Blending Truth With Fiction
Reviewed by Jeremy Billingsley
For years, writers have blended truth and fiction. In fact, the more real they can make their fiction seem, especially when the subject matter leans to the more fantastic, the more they will capture their audience.
It is why Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein is structured as an elaborate letter from a sea captain to his family, and why Bram Stoker’s Dracula is an amalgamation of journals, diary entries, newspaper clippings, and transcribed phonograph recordings. It is also why Dan Simmons blends history with his fiction to blur the lines between reality and the paranormal.
In Drood, Simmons presents the tale of Wilkie Collins and his years long friendship with Charles Dickens. Now, both Collins and Dickens are historical figures, authors actually, who were friends in real life. Collins is not as well-known as his compatriot, who wrote many seminal works of fiction, from David Copperfield to Bleak House to A Christmas Carol and The Mystery of Edwin Drood. This last was Dickens’ final work, an unfinished manuscript shrouded in mystery, begun after Dickens survived a train wreck only a few years before his death. All of this is factual, but Simmons blends the facts to create a mythical creature – a kind of grim reaper – that haunts both Collins and Dickens throughout Victorian London, introducing them to the mystical, to secret societies, and threats to their very souls.
Simmons has written a number of works and still writes today. Another notable example of blending the truth with fiction comes from an earlier bestseller, The Terror, the story of the disappearance of the entire crews of the HMS Terror and the HMS Erebus while on the 1845 Franklin Expedition to search for the Northwest Passage. Historically, no one was found from the crews, and everyone was presumed dead. The characters found in the pages of the novel, by and large, were characters on the ships, including the protagonist – Captain Crozier. What Simmons presents to his readers is the reality of such long voyages through the arctic, the dangerous conditions, depleting rations of food poisoned by botulism, threats of mutiny, as well as the more fantastic: a mysterious, supernatural force tearing through the men one by one.
Novelists have long since found ways to blend reality and fiction, and Dan Simmons is not the only author to accomplish this. For even the fantastic needs to find a connection with the real world in order to connect with the reader. This idea of mimesis makes us care about the characters, about the story, and makes us want to keep turning that page.