This is a question I have been throwing around for a long time: what is the difference between historical fiction and historical fantasy? Historical non-fiction is easy to define: a story based on real facts and information, often told by narrative, account, or other communicative work whose assertions and descriptions are believed by the author to be factual.
Historical fiction: a story told in a historical setting. The author owes his readers an authentic representation of the time period, therefore historical fiction requires thorough, detailed research in order to attain authenticity. Accuracy, even in the mundane, is key.
Historical fantasy: a sub-genre of historical fiction that incorporates fantastic elements into the narrative. The question becomes, at what point does historical fiction become historical fantasy? In my study of history, it has grown increasingly apparent to me that only some history was recorded as fact. Other history was passed down as myth, or forgotten altogether. Even then, some facts we learn to be false, some myths learned to be true, and some forgotten tales pulled from obscurity. Semantics are boring, I know. But the question intrigues me, especially when one considers the possibility of publication and classification. If an author writes a book set in the medieval era, and incorporates elements of the supernatural, at what point does the story shift from historical fiction to historical fantasy? If the author writes about King Arthur, and includes the myth of magic, is the book historical fiction or historical fantasy? As an example, I believe Bernard Cornwall’s Arthurian book is considered historical fiction.
What are your thoughts? If a book takes place in a historical setting, and the majority of it appears to be authentic, could you forgive passing insertions of the supernatural/fantastical as a part of the story? Or does that damage authenticity to the point that the story no longer belongs in the realm of plausible history?