Friday, November 30, 2012

Putting a Historic Figure in the Novel

As near as I can determine, there are no pictures of Captain Benjamin Forsyth.

He was an American hero of the War of 1812, leader of Forsyth's Rifles, a dashing if rowdy and larcenous crew involved in many important battles on the Canadian-American border in the Thousand Islands area. He plays a part in the story of Bucker Dudley. When Bucko was imprisoned in Elizabethtown, Captain Forsyth and his Rifles crossed the frozen river, raided the town, and released all the prisoners. This was an actual raid, carried out by the actual historical personage, Captain Benjamin Forsyth. But what did he look like?

Sean Bean

I like to think of him as looking like Sean Bean when he played Richard Sharpe of Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe's Rifles, a gorgeous hunk in a skin-tight uniform, broad-shouldered, maybe six and a half feet tall, his handsome brow creased with the consciousness of having killed many men and broken the hearts of many women.

But maybe he was short. It has been said that in the woodland skirmish where he lost his life Benjamin Forsyth climbed up on a stump to see what was happening, whereupon a British marksman picked him off. A tall man wouldn't have had to do this. And maybe his shoulders weren't broad at all. You can never tell about the people of that time, since broad shoulders were so unfashionable that even a man who had them would be painted as not having them, wearing those cramped, pinch-shouldered jackets that were in style in those days.

Portrait of General Hull

But who cares? I'm writing this story. I can make Captain Benjamin Forsyth as fine-looking as I like. It's called poetic license. My poetic license hangs over my desk. Take a look at it. The powers it gives me are sweeping.

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