We all know history is invariably written by those who gained and held the power for any period of time, and we tend to tell our stories from that same place – focused on the side that won. Any social scientist will tell you that approach is problematic, though, because it removes the other side of the story and in the process potentially eliminates critical historical information.
Good news for conquerors. Bad news for the conquered.
As an avid reader and a lifelong hobbyist anthropologist, I used to think about this a lot – the story from the antagonist’s point of view. And then I read Dragons of Summer Flame, which tells a section of the Dragonlance history from the side perceived as the enemy through Dragonlance Chronicles. The main character is the child of two of the Chronicles characters, fighting on his mother’s side (the enemy) for what he was raised believing is right while coming to his own understanding of his knightly father’s oppositional beliefs.
The Avatar: The Last Airbender episode “Ember Island Players” centers around the Avatar and his friends secretly attending a show in the Fire Nation, generally perceived by the entire Avatar-verse as the enemy. The performers have put together a show recounting the Avatar’s journey from the iceberg he was found in through the Earth Kingdom and into the Fire Nation, generally portraying the group and the Fire Nation prince who has joined as buffoons. The play ends with a fight between the Avatar and the Fire Nation princess, where she overpowers and defeats him for the glory of the Fire Nation. While viewers know what’s really happened, and what will most likely happen in the upcoming fight between the Avatar and the Firelord, the play is Fire Nation propaganda, pure and simple.
The story doesn’t have to be anything so complicated or grand. It could be the scientist willing to to do whatever it takes to accomplish a goal she believes will benefit mankind. It could be the friend trying to mediate a fight between other friends without stopping to find out why both sides are fighting to begin with. (Felicia Day once pointed out that many stories and real-life conflicts wouldn’t exist if the parties involved had just sat down together and talked, and she’s not wrong.)
I think the reason we’re starting to see so many projects interested in trying to collect and preserve the voices of a minority group or a defeated group is because we’re starting to recognize the value of having a more complete story. The more complete story allows us to better identify the biases and alterations that have crept in to the narrative as a whole, and can potentially give us a better idea of how a situation blew up so that future people can identify the warning signs and try to make better choices.
It really makes you think, doesn’t it?