William Wallace never wore one, of course, so the whole mooning thing has to be discarded. But it was a great idea, and a great scene. Having just returned from a Highland Games event, I can attest to the appeal of a group of great, strapping men throwing things about in flowing tartan.

But that leads to the subject of historical accuracy. Are we as writers educating readers or just telling a good story? If it's the latter, do we care if we fudge a bit on the history?

Although I would never claim to be an expert on things historical, I'm bothered by two things authors often get away with: obvious anachronisms (like kilts in the wrong century) and character assassination. It may be silly, but I'd rather an author invent a bad guy than take a real person and present him or her as a villain when there's no evidence that it's true.

In the past, characters often got bad reputations from bad history: accounts like Holingshed's Chronicles that took down every story available with no consideration for whether it was rumor, gossip or lies told to villify a rival. A writer like Will You-know-who picks it up and suddenly it's forever taken as truth. For example, Lady Macbeth's kill-the-king-and-we'll-be-famous character is actually based on another person entirely, a woman who lived a century earlier.

Anachronisms are often the result of poor research, but it's hard not to think of the past as one big chunk where we didn't exist. Recognizing that fashions constantly change means that an author cannot assume that the people in Egypt always wore kilts of white linen, just as the Scots didn't always wear kilts of plaid. You have to study on it to get it right. Although whether it's Yul Brynner or Mel Gibson, the kilt is definitely a great photo op.

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Comment by Peg Herring on August 29, 2008 at 3:22am
So right. I hated it when I was teaching and kids got their wrong-headed history ideas from pop culture. It was funny, sometimes, like when they asked me if I burned my bra along with every other woman in the nation!
Comment by Dana King on August 29, 2008 at 2:21am
I think a lot has to do with the level of authenticity the book (movie) presumes to, and how glaring the error. The kilt scene in BRAVEHEART is a great example.True, WIlliam Wallace never wore a kilt, but using them here does no real harm, and, as you said, leads to the great mooning scene, which probably didn;t happen, either, but was a great way for the movie to show the contempt the Scots had for the English in just a few seconds of screen time. They got several things wrong about the battle of Stirling Bridge, too, but the essence was correct, and sometimes that's the best you can hope for. BRAVEHEART was a hell of an entertaining movie, inspired by actual events; not a documentary.

It also helps that the events depicted happened so long ago. More recent films that purport to be historical, such as NIXON or JFK, have, to me, a much higher standard for accuracy, as history is still being written about them, and their actions still have some effects on our lives. We need as few distortions as possible there.

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