Secret history

Secret history

A secret history (or shadow history) is a revisionist interpretation of either fictional or real (or known) history which is claimed to have been deliberately suppressed or forgotten.

Secret histories of the real world

Originally secret histories were designed as non-fictional, revealing or claiming to reveal the truth behind the "spin": one such example is the Secret History of the Mongols. Secret histories can range from standard historical revisionism with proper critical reexamination of historical facts to negative historical revisionism wherein facts are deliberately omitted, suppressed or distorted. An example of the latter would be the denial of the Holocaust.

The exemplar secret history is the Anecdota of Procopius of Caesarea (known for centuries as the Secret History). Although it is not as famous as the Secret History, Procopius' History of the Wars is clearly his most important work. Later, Procopius added an eighth book. The famous Secret History was discovered centuries later in the Vatican Library and published in 1623, but its existence was already known from the Suda, which referred to it as the Anekdota ("the unpublished composition"). The Secret History covers roughly the same years as the first seven books of the History of Justinian's Wars and appears to have been written after they were published. Current consensus generally dates it to 550 or 558, or maybe even as late as 562. The famous Secret History portrays the reign of the Roman Emperor Justinian I to the great disadvantage of the Emperor, his wife and some of his court.

Fictional secret histories

Fictional secret histories examples

Secret history is sometimes used in a long-running science fiction or fantasy universe to preserve continuity with the present by reconciling paranormal, anachronistic, or otherwise notable but unrecorded events with what actually happened in known history.

Secret history thrillers

A certain type of thriller can be defined as secret history. In such novels, a daring spy, assassin or commando nearly carries out a coup which would have drastically changed history as we know it. Since this is not alternate history but a secret event in our own history, the reader knows in advance that this attempt would be foiled, that all persons in the know would be sworn to secrecy and all evidence be consigned to a top secret archives, where supposedly it still is. Nevertheless, the plot fascinates many readers who want to see how close history comes to being changed (usually, very very close) and exactly how the attempt would be foiled.

Two highly successful novels are considered to have started this sub-genre:

These two novels set the framework for many later books: following step by step both the fiendishly clever, competent and ruthless perpetrator in carrying out his design (it is usually a man) and the equally clever and competent hunter, hot on his spoor throughout the book, but who would catch up with him only at the (very cataclysmic) end. Typically, historical figures – including very famous ones – appear in some key scenes, but are not major actors.

Many other novels of this type followed, most of them with World War II backgrounds. Follet himself published at least two others:

Works of other writers fitting within this type include:

Different types of secret history thriller include:

  • The Leader and the Damned by Colin Forbes: Adolf Hitler was assassinated in 1943 but his death was kept secret and the man who led Nazi Germany in the last two years of the war was a double.
  • XPD by Len Deighton: Winston Churchill was far more of an appeaser than official history records, and in June 1940 he had secret meeting with Hitler to discuss peace on the basis of recognizing the German domination of Europe; decades later, the documents recording this shameful secret are the subject of an intensive and deadly power struggle.
  • An Exchange of Eagles by Own Sela: in 1940, Nazi Germany and the United States both have nuclear programs advanced enough that both powers would have full nuclear arsenals by 1943 and would be likely to use them, turning World War II into a nuclear holocaust; but two courageous officers, an American and a German, make a personal pact to sabotage and retard their countries' respective programs – thus creating the history we know, where nuclear arms appeared on the scene only at the very end of the war, and destruction was limited to two Japanese cities rather than the entire world.
  • The mystery series by Elliott Roosevelt in which his mother, Eleanor Roosevelt, is the detective - placing murder mysteries in the Franklin D. Roosevelt White House and other actual locations and involving many historical persons in the fictional events depicted. In one book of the series, "Murder at the Chateau", Eleanor Roosevelt is involved not only in a murder mystery but aso in a high-lever secret conference at Occupied France, which nearly ends with a diplomatic deal to end WWII in 1941.
  • The Berkut - Hitler did not really commit suicide in 1945, it was a double who died togther with Eva Braun. The real Hitler tried to escape from Berlin, was captured by Soviet commandos after the long chase making most of the book, and was secretly kept under horrible and degrading conditions in the Kremlin basement until the death of Stalin in 1953, when he was secretly executed.

Secret histories of fictional worlds

"Retcon", alteration of the canonical account of past events in serial fiction, often employs aspects of secret history. A seeming continuity breach might be "revealed" to alter the truth of what readers were previously led to believe was a definitive story. A retcon might equally well convert an established history into a secret history. Such transformations occur with particular frequency in long-running superhero comic books.


Alan Moore revisionist histories

  • During the revival of Miracleman in the 1980s, he showed that the original lighthearted adventures had taken place in a virtual reality.
  • In Lost Girls, he reveals events of Alice in Wonderland, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and Peter Pan as fantasies invented to cover up memories of childhood sexual abuse.
  • He revised Swamp Thing's origin twice, revealing the title character's origin not as an altered human but a sentient plant which had absorbed a dead human's memories. Later, he established Swamp Thing as a supernatural plant elemental, rather than a science-based mutated vegetation.
  • In The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, the histories of various characters differ from the books in which they previously appeared, especially their deaths (notably Allan Quatermaine, Dr Jekyll and the Invisible Man); according to Moore's tale, the books contain errors.
  • In From Hell, Moore revises the Jack the Ripper murders as being part of a grand conspiracy running through various organizations and social classes in London (the 1979 movie Murder by Decree had a similar premise).

  • When Arthur Conan Doyle wrote "The Final Problem" he fully intended to kill off Sherlock Holmes and write no further books and stories about him. Faced with massive pressure and protests by the famous detective's fans, he finally gave in. "The Adventure of the Empty House" revealed that Holmes did not die after all, and recounted a secret history of three years in which Holmes had been wandering the world while everybody – including even his close friend Dr. Watson – believed him to be dead.
  • Remembrance of the Daleks also alludes to hidden fictional history, establishing that during the events of An Unearthly Child the First Doctor had in his possession a super-weapon, the Hand of Omega stolen from his own people, the Time Lords. The story also implies that he knew of the Daleks before he "first" met them.
  • DC Comics' Crisis on Infinite Earths made years of "established" events and characters from the DC Universe (for example the existence of Krypto) "un-happen". In the revised continuity only a few privileged characters remember the old continuity.
  • Philip Jose Farmer's Wold Newton universe heavily influenced Alan Moore's subsequent League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Both these universes tie together many disparate fictional creations in a variety of surprising ways.

See also

External links

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