As archeology techniques improve and the technology to validate facts about historical events become more accurate a better picture of our past is painted for us to study. History books however relate the information about historical events but paint less of an interesting picture. Fortunately there has been a proliferation of historical fiction at our fingertips to access information on a variety of topics.
In the time of Homer many history was passed down from one generation to the next through stories told by elders. It was in a sense lesson taught to the younger generations to learn about the history of their people. Many of the stories were what we would consider today a version of historical fiction. The idea of telling it in story form would be to make an impression on children and inspire them, rather than bore them with facts. Epics such as the Iliad would motivate generations of warriors from the heroic feats of Achilles and Hector. With the advent of the printing press story telling began its decline and fell out of fashion in the verbal form and stories were then conveyed in book form.
Today, there are many genres devoted to history. Such genres as historical fiction have greatly improved with advances in archeology, allowing the author to accurately tell their story. More importantly, it gives the figures in history substance, something other than a name for readers to identify with. This connection allows the reader to become enveloped in the story and recall information easier, rather than memorize dry information and potentially lose it later on.
Another advantage to reading historical fiction is there is a human aspect added amongst all the facts, which gives the story a more relatable view. The author is able to put the reader into the mindset of a person from the topic time period, something unavailable in a textbook. For instance, history books may tell us why a prominent battle took place, perhaps detailing the political or strategic motivations, but it does not enlighten the reader of the psychology of those who fought the battle.
In no way does it offer any explanation why a particular person from either side would fight the battle, their thoughts on the battle, or the struggles they endured that led to them to take up arms. This is information that is left out of the history books but it lends parts of the story that perhaps completes the picture for the reader.
By no means can historical fiction be a substitute for textbooks, but more of a vehicle to inspire interest on a said topic. Many times authors must bend the facts about history or even make educated guesses about how people may have behaved in the past. Sometimes they downright change certain important events to better their story. What historical fiction is meant to do is interest the reader in a period of time or a historical figure. Hopefully, if the writing is interesting enough, it stirs the reader to do research on the figure or historical event and furthers their knowledge about a historical topic.
Ultimately historical fiction is another means to convey the stories from our past. Authors of historical fiction give life to prominent figures from our past and stir our imaginations as we visit events in history.