It’s my birthday and I can do whatever the hell I want. So today, I present to you all a short list of historical figures that would be great inspiration for fantasy characters.
- Peter the Fucking Great, the giant westernizing tsar whose only formal education was the ‘School of Hard Knocks’. Who practiced dentistry on his courtiers without so much as a ‘by your leave’. Who decided to marry and leave his empire to a former washerwoman. Who built a whole new capital because he thought the old one sucked. Who drank into the wee hours with his Drunken Synod, only to get up at the crack of dawn to get to work. Who was responsible for the death of his son and heir. Who dragged Russia kicking and screaming into the 18th century. The only problem is that he’s so ridiculous and improbable that such a character might be a tough sell to readers.
- Charles Joughin, ultimate survivor. You’re the chief baker on the maiden voyage of the biggest and fanciest ocean liner ever to that point, and oops, it’s sinking? Start swigging brandy, become literally the last person off the ship (you remember in Titanic how Jack and Rose clambered to the top of the rising stern and they looked over and there was another dude there? That’s Joughin.), paddle away with dry head, live to bake buns another day. That sort of clear thinking and initiative despite who knows how much brandy deserves at least a short story.
- Mary Frith, crossdressing, incorrigible, beloved criminal of Jacobean London. Who pimped out men and women to both men and women, and became a pro-monarchy highwaywoman in her dotage, when civil war raged. Subject of two plays within her own lifetime. That’s the stuff.
- Ulysses S Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman. I put these two as a package as not only do I find their individual lives interesting for similar reasons (formerly promising West Point grads seemingly becoming failures, struggling with money and their in-laws’ disappointment, until WAR), but their friendship is pretty good fodder in itself. To quote Sherman: “Grant stood by me when I was crazy, and I stood by him when he was drunk, and now we stand by each other.”
- The Booth family of Shakespearean actors, for whom Everything Was a Goddamned Ordeal. The patriarch? A drunken bigamist who got so into his scenes that he kept trying to stab his co-stars on stage for real. The Only Sane Man? Super talented, forced to spend his childhood keeping his dad in line and his adulthood living down his and his family’s mistakes. The youngest? Pro-Confederacy fanatic who fucking shot the president. If you can’t do something with this material, you’re not trying.
(This is not an exhaustive list. It’s the tiniest shard knocked off an iceberg.)
By extension, this would mean settings inspired by different countries and time periods. The genre has been improving a lot in this regard in recent years and hey, let’s keep on improving it! US Civil War, English Civil War, 18th century Russia, Edwardian age inspired fantasy settings? (Or dare I say, Canadian history inspired? Don’t laugh; there’s some good stuff there.) That would be great! Admittedly, I’m trying to work out a timeline in my worldbuilding that would accommodate some of these and more, but I’d love to see what respectable authors would come up with using the same sources.
Now I sleep. Happy birthday to me.