Author Topic: historical accuracy/ethics question regarding writing books  (Read 85920 times)

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Offline grandduchessella

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Re: historical accuracy/ethics question regarding writing books
« Reply #255 on: April 07, 2008, 09:38:53 AM »

What about Alex Haley's Roots? Haley spent years researching his family and writing the book and it was, like Laura's, based on real people and events. However, most of the people were dead, and all Alex really had to go on were a few names, records and old family stories. Does this make a whole thick book and two long miniseries, or were they, like "Little House" and "Waltons", dramatized and exaggerated to make them more interesting? How much of what he wrote was real, and how much was 'fill in the blanks?'  I heard once years ago that some people wanted Haley's book moved to nonfiction for this reason. He really didn't know everything that happened, so surely most of what we read and saw in the show was only assumed and written more like a novel. Do we really know that Dr. Reynolds' wife slept with his brother, or was this made up? Some of the details he even tried to make accurate turned out to be wrong. Much is made of Kunta Kinte being a Muslim, praying to Allah and refusing to eat 'pig meat', yet in reality, the Mandinka tribe was not converted to Islam until the 1850's, and Kunta was taken to America in the 1760's. So he would have been a member of a tribal religion instead. Could this influence have come from Haley's own experience with Malcolm X, whose bio he penned? The fact remains, it was inaccurate yet presented as truth. The list could go on and on, but my question is, when does a true story become historical fiction based on the amount of 'added info' along the way?


Interestingly, the Dewey Decimal classification for Roots (the movie) puts it in the non-fiction section. I found that rather surprising.
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Offline Puppylove

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Re: historical accuracy/ethics question regarding writing books
« Reply #256 on: April 07, 2008, 11:02:51 AM »

The short answer is "no" as far as Traudl Junge is concerned, but I have to say that I have not delved into it deeply. Call it a gut feeling, based upon Gitta Sereny's work with Albert Speer. She did her level best to pin him down to a real statement of personal responsibility for his actions, and even though I think she demonstrated beyond the shadow of a doubt that his memoirs and subsequent interviews about his role were self-serving, Speer would never admit it. The overwhelming impression I get from people like Speer and Junge who is that they cannot confront in a meaningful way what they did. I suppose if they did confront it, suicide would be the only option? I don't know. I think that the makers of DOWNFALL were aware that Junge is a problematic source --- especially if they relied only upon her, which thankfully they didn't.


Is there such a thing as a truly honest memoir? For me the trick is trying to separate the self-serving statements from the unvarnished truth. When I read Speer's memoirs I see him attempting to understand how he came under and remained under Hitler's spell, but it doesn't ring true; to me it reads more like damage control. And it amazes me to no end how all those Nazi leaders in the dock at Nuremberg suffered a kind of collective amnesia; even Goering and Speer, who both "accepted" responsibility still claimed they didn't really know what was happening in the extermination camps. Interestingly, if you read the interviews of those who did know, Hoess and Ohlendorf, for example, they come off as the most colorless, emotionless, robotic people imaginable. The complete opposite of Peter Erkamov!
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Offline Puppylove

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Re: historical accuracy/ethics question regarding writing books
« Reply #257 on: April 07, 2008, 11:04:34 AM »
Speaking as someone with no connection to Sept 11 other than as an American, I own the United 93 dvd and regard it as a masterpiece of docudrama.

Speaking as someone who has a lot of personal connection to 9/11, I saw this film and liked it, although it brought on a lot of unpleasant memories and thoughts. So I think we each have different "tolerance", if that's the right word, and perspective on these things. None of us can speak for anyone else, even if we have been in similar situations.

What did you think of the ending?
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Offline Puppylove

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Re: historical accuracy/ethics question regarding writing books
« Reply #258 on: April 07, 2008, 11:07:33 AM »

I'm probably just being picky. I find it almost impossible to imagine Sir Thomas More without referencing Paul Scofield's image and performance. Movies have more potency than the written word. Is that a good thing?

Simon

Perhaps I don't understand what you mean here. Aren't books almost always more potent than the movies they inspire?
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Offline Louis_Charles

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Re: historical accuracy/ethics question regarding writing books
« Reply #259 on: April 07, 2008, 11:20:46 AM »
Goering wanted to seen as the heir to Hitler even at the trials, and while he may have claimed to be unaware of the camps he was (1) certainly lying and (2) wouldn't have particularly cared had he been forced to admit he knew about them in open court --- Goering knew he wasn't getting out of the trial with anything less than a death sentence.

I think Speer managed his defense quite cannily, and managed to convince the tribunal that he had been excluded from the decisions that created the extermination camps. Which may have been true, given the arc of his career and interests, but it defies common sense that he was not aware of them after he became Reichsminister for war production. In any event, he made use of slave labor.

And you're right, of course, there is no such thing as a "truly honest" memoir, but I think there is at least a  sliding scale of honesty for most of them. Speer's Inside the Third Reich and Spandau Diaries seem completely self-serving to me as attempts to justify himself before the world. And the only way to do that was to disassociate himself from the actual action, i.e. "well, I didn't do it personally, so while I can deplore it" --- which he certainly didn't do at the time --- "and accept the general responsibility that all Germans have, it is still a big mystery how it happened. That Hitler, what a charmer!"

He may even have persuaded himself that this was so --- Sereny wasn't so sure --- but, really, what else could he try to do? How else could one live with oneself? Especially if you were as intelligent as Speer. Traudl Junge, on the other hand, comes across as someone who didn't do a lot of self-examination until the end of her life.

And I think books are more potent if the reader is critical, or imaginative. But movies have much bigger audiences than books, and I am afraid that in the end they shape the opinions of far more people. They also take less time to consume, so they enter the system of the viewer faster, so to speak.

Oh, dear. I think I just made movies sound like drugs. That seems a little extreme. But I hope it makes my point clearer.

Simon

« Last Edit: April 07, 2008, 11:22:43 AM by Louis_Charles »
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Offline Annie

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Re: historical accuracy/ethics question regarding writing books
« Reply #260 on: April 07, 2008, 12:17:03 PM »

What about Alex Haley's Roots? Haley spent years researching his family and writing the book and it was, like Laura's, based on real people and events. However, most of the people were dead, and all Alex really had to go on were a few names, records and old family stories. Does this make a whole thick book and two long miniseries, or were they, like "Little House" and "Waltons", dramatized and exaggerated to make them more interesting? How much of what he wrote was real, and how much was 'fill in the blanks?'  I heard once years ago that some people wanted Haley's book moved to nonfiction for this reason. He really didn't know everything that happened, so surely most of what we read and saw in the show was only assumed and written more like a novel. Do we really know that Dr. Reynolds' wife slept with his brother, or was this made up? Some of the details he even tried to make accurate turned out to be wrong. Much is made of Kunta Kinte being a Muslim, praying to Allah and refusing to eat 'pig meat', yet in reality, the Mandinka tribe was not converted to Islam until the 1850's, and Kunta was taken to America in the 1760's. So he would have been a member of a tribal religion instead. Could this influence have come from Haley's own experience with Malcolm X, whose bio he penned? The fact remains, it was inaccurate yet presented as truth. The list could go on and on, but my question is, when does a true story become historical fiction based on the amount of 'added info' along the way?


Interestingly, the Dewey Decimal classification for Roots (the movie) puts it in the non-fiction section. I found that rather surprising.

I knew that it was when it first came out, but I had heard a few years later that, due to it being so heavily filled with hypothetical situations, dialogue and  dramatizations, it was going to lose its nonfiction status. If it did, they must have put it back. I still feel it's in the same category with Little House and The Waltons, (and there were books that inspired the Waltons, too) old family stories elaborated on, and therefore not 'nonfiction.' (again, I am a fan of all three, not bashing)

Offline Louis_Charles

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Re: historical accuracy/ethics question regarding writing books
« Reply #261 on: April 07, 2008, 12:35:31 PM »
Is anyone familiar with Lillian Hellman's memoir Pentimento? It came out around the same time as Roots. One of her chapters was called "Julia" and it became the basis for the movie of the same name with Jane Fonda and Vanessa Redgrave (one of whom may have won the Oscar, I think). Anyway, Hellman tells the story of a courageous anti-Nazi friend of her whom she calls "Julia", and includes the story of how Hellman assisted her in smuggling money through Germany. Very exciting.

And almost certainly not true. A woman with a similar background to the fictional "Julia's" (and who shared a publisher with Hellman) wrote to Hellman basically asking, "what the hell? That's my story, and you were no part of it." Hellman refused to meet with her and her lawyer, but the reputation of the book was tarnished.

And yet it still sits in the non-fiction section of the library.

I wonder if the Dewey and LC systems were simply not designed with material like Roots and Pentimento in mind? And incidentally, "Julia" is a great read, and a wonderful movie.

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Offline grandduchessella

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Re: historical accuracy/ethics question regarding writing books
« Reply #262 on: April 07, 2008, 10:00:43 PM »

What about Alex Haley's Roots? Haley spent years researching his family and writing the book and it was, like Laura's, based on real people and events. However, most of the people were dead, and all Alex really had to go on were a few names, records and old family stories. Does this make a whole thick book and two long miniseries, or were they, like "Little House" and "Waltons", dramatized and exaggerated to make them more interesting? How much of what he wrote was real, and how much was 'fill in the blanks?'  I heard once years ago that some people wanted Haley's book moved to nonfiction for this reason. He really didn't know everything that happened, so surely most of what we read and saw in the show was only assumed and written more like a novel. Do we really know that Dr. Reynolds' wife slept with his brother, or was this made up? Some of the details he even tried to make accurate turned out to be wrong. Much is made of Kunta Kinte being a Muslim, praying to Allah and refusing to eat 'pig meat', yet in reality, the Mandinka tribe was not converted to Islam until the 1850's, and Kunta was taken to America in the 1760's. So he would have been a member of a tribal religion instead. Could this influence have come from Haley's own experience with Malcolm X, whose bio he penned? The fact remains, it was inaccurate yet presented as truth. The list could go on and on, but my question is, when does a true story become historical fiction based on the amount of 'added info' along the way?


Interestingly, the Dewey Decimal classification for Roots (the movie) puts it in the non-fiction section. I found that rather surprising.

I knew that it was when it first came out, but I had heard a few years later that, due to it being so heavily filled with hypothetical situations, dialogue and  dramatizations, it was going to lose its nonfiction status. If it did, they must have put it back. I still feel it's in the same category with Little House and The Waltons, (and there were books that inspired the Waltons, too) old family stories elaborated on, and therefore not 'nonfiction.' (again, I am a fan of all three, not bashing)

Or some libraries, like the one I worked in, didn't re-classify it when it changed. I don't know.
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Offline Annie

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Re: historical accuracy/ethics question regarding writing books
« Reply #263 on: April 08, 2008, 10:45:57 AM »

What about Alex Haley's Roots? Haley spent years researching his family and writing the book and it was, like Laura's, based on real people and events. However, most of the people were dead, and all Alex really had to go on were a few names, records and old family stories. Does this make a whole thick book and two long miniseries, or were they, like "Little House" and "Waltons", dramatized and exaggerated to make them more interesting? How much of what he wrote was real, and how much was 'fill in the blanks?'  I heard once years ago that some people wanted Haley's book moved to nonfiction for this reason. He really didn't know everything that happened, so surely most of what we read and saw in the show was only assumed and written more like a novel. Do we really know that Dr. Reynolds' wife slept with his brother, or was this made up? Some of the details he even tried to make accurate turned out to be wrong. Much is made of Kunta Kinte being a Muslim, praying to Allah and refusing to eat 'pig meat', yet in reality, the Mandinka tribe was not converted to Islam until the 1850's, and Kunta was taken to America in the 1760's. So he would have been a member of a tribal religion instead. Could this influence have come from Haley's own experience with Malcolm X, whose bio he penned? The fact remains, it was inaccurate yet presented as truth. The list could go on and on, but my question is, when does a true story become historical fiction based on the amount of 'added info' along the way?


Interestingly, the Dewey Decimal classification for Roots (the movie) puts it in the non-fiction section. I found that rather surprising.

I knew that it was when it first came out, but I had heard a few years later that, due to it being so heavily filled with hypothetical situations, dialogue and  dramatizations, it was going to lose its nonfiction status. If it did, they must have put it back. I still feel it's in the same category with Little House and The Waltons, (and there were books that inspired the Waltons, too) old family stories elaborated on, and therefore not 'nonfiction.' (again, I am a fan of all three, not bashing)

Or some libraries, like the one I worked in, didn't re-classify it when it changed. I don't know.

Maybe they never officially did it, I just heard they were supposed to.

On the subject of John Adams (miniseries) has anyone noticed that Adams seems to be the only character who ages? Jefferson doesn't, and keeping Abigail young, slim, attractive, fashionable, with her still dark hair in ringlets like a young girl really stands out. I noticed last night, after he was president, how young they are keeping her compared to him. Look at the hat they had her in last night in the last scene.  It doesn't fit. In real life, by that time, she was as pudgy, dumpy and grey haired as he was!

Offline imperial angel

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Re: historical accuracy/ethics question regarding writing books
« Reply #264 on: April 08, 2008, 02:26:20 PM »
Certainly how fictionalization is permissible with history is a big question. With movies, it is inevitable, and hopefully gets more people interested. If things like the Anastasia cartoon, the Little House tv series, and the Titanic movie get more people interested in Anastasia and the Romanovs, Laura Ingalls Wilder's real books and real life, and the real story of the Titanic, then that is great. I think that is a role that tv shows and movies can fill, by bringing these things to people who may not know enough to get interested otherwise. Some fictionlization is okay. I thought the movie Titanic was more about the love story and less about the ship, but that was okay, I enjoyed the movie. At least it got people thinking about the real thing, and knowing more about the real event, in some ways. It was useful to have visual images to me however inaccurate, because those photos that remain of the ship never really conveyed it me. The movie did. I wa interested in the Titanic before the movie though.

As for the Little House tv series, I have never seen that much of it, because I didn't see much of the books in it. That wasn't how I saw it from the books and from reading anything about Laura's life apart from the books. I think it probably did spread interest in the Little House Books more, and familiarize people with Laura who weren't familiar with her, even though there are alot of fictional things in there. One bad thing about fictionalized tv shows based on historical fiction, like the Little House books are is people see that, never read the books or look at the real Laura's life, then assume that the same thing is in the books/ or her real life as the show. I was a tour guide at one of the Little House sites, and gave tours to people whose ONLY familiarity with Laura was through the tv show. They believed all the things about Mary's husband, and the rest of the things Annie lists were real. They were sometimes not sure if it was real or fiction, because they knew tv shows can be fictional. I was talking about the real Laura's life in addition to the stuff in the books, as for example, Burr Oak, Iowa is never mentioned in the books, but they lived there, so there were alot of stuff to go through. So I pointed out to people if they said Mary's husband was real for example, that wasn't the case. Some people just refused to believe though that the stuff on the show wasn't real, when I said so, although I am an expert on LIW anything. They prefered to believe what they had seen on the show. That is I guess why the line between history and fiction needs to be respected certainly in anything labeled history. If a show, a movie or historical fiction, then liberties are okay, but you would hope that people would believe the truth when it was pointed out to them, and not the movie, show, or historical fiction book of whatever you were talking about. I guess if people want to believe the Little House show is accurate, not the real  Laura's life and to some extent her books, they can. I got interested in the Romanovs to some extent through the Anastasia cartoon, but I wanted to know if those things were true or not, I wanted to know the truth.
« Last Edit: April 08, 2008, 02:30:03 PM by imperial angel »

Offline Helen_Azar

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Re: historical accuracy/ethics question regarding writing books
« Reply #265 on: April 13, 2008, 01:37:13 PM »
Here's a new one...

Travel writer tells newspaper he plagiarized, dealt drugs: http://www.cnn.com/2008/TRAVEL/04/13/lonely.planet/index.html

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Re: historical accuracy/ethics question regarding writing books
« Reply #266 on: April 13, 2008, 10:59:20 PM »
The problem with a long running TV series like "Little House" is that the writers run out of the truth.  As the actors grow up the writers have to do something to keep viewer's interest and so they invent.

Even fictional shows get "old" and so a nephew or orphan or new baby is brought in to keep things interesting.

I love to read more than watch so anytime I get interested a subject that I have seen portrayed on TV or in a movie, I go to get the book it was based on.  But IA is right when she says that there are a lot of people who get their information solely from the TV or the movies and never get the real information from the source.

I had a note to myself for a long time to get a copy of The Night Listener by Armistead Maupin.  I couldn't even remember why I had the note or what had prompted me to write it.  So I got the book (which I haven' had time to get to yet) and looked it up on the Internet.  I found that there was a movie starring Robin Williams (not as a comedian) playing the lead (who is actually Maupin himself in real life).

Now I remember that I had seen the movie on TV and was interested that it was based on a true story and I wanted to get the facts.  I am looking forward to reading it as soon as I finish the three other books I am reading simultaneously.  (I tend to do that)

It was in that way that I discovered Richard Matheson.  The move Somewhere In Time peaked my interest and so I waited out the credits to find out that the movie was based on Matheson's book Bid Time Return (which I think is a quote from Shakespeare's Richard III).  Of course the book was different and more interesting than the movie, but I found a new author to explore and since I have always been interested in that "Son of York", I had other things to go and find out as well.

« Last Edit: April 13, 2008, 11:05:54 PM by Alixz »

Offline Helen_Azar

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Re: historical accuracy/ethics question regarding writing books
« Reply #267 on: April 14, 2008, 06:28:34 PM »
And what do you guys think of this one?

J.K. Rowling, in Court, Assails Potter Lexicon  http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/14/books/14potter.html?_r=1&ref=books&oref=slogin

« Last Edit: April 14, 2008, 06:33:20 PM by Helen_A »

Offline Louis_Charles

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Re: historical accuracy/ethics question regarding writing books
« Reply #268 on: April 14, 2008, 06:57:05 PM »
My guess is that she is going to win, since the encyclopedia falls outside the category of "fan-fiction" and is indeed designed to make money for the publisher.. Gregory MacGuire, the author of Wicked was alright because the Oz books have left copyright, I think. But Rowling is more like Disney, which has the reputation of slamming hard into anyone who infringes their characters (she may even be richer than Disney at this point), because they are still in copyright --- I think it's nice she doesn't go after purely fannish sites, although there is a whole subculture of somewhat icky "slash" stuff in regard to Harry and Draco and Ron that it would be nice to see squished.

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Offline Sarushka

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Re: historical accuracy/ethics question regarding writing books
« Reply #269 on: April 14, 2008, 07:15:32 PM »
My gut reaction is to agree with Rowling on this one. Commentary and even spin-offs at least require the would-be author to build off the HP books by adding original material, but an encyclopedia of this sort strikes me as just collecting and reassembling what Rowling's already done.
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