Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Is Western History affected by the Telephone Game?

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I truly hated doing research in college. Hours in a dusty library (remember those), looking for answers to someone else's boring questions. Very rarely did I happen on to anything that awakened my imagination. Yet I fumbled forward through bone dry historical texts, praying something poignant would pop out of a book so I could finally finish my report and join my friends at the university pub.
     It wasn't until I became a writer, much later in life, that I learned how interesting research could be. History is amazing. Every event that occurred before set in motion the cause and effect for our modern world. Everything we know, do, have, want, need, and hear has a history to tell. But here's where it gets a little curious. If we take the willy-nilly subjectivity of human nature and mix it with a little innocent exaggeration, how can we be so sure those recollections are the absolute truth?
     How could those well-intentioned historians remain unaffected by time and circumstance and possibly even social pressures the same as you and me? Even an innocent sugar-coating could skew the facts exponentially. What if we've not been given the actual truth but rather the 'opinion' of the author instead?
     One small example, the fairly well-known idiom, Circle the Wagons. My family used it often when I was a child and sometimes even now. If a loved one needed support or protection, we'd come together to help however we could. We'd Circle the Wagons. But several meanings have evolved since it was first coined in the 1800s.
     I always thought it referred to settlers on an old west wagon train who created a circle of protection from raiding marauders. But further research revealed another meaning. Circle the Wagons was the practice of settlers using a circle of wagons to corral their very expensive cattle. Hah? No way. How did that get so mixed up?
     So, I wondered, how do we know what is fact and what is fudged in all things historical? Does it matter if we've learned the complete truth? Or is it better to carry on the slightly watered-down or worse yet, overly dramatized, version for those who follow in our footsteps? Has the recollection of events evolved into something far from the truth as in the fun, yet revealing Telephone Game suggests?
     This is just me going off on a philosophical journey. It makes me thankful I write fiction, so if I miss a fact or two, I'll be okay. What are your thoughts?

Thanks for listening.
Rhonda Frankhouser
Award-Winning Contemporary and Western Romance Author



Patti Sherry-Crews said...

Rhonda, you're so right about this and I love the analogy of playing telephone. When I was doing research on Butch Cassidy and the Wild Bunch (and in particular the women who ran with them), I read as much about them as I could get my hands on and I found so much misinformation...things that flat out didn't jive with the facts. But then I'd see another author or blogger pick up on the perhaps interesting, but not factual story and pass it on. I've become very careful now when I write a blog piece that I am not passing on a distortion by double and triple checking sources. The old west seems to be particularly prone to this with all these interesting characters becoming part of an oral history first. In other words, tall tales! Thanks for this though provoking piece!

GiniRifkin said...

Hi Rhonda: I love doing research, maybe too much. A lot of it might not be used but it is so helpful in setting the tone of a story. Your post is a good reminder to double check facts even though we might be writing fiction.

Rhonda Frankhouser Books said...

Thanks for the feedback. I try to stick to the ‘facts’ too but often wonder what’s been left out.

Rhonda Frankhouser Books said...

Hi Patty, I was reminded of how prevalent this issue really is when trying to find something fun to blog. I have a feeling we’re missing some cool pieces of history because someone along the way felt it best not to tell. That’s sad to me. Gimme the facts! Thanks for your feedback. 😊

Renaissance Women said...

History is always filtered through the experiences and thoughts of the writer, no matter how they try to leave themselves out of it. I think you are correct, what do we know as truth? Doris