As I prepare to write my first piece of historical fiction, I’ve been doing a lot of reading. Not only am I reading about The Cold War and the 1970s, I’m also reading about how to write historical fiction in general and historical mysteries in particular. Again and again, I see the recommendation that movies are an excellent way to get a feel for a time period. But in light of recent news about The Revenant, I wonder how true that really is.
For those of you who, like myself, haven’t seen the movie, here is the description from the International Movie Database (IMDB): “A frontiersman on a fur trading expedition in the 1820s fights for survival after being mauled by a bear and left for dead by members of his own hunting team.”
The hunter is discovered by a group of Pawnee who build a shelter for him. As they work, there is a voice over of a woman speaking what is allegedly Pawnee. Apparently there is a lot of Pawnee spoken in the film. Or that’s what we’re led to believe we are hearing. The problem is that in the shelter building scene, the language in the voice over isn’t Pawnee. It is Inupiaq and the speaker is Doreen Nutaaq Simmonds of Barrow, Alaska. She is reading a poem in a recording made 27 years earlier. You can read more about this story here.
Movies may help you get a feel for the clothing and other items of material culture. They can fill your ear with the sound of the music and the language of the time. But you are also relying on someone else to get this information right. If this story about The Revenant is anything to go by, the impression that you recieve may not be 100% accurate.
As always, when conducting research, proceed with caution.