Tuesday, March 07, 2006

History vs. Fiction

Yesterday I stopped at a Speedway for some pop and ran smack into a conflict of academia vs. popular fiction. One the guys who worked there was telling someone about the Knights Templar in great detail. When I got to the counter I asked him if he was interested in the Templars. He said,

(WARNING: Academics of a sensitive nature will probably be horrified by his answer and should stop reading now.)

"Yeah, I've read The Da Vinci Code and seen Kingdom of Heaven."

There was a long pause as I tried to decide how to encourage this young man's interest in the Templars without sound like a condescending jerk by telling his sources are fiction which took great liberties with history in order to tell an entertaining story.

I finally said, "You know, if you are interested in the Templars, there are much better sources you could read."

Instead of being offended he was very interested. "How did you know about the Templars?" he asked.

I fought the urge to say "I read history books" and instead I explained I was college instructor and had long been interested in the Middle Ages.

He wanted to know if I could recommend any books and of course I could only think of one (Dungeon, Fire, and Sword by John J. Robinson) so I suggested he try any library and search on "Templars" or "Knights of the Temple."

(WARNING: U of M profs of a sensitive nature, especially history profs, will probably be horrified his answer and should stop reading now.)

"Cool," he said. "I go to U of M, I'll try the library there."

I restrained myself from asking if he'd had a class in history or research, or asking why he hadn't already done so, and instead encouraged him to visit the library soon.

I was horrified by this encounter. I knew some people have trouble understanding The Da Vinci Code is fiction, but hadn't run into it quite like this. I wish Dan Brown nothing but success (I liked all of his books, including The Da Vinci Code) but I think he needs to print "This is a work of fiction" on the cover instead of putting in the preface/forward/wherever.

If the young man from Speedway is reading this, I'm not picking on you, but please restore my faith in logic and common sense by reading some reliable sources about the Templars.


Matty said...

I'm fighting the urge to throw myself on the floor and weep with frustration. I didn't know that popular novels were a good source for academia, or I would have had a much easier time writing my history thesis.

Consequently, can I just use the words from Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young's "Ohio" to do my research project on the Kent State shooting?


Mermaldad said...

What?!? Those were fiction?

Just kidding; I haven't read either of the fictionl works you mentioned. I did serve as a judge in a large science fair. One of the students tested the hypothesis that the Golden Ratio could be used to design the optimal wing shape. His source? The DaVinci Code. Needless to say, he didn't win anything from our organization.

The Cat Bastet said...

In your dreams, Matty! :)

Mermaldad, if he hadn't cited the Da Vinci Code would he have done any better? :)

(I thought the stuff on the Golden Ratio was interesting but figured it was a mix of fact and fiction. like the rest of the book).