“Better” History? How About “Revisionist” History?

Nicholas Meyer goes on the offensive (in both senses of the term) in a cynical attempt to ward off critics who may claim his forthcoming mini-series about Harry Houdini (Jewish Hungarian immigrant Ehrich Weiss) plays fast and loose with the facts (Los Angeles Times op-ed “Better history through storytelling,” Feb. 2, 2014—retitled online as “Give ‘Saving Mr. Banks’—and movies like it—a break”).

What a bunch of self-serving crapaganda. The op-ed’s title alone is oxymoronic: “Better history”? Excuse me while I LOL.

Were Meyer truly concerned about being criticized for fact-fudging, he wouldn’t have titled the work “Houdini” in the first place. He would have dubbed it “Magician,” or some such thing, and changed the name of the main character.

But no. Meyer chose to capitalize on the Houdini name and fame to garner more viewers (read: advertising dollars), while at the same time demanding that he be given the liberty to tell the story as he sees fit, whether it has any basis in reality or not. As if Houdini’s larger-than-life arc needs any enhancement to begin with.

Ideally, the value of history is in the lessons we take away from it so we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past. If history is not as factual as it can be, we learn the wrong lessons. Written works—i.e., historical fiction—when properly done, do not change the underlying facts. They breathe life into that history by humanizing it.

What’s more, playing the role of victim, Meyer seems to believe novels are exempt from such criticism, while movies and TV are unfairly targeted. Crawl out of your Hollywood bubble, Mr. Meyer. Historical fiction has been harshly criticized over the years, not the least of which is Twain’s (justifiable) lampooning of James Fenimore Cooper. Besides, with the huge discrepancy between the money to be made from movies/TV versus books, the visual medium deserves the searchlights.

More to the point, “better history” opens the door to historical revisionism and the likes of Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and other Holocaust deniers.

I suggest that Meyer wrote the op-ed to gin up a phony controversy over anticipated criticism of the TV mini-series to be aired on the History channel (a channel whose very name has been lampooned for its cynical diversion into so-called “reality” shows) and will doubtless be promoted as “authentic,” with the category “historical fiction” (unlike books) nowhere to be seen.

About Polishing Your Prose

Larry M Edwards is an award-winning investigative journalist, author, editor and publishing consultant. He is the author of three books, and has edited dozens of nonfiction and fiction book manuscripts. Under Wigeon Publishing, he has produced six books. As author, "Dare I Call It Murder? A Memoir of Violent Loss" won First Place in the San Diego Book Awards in 2012 (unpublished memoir) and 2014, Best Published Memoir. The book has also been nominated for a number of awards, including: Pulitzer Prize, Benjamin Franklin Award, Washington State Book Award, and One Book, One San Diego. As Editor, "Murder Survivor’s Handbook: Real-Life Stories, Tips & Resources" won the Gold Award in the 2015 Benjamin Franklin Book Awards, Self-Help. For a sample edit and cost estimate, contact Larry: larry [at] larryedwards [dot] com -- www.larryedwards.com -- www.dareicallitmurder.com -- www.larryedwards.com/wigeonpublishing/
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