Early Reports

In my last blog post, I briefly discussed how historians are faced with the difficult task of unravelling true historical facts from the embellishments that creep in over time.  However, the threat of legend overtaking fact is mitigated by the gap between the actual event and the earliest record. 

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History, Legend, or Myth?

One of my favorite movies in recent time is The Fellowship of the Ring. This adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's classic, The Lord of the Rings, is by far the best of the cinematic series. The filmmakers introduce us to Tokien's Middle Earth with a brief history of Sauron's One Ring. When the ring was lost and forgotten, the prologue's voice-over says, "History became legend. Legend became myth." Tolkien shows a keen understanding of human nature in this statement.

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The Mystery of History

In his book, The Nature of Historical Explanation, Patrick Gardiner asked a worthwhile question:

“In what sense can I be said to know an event which is in principle unobservable, having vanished behind the mysterious frontier which divides the present from the past?  And how can we be sure that anything really happened in the past at all, that the whole story is not an elaborate fabrication, as untrustworthy as a dream or a work of fiction?”

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