Go far enough back into history, and you find yourself in the land of myth. For some peoples, that line between the documented (history) and oral tradition (myth) appears later than for others. Empires leave records, as do organized states and religious institutions. But even where nomadic societies are literate, they tend to be best known through the descriptions of others—often biased descriptions written by the conquered, the fearful, or the hostile.
So it is with Attila the Hun. Even his name is a Latin form; probably the original was Atli. In my interview with Joan Schweighardt, we discuss (among other things) the power of legends both Hunnic and Germanic, and how the novelist can blend mythology and history to create a powerful, compelling story.
As ever, the rest of this post comes from New Books in Historical Fiction.
Long before Genghis Khan set off to conquer the known world, the pattern of steppe warriors attacking—and often defeating—settled empires was well established. Only a few names of those who led these effective but mostly short-lived campaigns have become cultural references familiar to a general audience, but Attila the Hun looms large in that group—almost as large as Genghis himself. In the fifth century, the period covered by The Last Wife of Attila the Hun (Booktrope Editions, 2015), Attila kept both the eastern and the western Roman empires on their figurative toes, despite their vastly greater military and economic resources.
Into this charged atmosphere comes Gudrun, a young Burgundian noblewoman determined to exact vengeance for the destruction of her people at Attila’s hands. She offers him a golden sword of magical power that, according to legend, inflicts a curse on its owner. She hopes Attila will become its next victim. But as the days turn into weeks and Gudrun becomes first a prisoner, then a servant, in the Huns’ camp, she fears that even the sword’s magic may not be strong enough to defeat Attila. Then he decides to marry her …
Joan Schweighardt effortlessly interweaves the history surrounding the turbulent end of the western Roman Empire with the legends that sparked Wagner’s Ring Cycle. The result is a rich and complex tapestry that will draw readers into a long-forgotten world.
For Joan’s guest post, which also addresses this question, see “Dealing with the Dragon.”