Not Just the Facts, But Don’t Forget the Facts

Here it is: I like facts—historical facts, more facts and maybe some logical assumptions or reasonable leaps in historical fiction. And that is the litmus test I apply to the medieval and renaissance historical fiction and non-fiction that I read or watch.

This blog will include—at least in part—reviews of what I consider the best historical fiction, or non-fiction, focused on Europe—particularly England, Scotland, Wales and France in the 15th and 16th centuries. Most reviews will be on books, but I’ll include the odd film or TV show that captures my attention.

In fact, my first blog post focuses on a new US TV show called “Legend Quest” where a Scottish symbologist and archaeologist, Ashley Cowie, and his intrepid producer Kinga go off in search of relics. Not just any relic, mind you, but the most sought-after finds in the history of—well—mankind. The Holy Grail, Solomon’s Spear and Ring, Mayan Talking Cross, Stone of Scone, Excalibur and Merlin’s Tomb & Treasure. Oh yes! and the Ark of the Covenant. To say it is ambitious is an understatement. Cowie tackles two relics per show, which gives him 30 mins of screen time to find each item. How could a history lover not watch? (According to Wikipedia the first show got 1.2 million viewers and boosted the SyFy channel’s ratings by 19%.)

I work as an analyst by day, and I must painstakingly make sure I do not make statements without the facts to substantiate them. Cowie does not seem to get too worried about the details. His leaps of logic completely blow my mind.

In one episode he is looking for Solomon’s Ring, supposedly given by the Archangel Michael to King Solomon to defeat a demon. The seal on the ring—the Star of David—is referred to as the “Seal of Solomon.” It disappeared on the King’s death, no one has seen it since.

Cowie does a nice job of explaining the background of the ring, and how Solomon once threw it to the fishes, before it came back to him (inside a fish). He seizes on the fish symbol and sets about looking for it, or the Star of David. At one point—probably the most annoying part of the show—he looks at a sign of two fishes over a doorway and declares, “This must be the place, here’s the symbol of Jesus (fish) and the symbol of Solomon (fish). Two fishes=the ring.” He eventually decides he believes Solomon’s ring is in the Vatican. Do two fishes=a ring? You tell me.

I’m not saying it isn’t good TV – he leaps down caverns, crawls up hills hither and yon, and clearly has an awesome production budget. But he never finds anything. Nothing. It is like opening an old Cracker Jack box, enjoying the whole box only to find there is NO PRIZE at the end. No Stone of Scone. No Holy Grail. No Spear or Ring. No cross, talking or otherwise. If he found at least one artifact, or debunked one myth, I’d be happier.

The show drives me nuts! (But I admit I’ve seen every episode.) If ever a show put two and two together to get six, it is this show. And perhaps I’d like it better if he put a little less razzle dazzle on the history and a little more history in the history! By contrast, I watch a show with the “British Indiana Jones” Tudor Parfitt, who painstakingly (over 2 hours) sought the Ark of the Covenant and although I do not know I can agree with his conclusions (he’ll be gutted, I know), I did think his logic was sound and some of his assumptions were reasonable.

Ashley Cowie, I ken yer laughing all the way t’the bank and I could listen to you talk all day long, but I wish you’d take a deep breath and talk some sense man! Or FIND SOMETHING and stuff my criticism down my throat! Tonight’s the season finale – I’ll be watching, ever hopeful!

What historical leaps of logic or assumptions do you see in books, blogs, or other media?

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