Hero, Villain, or Somewhere In-Between? 7/10/2020

Send to Kindle

by Shawn Lamb

The typical writing course talks about protagonists and antagonists almost in a black-and-white contrast with very little gray areas. It is true that villains should be complex, yet the more one wants to prove a point, the more dramatic they tend to create the contrast between hero and villain. In straight fiction, that might work. However, when writing historical fiction and dealing with real people of the past, things aren’t always so cut and dry. Such is the case with Sir John Dalrymple, a real nobleman from the 17th century in my historical fiction novel Glencoe.

John Dalrymple was born in 1648 to a noble family in the Scottish Lowlands. He became a baron and head of the powerful Dalrymple clan after his father died. He went into law and politics. It made little difference to Dalrymple who ruled. He served both King James and King William after William deposed James. In 1691, became Secretary of State for Scotland.

Here is where the gray areas comes in with a real person, as to what guided Dalrymple’s actions while Secretary of StateAs a Lowlander, he possessed the natural dislike for Highlanders. However, he confessed a deep-seeded loathing for the MacDonalds of Glencoe. Why? No one knows. Born in 1648, he had no personal experience with MacDonald clan during the English Civil WarRobber cattle raids happened between Highland clans, so he suffered no loss of livestock to them. He didn’t cared a whit about religion so he used the MacDonalds’ being Catholic as an excuse. 

All Dalrymple’s contradictory actions and lack of recorded reasons, left nothing for me, an author, to grab onto. Thus, I portrayed him as he appears in the annuals of history; a cold, hard, impatient man with little tolerance for incompetence. This made him ruthlessly ambitious and willing to serve whomever ruled.  He could as easily turn upon his friends and allies.

To the one side of history, Dalrymple was a hero, as he finally dealt with a troublesome clan. To another side of history, Dalrymple is a villain, responsible for one of the most despicable acts ever recorded in Scottish history. To a third side, he fell in-between, neither hero nor villain, rather a product of his time. Thus, when writing Glencoe, I did not sensationalize events.  The book is unique in the fact it is a real event with real people using well-documented historical records to put in prose form.

It is important for an author of historical fiction to deal authentically with the subject. Imposing artificial reasons, adding specutaltive motivations, or ascribing current modes of behavior robs the reader of experiencing what life was like during that era. Conflicting acts or behavior don’t need to be explained if properly framed within the time and situation. Do justice to the real life character. Let the reader experience them with all the imperfections to help them learn about history.


Shawn LambShawn Lamb is an award-winning writer of historical fiction, Christian fantasy, and children’s books. To learn more about Shawn and her books visit www.allonbooks.com

To read Glencoe – A Novel, visit Amazon http://www.amazon.com/Glencoe-a-novel-ebook/dp/B009WXIBT8/ref=tmm_kin_title_0 

Share Button

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *