Thy Eternal Summer is a historical fiction novel based on the people and events of the U.S. – Dakota Conflict of 1862. Like other works of historical fiction, Thy Eternal Summer relies on the viewpoint of a fictional character that is set among real people, real events, and a specific period of time. By observing and participating in events of the past, this character is able to depict history in a way that has not been previously recorded.
Though Thy Eternal Summer follows many of the precedents set by traditional works of historical fiction, it is not completely rooted in that genre. The novel relies heavily on historical fact and accuracy and thereby shares many of the qualities of a work of creative, literary, or narrative nonfiction. For instance, the novel is documented in order to build context and reflect historical accuracy. Furthermore, nearly all of the people, events, dialogue, and actions throughout the novel are established and recreated from real life occurrences as opposed to an invention of the author’s mind. There is almost nothing in the novel that was not first discovered through primary and secondary source materials. Most of the information throughout the novel is documented and verifiable and then retold in narrative form to create a literary work with the same goals as those of the historian.
The initial vision of this novel was to recreate the conflict as it was discovered by me, the historian. There was no intention to reinterpret the past or put the events in a new or different perspective. The research was not done in order to discover something that has gone undiscovered. Rather, the goal was to thoroughly and accurately obtain the information in order to effectively convey it as it was perceived by me. I did not wish to build an argument about the way the past should be interpreted, but instead sought to convey the past as it was perceived through my eyes.
In order to do this I used two very clear methods. First, I delved in to all possible sources, both secondary and primary. It is the responsibility of the historian to consider all sources in order to create a credible and objective interpretation of the past that is fair and just to its readership which may lack either the skills or resources to do so themselves. For this reason I genuinely sought to use and exploit every perspective from not just one, but multiple sources. This way I could discover the past with as much accuracy as possible and then convey that information with consideration toward its context and its varying perspectives.
The second and more important method was that I placed myself within the historical events. Because I did not wish to argue a point and because I merely sought to tell the story, the simplest way was to put myself within that story. Through my research I was able to view the past and inevitably build my own personal interpretation of that past. Unfortunately, I cannot truly relive the events of the past. I can only rely on what is available to me and then reinterpret, to the best of my ability, what may have happened. Therefore, by putting myself in the story, I can accomplish that. By becoming a character who is actively participating in the events of the past, I am able to describe everything that I see and hear and witness through my meticulous research and my knowledge of the context of the people and the time in which they lived. Through this method I was free to share not only everything I discovered, but also how it made me feel. Instead of just regurgitating the facts and details, I was able to include my thoughts, my frustrations, my curiosity, my confusion, and absolutely everything about this long gone event that I understood and that I did not understand.
The character used to portray myself in Thy Eternal Summer is a young man named Alfred Riggs. Mr. Riggs is a real person born at Lac qui Parle in Southwestern Minnesota in December of 1837. I specifically chose Mr. Riggs because at the time of the conflict he was young, white, and Christian. These are characteristics I have in common with the main character. Therefore, it is reasonable to believe that his values would not be much unlike my own. This way I was able to write the story without deviating very far from my own perspectives and my own way of relating to the world while still maintaining an air of authenticity. Furthermore, though Alfred Riggs was not an active participant in the U.S. – Dakota Conflict, it is not unreasonable to consider that he may have been. He is the son the missionary Stephen Riggs who was an active participant in the conflict. At the time the conflict began, Alfred had graduated from college and returned home to live and work at his father’s Hazelwood Mission near the Upper Agency just forty miles north of where the war broke out. Though in reality he fled with most of his family to St. Anthony, near Minneapolis, it is just as likely that he stayed and became an active participant in the historical events that followed. Furthermore, the fact that he lived with and grew up among the Dakota and the settlers of the Minnesota River Valley means that he would have known many of the people and Indians that were truly involved in the conflict. Alfred Riggs is a versatile character making it is easy to consider that he would have a knowledge of and a compassion for all perspectives, both Indian and white, involved in the conflict. This tremendous advantage allowed me to tell the story from not just one point of view, but from many in a way that can be understood and believed. This way I was effectively able to share an objective and thorough portrayal of the conflict that conveyed to the reader as much information as possible.