Historical fiction is strong inspiration

Not so very long ago in a country far away, an aspiring writer pondered truth in fiction.Although this writer knew that recent books like “The Da Vinci Code,” “Labyrinth” and “The Historian” were written as fictional stories using real historical detail to increase the entertainment value, she couldn’t understand why people treated these stories as actual history.

Just a few months after “The Da Vinci Code” movie, based on the book by Dan Brown, debuted in the United States, this aspiring writer traveled to Paris. There she found Parisians embracing the popularity of the movie so they could profit from it while also speaking angrily about tourists who knew little of the historical concepts beyond the scenes in the movie.

As she toured the city’s most famous landmarks, she saw this strange hypocrisy time and time again.

In the Louvre, large signs announced where tourists could buy special “Da Vinci Code” headphone tours of the museum near gift shops selling books about the “truth” that the book and movie missed.

In the Church of San Sulpice, the beautiful gold line leading from an obelisk and symbolizing the prime meridian lay next to a small sign decrying the term “Rose Line” and connections to paganism made in the book.

And the writer wondered, as she ventured through a Paris labeled everywhere with “Da Vinci Code” explanations, how many tourists had come to the city simply because of the book or movie. She also wondered at the power of historical fiction to engage otherwise apathetic readers into a search for truth and meaning in a city hundreds of thousands of miles away.

Even more intriguing was the concept of the open dialogue created when ignorant tourists and outraged Parisians discussed the degree of truth in this fictional story.

She came from a country where discussing history beyond the past decade or so was considered snobbish and boring, so she was fascinated by the way a fictional account about events hundreds of years past sparked not only heated debate, but also intense research and travel.

So when she returned from Paris, she continued to read books with historical elements.

In this way, the writer, though limited by budget, could travel not only around the world to exotic locations she might otherwise never know existed, but also forward and backward through time.

With Kate Mosse’s “Labyrinth” she traveled to Carcassonne, France, during the crusades.

With Elizabeth Kostova’s “The Historian,” she traveled throughout Eastern Europe during the first half of the 20th century.

With Arthur Golden’s “Memoirs of a Geisha” she traveled to Japan during World War II.

And every time the writer traveled through a work of historical fiction, she read other research or called upon half-remembered history lessons before deciding which facts from the novels to call “true.” But she always understood that she was reading fiction – and not history.

She embraced the open discussion created by these stories, and lived happily ever after.

The end.

Talia Sampson is a senior news-editorial journalism and international relations major from Moorpark, Calif.