Friday, 23 February 2018

Book Review: Medieval Underpants and Other Blunders: A Writer’s (and Editor’s Guide to Keeping Historical Fiction Free of Common Anachronisms, Errors, and Myths by Susanne Alleyn (Edition 3.1)

Pros: goes over a good variety of topics with a fair amount of detail, engaging language, educational

Cons: spends more time than necessary complaining about general and specific errors encountered in fiction and books

The book consists of 18 chapters (though the first chapter explains what an anachronism is and the last one is a bibliography for research purposes). The other chapters are on: underpants (VERY interesting), geography, expressions/slang, attitudes, food/plants/animals (ie, what was originally American and therefore unavailable in the rest of the world before the ‘discovery’ of the new world), naming practices, guns, money, aristocratic titles, lighting, travel, hygiene, servants, guillotine (for French Revolution works), a chapter on minor things (pens, rubber, restaurants, etc.), and burial practices.

There’s a real wealth of information here. Some of it seems obvious once it’s pointed out while other items felt like real revelations. The author goes pretty in depth on some of these topics.

The author has a tendency to complain about errors she’s encountered in historical novels and books. While some examples are helpful, it’s often clear the author just wants to complain about shoddy research, which isn’t always useful for someone interested in avoiding such mistakes. Indeed, towards the end of the book I started skimming these passages so I could get back to the historically accurate information.

On the whole I was very happy with this book. I learned a lot, and it’s the kind of detailed minutae that often gets overlooked when thinking of the past.

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