Anachronism and Memory: Watching My Step and Attending to Detail


Writing a novel set in the 1930’s and ’40’s, I had to pay attention to anachronisms. I needed enough period detail to give the story authenticity, but not so much that it overwhelmed the narrative. In all these details, one wrong step and the effect of the book would be compromised. Most readers probably wouldn’t catch an error in the aircraft specs in the book, but someone would, and probably call it to the attention of the reading public.

I avoided a big gaff when I had young Otto, the main character, practicing his ballroom dancing with his girlfriend and prom date Betty Ross in May, 1938. I had them dance to “You Belong to Me,” one of my favorite songs of the era and one that fit with Otto’s enthusiasm for flying. The song begins,

See the pyramids along the Nile.
Watch the sunrise on a tropic isle.
Just remember, darling, all the while
You belong to me.

And then,

Fly the ocean in a silver plane,
See the jungle when it’s wet with rain,
Just remember ’til you’re home again,
You belong to me.

The problem with this lovely song was that it first came out in 1952 (as a country song, soon covered by Patti Page). So that wouldn’t work. Fortunately, there are plenty of other great slow-dance songs from the period. I substituted “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” another favorite of mine, from 1933 (music by Jerome Kern). Whew. Crisis averted.

There must be hundreds of such period details, and I found that if I didn’t know a great deal about a subject, I had to research facts and dates. Jim Uzzle, a retired USAir pilot, caught another one when I had Otto join a local Civil Air Patrol unit in 1940. The C.A.P. wasn’t established until late 1941, so another error was averted by Jim’s keen eyes and knowledge of all things aeronautical. Thanks, Jim!

This attention to detail makes for a smoother and more enjoyable read. I do it all for you, dear readers, and hope you enjoy the results of my labors.


About huckfinn47

I taught high school English for 32 years, all at Robinson High School in Fairfax, VA. My students called me "Mr. V," and I was fortunate to have some terrific young people in my classes. I have made contact with some of them, particularly on Facebook, and enjoy seeing what they're up to. My other nickname, given to me by our then assistant pastor Jim Vaught, is Lieutenant Dan, after the Gary Sinise character in Forrest Gump, one of my favorite movies. I never got anywhere near military service, so the name is somewhat ironic. I greatly admire our troops and respect their sacrifices. On the Wings of Morning is my first novel worth talking about.
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