'Just the way it was'

"'Just the way it was'" Continued...

Issue: "Supreme warning," July 5, 2003

Mr. Shaara knew that men such as George Washington and Robert E. Lee were real, reluctant heroes nonetheless animated by an opportunity to fight and even die for ideas. He allows them to breathe historically, quoting not only their journals and original accounts but also writing verbal and mental dialogue befitting the men.

The response of readers has been "Hurrah!" But some academic historians have labeled Mr. Shaara presumptuous: "How dare you put words in the mouth of Robert E. Lee?"

"That's an important point," he acknowledges, adding he is humble to ensure Lee or Washington or King George come off authentically. "To put words in the mouths of those two characters, I had better feel pretty comfortable with those men. And this has to do with hearing the voices of the characters. One thing I do not rely on is modern biography or history books. I have to find out about these figures from the original sources."

Mr. Shaara is unfazed that some critics labeled his version of Stonewall Jackson overly affective and mushy. He is confident the great general was prone to cry over the loss of a little girl (actual history), or to pray with slave Jim Lewis. (Jackson started his own church for slaves and was a frequent, respectful attendee.) "I am fiercely proud that the history is accurate, absolutely right down to the last detail," he said. "Some modern readers might not be able to believe that Stonewall Jackson would cry over the death of that little girl, but he did."

Lee and Washington both had fierce tempers that could fire without notice, Mr. Shaara notes. His novels don't attempt to hide this-but he points out that such men were able to subdue not only their opponents but themselves. He longs to see the heroes that, with time, will be defined by the current struggles against modern terrorism: Mr. Shaara's books have never failed to include one other key ingredient in the outworkings of history-a sovereign Providence. His characters regularly call on God and frequently appeal to Him for grace, mercy, and wisdom. While he declined to speak to WORLD of his own beliefs, Mr. Shaara insists, "That's just the way it was. And to deny that because I might offend somebody today would mean that I have no business writing the books."

Patriotism is good, says the author, and hopefully can still be found. It consists of old-fashioned notions such as "sacrificing for your country. People who are willing to give up their lives, their fortunes, everything, for an idea on a piece of paper. That kind of patriotism is extraordinary. This is the greatest example of being an American-being able to make that sacrifice for an ideal." c

-Mr. Maxwell is writer in residence at Belhaven College in Jackson, Miss.


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