James A. Michener


The novels of James A. Michener are the direct inspiration that led to the novels of Edward Rutherfurd; and I am happy to confirm that fact. I was still a teenager when my father, knowing of my desire to write novels and my delight in history, suggested that I should look at James Michener's work. He had been particularly impressed by The Source and The Covenant.

So far as I know, it was Michener who invented the genre in which he wrote - the highly researched novel, tracing the history of a single location down many centuries, through the stories of fictional families. I, certainly, can think of no literary antecedent for this - except one, which I suppose would have been a part of the familiar literary heritage for anyone of his generation, or indeed of mine, and that is the Bible. His linking of a dramatic episode in some humble person's life to the great sweep of history is, to me, biblical. I'm not sure that people have sufficiently picked up on this aspect of Michener's legacy, and I shall be interested to see if future writing on Michener does so. It's there in the moral outlook of the books also. For though he described himself as a humanist, and though he was certainly clear-sighted and scrupulous in exposing the failings of individual churches in the past, the strong sense of ethics we find everywhere in Michener's work seems to me to have a religious base. The best clue may lie in his upbringing in a Quaker environment, and his treatment of the Quakers in his novel Chesapeake.

And it was Chesapeake, above all, that I kept at my side, as an example and an inspiration, during the writing of my own first published novel Sarum. The reason I chose Chesapeake was because it has for me a special lyrical and echoing quality that seemed the perfect guide for my own attempts to capture something of the huge resonance of the area around Stonehenge and Salisbury Cathedral. His treatment of animals, and his little account of the life of the migrating geese also gave me the idea to attempt something of the same kind in my account of the life of a deer in The Forest. I also tried to follow his even-handed approach to religious controversy in my handling of the Reformation in London and the vexed question of the Catholic and Protestant divide in my two Irish books. Where I shall never be able to follow Michener, however, is in his descriptions of geology, especially in Centennial. He could somehow bring to those huge, geological movements, over aeons of time, a drama as if they were great stage sets being moved about in front of us. He's the Wagner of geology!

So for my part, if people are kind enough to call me 'The Modern Michener', I consider it the greatest honor. Further references to Michener and his work will be found in my accounts of my life and books.




Did You Know?
In Manhattan in the early to mid nineteenth century, scores of pigs roamed the streets – about 20,000 of them at peak population in the early 1820’s, a ratio of roughly one pig to every five humans ! Many of them belonged to families. The city was quickly growing in the nineteenth century – in population and wealth disparity. Despite rapid urbanization, non-wealthy New Yorkers continued raising hogs as a means of surviving. A family could always slaughter one of its pigs to feed itself, or sell one of them since pork was a staple of the American diet. Why pigs? Other animals weren’t quite so compatible with urban life. People could let their pigs wander the streets, rummage through trash for the piles of spoiled food that was left out on the street during the day, and count on them to return home in the evening !

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