Colleen McCullough & Historical Fiction

Today I am actually in the office and on track with my blog to spotlight an inspirational/thought-provoking work of fiction or book I have read! Finally…first one in a long time! Usually, I glance over at my bookshelf for some inspiration and today my eyes fell on the Masters of Rome series by Colleen McCullough. It is fitting to write about her as she passed away earlier this year, and I could and definitely will have more to say on her other works, but for now I want to stick to my personal favorites–her historical fiction seven book series fictionalizing ancient Rome from the time of Gaius Marius to Caesar Augustus.

First of all, it is important to mention that McCullough was an incredibly brilliant woman–she was a neurophysiological researcher at Yale who just happened to write beautiful novels in her spare time. Thus, the research and brains behind the undertaking of the fictionalization of such a huge chunk of history were formidable.

It is clear that McCullough immersed herself in her subject. Not only are most of her facts historically accurate, but it was apparent she tried to interpret the character of the individuals through their actions left on the historical record. To great effect, in my opinion. It is surely difficult to convey a character that was a real living person and do that character justice despite the lack of written records, but McCullough does brilliantly. Through seven books following major historical characters, you find yourself as a reader coming to know these people well and caring about them intimately. This speaks for McCullough’s strength as a character creator in general.

While you are becoming immersed in the characters, you are learning history. This is the greatest achievement of historical fiction and why it can be so valuable to write it well and accessibly for the public. And why readers should give historical fiction a try. It’s a chance to broaden your knowledge and be entertained at the same time. McCullough puts forth a great effort to be accurate; each book is followed by a note explaining any deviations from the true path of history (she incorporates some historical rumors into fact for her stories), and why she chose to believe these rumors to be true. Usually her justifications make sense and show a lot of research behind them. She was an author who took her writing seriously.

After reading the series, I was so taken by the history of ancient Rome that I wanted to research it on my own and test McCullough’s factual reliability. I read biographies of Julius Caesar, Mark Antony, and Caesar Augustus. I found myself getting bored while reading said biographies because I already knew all the material–McCullough had really stuck to the facts and portrayed them, while in an entertaining manner, in incredible detail!

In conclusion, historical fiction would be an interesting challenge as an author. Colleen McCullough has definitely inspired me in this regard because her books are both highly informative and very well written. I love history and research and it would be very rewarding to discover and bring back to life historical figures from the past as McCullough has done in her Masters of Rome series.

One thought on “Colleen McCullough & Historical Fiction

  1. Colleen McCullough’s Masters of Rome series is my all time favorite series of books for all the reasons you cite. Thanks for paying tribute to such an amazing author. What a wonderful challenge it would be to follow her example into a different historical setting!

    Liked by 1 person

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