Making history facts entertaining can be tough – trust me on that one. 🙂 However, in The Jericho River, David Carthage manages to do just that. Here’s his take on things:
I looked at the history of Western Civilization and of its Middle Eastern parents, and I asked, “Where’s the action?” “Where are the events that do the most to shape our society today?” Then I threw in another choice factor. “Which societies do readers already know and enjoy but want to explore?” You couldn’t offer a fantasy about our civilization’s history, for instance, without a stop in
ancient Egypt. Without mummies and priestesses and pyramids, the story’s only half-told.
The result is a blend of societies meant to capture both our imagination and our history. The hero’s quest takes him through seventeen
different realms, including Sumer, Babylon, Hebrew Judea, Classical Greece, the Roman Empire, Medieval France, and Enlightenment England. He meets rulers and slaves and warriors and mythical creatures from each. And by following his
adventures, we get a feel for the flavor and magic of each.
Of course, there are important societies left out. I’d love to have included a chapter about the Hittites, for instance, who dominated Turkey for much of the Bronze Age. And I’d have loved a stop at Carthage (my namesake), Celtic Northern Europe, and Assyria. But I had to make some sacrifices, or the book would’ve been too long.
Why teach history through fiction — what are you hoping to accomplish?
I’m hoping to show readers that history is an adventure, as good as any story on the fantasy shelf. In fact, history is better because it’s real. “You can’t make this stuff up,” as they say. History truly offers tales of kings and warriors, noble ladies and cheeky slaves, and magic (or at least belief in magic). I’m trying to break the association between history and boring memorization–between “academic work” and exciting stories of the past.
I’m trying to teach history, by tapping into the part of the brain that retains plots from Harry Potter and Star Wars. I think that if you
bring out the fun and magic, readers will remember history, and read it for fun.
Tons! I wrote and revised the book over the course of almost ten years. If I had a dollar for every hour, I suspect I’d be quite wealthy.
The basic outline actually didn’t require much research. Before I set pen to paper, I had a sense of the flow of Western Civilization’s
history–and of its parent societies in the ancient Middle East. That came from years of reading for pleasure. But that sort of outline left out a lot of information I needed for a book like The Jericho River. What kind of mythical creatures wandered through the Babylonians’ imaginations? How were cats domesticated? What’s the origin of coffee? What did an ancient Sumerian city smell like? Was there a King Arthur? What did Roman noblewoman wear? Why did European men of the 1700’s wear wigs, of all things? That stuff required a lot of time in libraries and online.
What first inspired you to write The Jericho River?
My girlfriend (now wife) was studying to become a teacher, and she was having trouble with her history exam. So one afternoon, I gave her a multi-hour explanation of the history she had to learn. I did most of this teaching off the top of my head, with little preparation. And it worked. She felt better about the exam right away and had no trouble passing. Afterward, I wondered how all this random knowledge got embedded in my brain–and what else I might do with it.
The knowledge got there, I ultimately realized, because history is so magical to me. What to do with that knowledge resulting from that magic? Find a way to share it–not simply by telling history, but by revealing its magic, so that my audience retains it in the same way I have.
The answer crystallized one day while I was driving. Why not turn a timeline into a river–and write a fantasy novel that flows down that river, through a chronological, history-based adventure? Instead of telling people that history is magical, why not blend history and fantasy so thoroughly that readers will feel the magic themselves?
Do you plan on writing a sequel?
I plan to write several more books that use fantasy to teach history, as well as science. Please stay tuned!