Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Remember When . . . It Was Fun to Discover Facts?

This is actually a post I created for Inkwell Inspirations, which went up yesterday. I had fun chatting with the inkies about it, and though I've already done something very similar to this here one Wednesday . . . well, the snow's coming down and the inspiration for the next chapter in my current story is stirring, so I'm cheating. ;-)


I love history. For as long as I can remember, I would sink my teeth into each detail I learned, and usually gnaw on it until it turned into a story in my mind. One of the things I love most about the Old Testament is the history it brings to us. Better still? When third-party history and archaeological evidence backs up the Bible stories I've heard since I was a child.

One of my favorites was always Esther. Last winter I was thinking about how I'd love to write a novel about Esther—yet my style isn't to use real people as my main character, it's to explain real events through fictional characters. Now how, I wondered, could I do that with the story of Esther? I was standing in the shower when it came to me—Esther was one of many young women brought to the king. What about the other wives?

As the idea brewed, I got out my study Bible and got a few facts straight. Like, you know, which king of Persia this was. I found that historians can't quite agree on this. Some insist it's Xerxes, others Artaxerxes, some pose others altogether. I like the arguments put forth for it being Xerxes, so I ran with that one with quite a bit of excitement—see, I already knew something about Xerxes. In college we had to read Herodotus's Histories, which details the Greco-Persian war and so the king who waged it.

 Over the course of a few weeks, I reread Esther for the umpteenth time and reread the Histories, taking notes like crazy. Brought in some other historical data too, of course, and watched some documentaries on Persia. And you know what? The way it all clicked made me giddy.

In the book of Esther, the king is absent from the main story much of the time and seems fairly distant when he is there. We get only a few glimpses into his character—he had a temper on him, he was a fan of beautiful women (shocking, right?), and he was generous with those in his favor and impatient with those who weren't. Can the same be said of every king? Er, no, not actually.
In Herodotus, we get to know Xerxes pretty well. He's beloved by his people to the point of being revered as a god, though they were in a fact a monotheistic society. He was a man of passion and temper, who ordered people executed left and right when he was in a rage and offered them cities as rewards left and right when he was happy. And some of the things he's most remembered for are his affairs, one of which led to the deaths of a few of his closest family members.

Sound familiar? Yeah, I thought so too.

A few other facts snapped into place so beautifully that I became really convinced it was Xerxes in Esther. First of all, the timing. If you line up the events of Esther with the events of Xerxes' reign recorded by Herodotus and Persian historians, you get a few really cool clicks. First, that 180-day-long feast, where Vashti of the Bible refuses to come before his guests in her crown? That would have been when all the nobles were gathered to plan out the war. And the queen would have been about 8 months pregnant with her final child—pretty good excuse not to want to go before all the men in the empire and be judged for your beauty, eh?

There's a three-year gap between when Vashti is dethroned and when new young women are brought to the palace. Did it really take the king that long to cool off and think, “Gee, I better name a new queen?” Well, sure—because that's when he was at war! Pretty neat, huh? Herodotus has him arriving back in Susa (Shushan) within months of when the new virgins were scouted.

Maybe to some these things are small, but to the historical novelist, they're like candy. I had so, so much fun combining two history sources into one story—and yes, explaining it all through a fictional character. See, in my version, Kasia is the real reason the queen is deposed (let it be noted that Esther never says she's put to death, though that's the common notion). She's the reason for much of what happens during the war. And she's the unifying force behind the scandalous affair mentioned above and the arrival of new potential queens at the House of Women.

Because, you see, she was the one who held Xerxes' heart all along. And when a king with countless wives places his heart into the hands of a poor Jewish girl, trouble is bound to brew.


  1. I also love the story of Esther and enjoyed your sharing!

  2. Thanks, Annette! A lot of women seem to share our love for this story--understandably. =) It was amazingly fun, and kinda terrifying, to tackle this wonderful book from a totally new perspective. Oh, the fear I had of doing it all wrong! LOL.