magar, wherever you are). Some writers thank their English teachers, but not me. It is history that drew me.

    Like you, I believe people of the past had all the same drama and emotions we do. They may dress funny, talk funny, and walk through a world foreign to us in a host of ways, but humans have always been the same.

    I rented The Tudors once, but only watched the first couple episodes. I know I liked it, but think I had edits or something and just didn't have the time to get into it. I'll have to make the time - Thanks for the recommend, Cindy! And thanks for this article!

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  6. Thanx Cheryl,
    Truth is ALWAYS faaar more interesting than anything we fiction writers can concoct in our tired little brains... OOPS! Sorry, I'm the one with the tired brain lately. But yes, from my very first class on Tudor England, Henry's story hooked me.

    AC

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  7. Judi,

    I'm afraid Jesus, Mohammed, or Buddha would be too deep for me! But Henry, ah WHAT a conversation we'd have. I'd love to talk to his father, Henry VII even more!

    Rent The Tudors, you won't be sorry. The scenery and costumes alone are enough to keep you interested for several episodes.

    AC

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  8. Kathryne,
    I DID see Kirsten D. as Marie and I thought it was a GREAT movie! Very evocative of the time period with the elaborate clothes and wigs. I missed the tennis shoe, however! I'll have to rent it again and look for it!

    The scene where she's being taken from her children was a real heart-ripper!

    AC

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  9. YAY Amelia!
    You are obviously as big a fan as yer olde aunty! I'm right at the point where Anne is in the Tower, watching her brother and Smeaton get the axe... EEEEKKK!! I thought the scene with Sir Thomas More's execution was WONDERFUL! The cross with the pool of blood... and then later, Henry kissing the same cross... POWERFUL STUFF!

    Oh, and in "Anne of the Thousand Days" when Anne is about to be executed and she is teaching 3 year old Elizabeth to walk like a princess... I tear up just thinking about that one!

    AC
    anxiously awaiting Season 3

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  10. LOL Sharon!
    So glad to have you joining me in my history geekdom. :-) I agree with you, human nature hasn't changed that much in a few thousand years! Take a look at those Egyptian tombs and you'll see they were obsessed with make-up, wigs, and have you ever seen a fat pharoh?

    Give The Tudors another try when you have a free afternoon and can watch several episodes back-to-back. I think you'll LOVE it!

    AC

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  11. I started to watch The Tudors on DVD and then got distracted and never got back to it. But I loved what I saw. Now I'll have to revisit it.

    As for favorite characters, I'm a huge Jane fan. Jane Eyre, that is. :-) Loved her character.

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  12. Libby,
    Jane Eyre has definitely stood the test of time!

    I think you'll enjoy watching The Tudors. Like I said to Judi, the scenery and costumes alone make the first few episodes worthwhile. Simply gorgeous!

    AC

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  13. The Tudors is fantastic. I love that show. Same when Rome was on.

    If he could be totally chained up I'd like to find out what made Jack the Ripper the way he was.

    Linda

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  14. LOL Linda!
    Chain ole Jack and put him in the hockey mask a la Hannibal Lecter?

    I LOVED the series "Rome" too and was so bummed when it wasn't renewed for another season. I loved the DVD extras on how they made the sets and stuff almost as much as the episodes! Did you know all that marble was actually styrofoam?!?!

    AC

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  15. I love the blend of real history (and true historical personages) with fictional characters---especially the Outlander series, by Diana Gabaldon. She has made me SEE a part of history that I was kinda fuzzy about in a very true and fascinating way. Her characters seem so real that you don't want the series to ever end, and I've heard that the books have been recomended by college profs to their students as a way to get a real FEEL for that time in history. I am as hungry for more news about Jamie and Claire Fraser, Ian Murray, Rollo and even the White Sow today as I was at the end of the first book!

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