How many of us do what more successful authors, or wealthier authors, do when it comes to research? Ignoring any other considerations, I know that I certainly can’t afford to dash about the world in search of the authentic facts I may need. I also can’t afford to buy tome after tome of scholarly works on subjects of relevance. So, I’m left with two options: make it up as I go along and hope it sounds authentic, or use that remarkable resource – the internet!
Now, the internet ought to be an unparalleled source of information. Sadly, there are very serious dangers in using it. I have discovered that even something as fundamental as an online dictionary is unreliable. I had cause to want to check that I had correctly spelt the word “weregild”. Naturally, I checked my usual online dictionary – and found absolutely nothing! However, a Google search discovered that the word does exist, and I had spelt it correctly. Lesson learnt! Don’t trust a single source to be comprehensive.
In other matters, more complex than simply checking the existence and spelling of a word, there is usually plenty of information to be found on just about any subject imaginable. Unfortunately, some of this information is often inaccurate, incomplete or just downright false. I have had a few occasions over the last eight months where I’ve looked for information and found that I end up totally confused by a mass of conflicting results. It’s taught me that no subject is free of being influenced by the scholar’s personal opinions or interpretations. Certainly, it seems that matters of mythology are particularly prone to this, where scholars are often trying to fit archaeological evidence to their own guesses. But even science, which ought to be definitive, isn’t free of such problems, as scientists strive to apply apparently solid facts into their own theories, which may in turn make those facts less solid than had previously been assumed.
So, we’re left with the simple fact that, at the end of the day, we must make our own judgement calls on what we believe of the various sources, and then fit that into what we write. All I can say is that I’m glad that I write fiction! At least most people expect a degree of latitude in the interpretation of the “facts” to sit well with the story!