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Notes on the History of Fiction

The Iliad of Homer by Homer

Reviewed by E. L. Doctorow
The Atlantic Monthly

"Historically, there was something like a Trojan war, maybe even several Trojan wars in fact, but the one Homer wrote about in the eighth century B.C. is the one that fascinates us, because it is fiction. Archaeologists doubt that any Trojan war began because someone named Paris kidnapped someone named Helen from under the nose of her Greek husband, or that it was a big wooden horse filled with soldiers that finally won the day. And those particularized gods running the war for their own purposes, deflecting arrows, inciting human rages, turning hearts, and controlling history, might have kept the Greeks and Trojans at it for years and years, but they have no authority in our monotheistic world, and you can find no trace of them in the diggings in northwest Turkey where the archaeologists turn up the shards and bones and sling bullets of what might have been the real Troy." Read the entire Atlantic Monthly review.

5 Responses to "Notes on the History of Fiction"

    Toni July 18th, 2006 at 2:37 am

    I think the person who wrote this review has a serious problem. Could someone also ask this person, when writing reviews, to put his thoughts in a more simple format? Big words can work, but the way used with this review are just "big words". I think you need to take a vacation, and have some good, down to earth, rolling in bed, sex. Then, rewrite this...

    Carolyn July 18th, 2006 at 6:49 am

    "Notes on the History of Fiction" is one of the more interesting reviews/articles I've read on this site or any other. The current debate about The Da Vinci Code is a good example of how some folks take their Fiction to be True or Untrue and then get themselves all worked up in proving their point. The very classification of a book as being Fiction tells the reader upfront: this is a tale, a story, a demonstration of my own creativity". Well done, Mr. Doctorow!

    bears July 18th, 2006 at 9:30 am

    Prof. Doctorow is 75 years old, so if he does need sex, god bless him! As far as his having something seriously wrong with him, well, he is one of our finest writers and writers are well known for beinga little troubled, so I'm fine with that too! The essay tries to do a great deal in a small compass and does read a little bit like notes for a larger project, but I found it very interesting. I wish he had shared more of his views on the Iliad itself.... also I would point out that nobody thinks Homer lived at the end of the Bronze Age (1200 BC); most would date him around 800 BC at the earliest!

    Richard Gardner July 20th, 2006 at 10:48 am

    I thought the review provoked a lot of thought. I have an e-mail correspondent who doesn't like to read historical fiction because he can't tell when it is history and when it is fiction. I personally don't have that problem, however, I might note that there was a detective novel written a few years ago, the title and author escapes my memory right now, where the detective is in the hospital recovering from some injury acquired in the line of duty. Somehow while recuperating and reading he is led into an investigation of the life of Richard III and becomes convinced after using detecting techniques that the actual murderer of the young princesand the one who would most benefit from the crime being pinned on Richard was Henry Tudor, England's Henry VII. The analysis was done so well as to lead me to the conclusion that in this case fiction seemed more truthful than the actual recorded history.

    Eunice K. Riemer July 20th, 2006 at 6:52 pm

    Well, even the mighty stumble. E. L. Doctorow's books occupy a place on my shelves and I have enjoyed every one of them. However, this review shows him to be bucking for a place in the New Republic stable. The piece is verbose (2913 words,) stuffed with irrelevant information and boring.

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