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Thursday, October 7, 2010

Animals Can Be Anachronisms, Too!

Hello, I'm Caroline Clemmons. Recently, my eldest daughter, Stephanie, and I were discussing errors in historical novels. She had helped a friend determine the dog breed appropriate for our friend's 18th-century-set romance novel. Dogs led to horses, and the mistakes people make. I cajoled my daughter into writing this blog on using appropriate breeds of animals even when writing fiction. Here is Stephanie's post:

My neighbor leases the grazing on my land. He has a couple of horses, including a mare. I looked out of the study window and saw two extra horses, one of whom was being overly “friendly” to the mare. The horses had escaped from another neighbor’s pasture.


This incident reminded me of the books that have the macho hero riding a stallion only he can ride. No one else can touch the horse, but he rides quietly among a group of other horses, including mares. I have news for you. No one who knows anything about horses would ride a stallion near another group of horses. Stallions are dangerous and unpredictable and will mount a mare in season regardless of who is on the mare’s back or riding the stallion. They will fight with and even kill other males.

Just as it is important to have the right clothing and furnishings in your book, it is important to have the animals in your book behave correctly. To do otherwise damages your credibility and the willing suspension of disbelief that engages your readers. Authors should not have a horse do something horses just do not do any more than you would have a regency character dress in an Elizabethan manner.

In the same vein, you should make sure that a dog or cat is of the correct breed for the time and place you are writing about. A Scottish Highlander during the 1600s would not have a Labrador retriever. The breed did not yet exist. The Highlander would probably have a Scottish Elkhound instead, or something similar.

While highborn ladies had lap dogs in Regency Europe, they did not have Chihuahuas. They had dogs like the Bichon Frise, a French dog who was bred to be a lady’s companion. Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, or their ancestors, appear in many paintings during the reign of King Charles I and II because both kings had them.

I am not a cat person so I cannot give you cat examples. However, the Cat Fanciers Association or The International Cat Association will answer questions about what breed would be in what place when. The American Kennel Club will answer such questions for dogs. For horses, you will have to query the individual breed registries to find out when the breed came into existence and whether it would be in the time and place you are writing about.

You may feel this is a lot of trouble for something most people will not pick up on. People who read historical romances know their time period. The wrath of fans against authors who make mistakes is legendary. Take care to place the appropriate animal in your books or reader’s wrath may be directed at you.

Bio: Stephanie Suesan Smith, Ph.D. is a dog person, has had horses, and does not own cats. She is also a nonfiction writer, photographer, master gardener, and, on occasion, the research department for her

6 comments:

Stephanie Suesan Smith, Ph.D. said...

that last bit of bio should be, "and on occasion, the research department for her mother."

stephaniesuesansmith@gmail.com
http://stephaniesuesansmith.com

Terry Albert said...

That horse looks pregnant! Yes, i had a friend whose romance novel featured Irish Wolfhounds. I remember how she said it was important to have the right dog in the right time period. I also know this from my art- if I draw a horse with incorrect tack, no horse person will buy that painting.

Caroline Clemmons said...

Thanks, Stephanie, for writing my blog for me.

Sally said...

Facts are facts and should be reported correctly. It is nice of you to do research for your mom. A handy reasearcher is always appreciated.

Georgie Lee said...

Great post and something important to remember for my future writing.

Lemur said...

An excellent point! For those of you writing in late 1800s-1930s America, the dog of choice for many families was often the Pit Bull (known to many as the Nanny Dog). Of course you might describe the breed, but you probably wouldn't use its name in writings of the time.

I'll minorly disagree with the info on stallions, though. I have several friends who have stallions who are sweet as pie and super easy to handle. Overall, mares and geldings are certainly more gentle however.

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