Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Granddaddy of Alternate History

A few years ago, this book fell into my hands for the princely sum of $6.50 at a used bookstore. Needless to say being a devotee of the genre, I recognized it immediately: If it Happened Otherwise: Lapses into Imaginary History, a British anthology edited by poet, writer and historian, J.C. Squire, first published in 1931. With essays by Winston Churchill and G.K. Chesterton among others, it is often considered by many to be among the first alternate history books.





Essays include:
  • "If Drouet's Cart Had Stuck" 
  • "If Don John of Austria Had Married Mary Queen of Scots" 
  • "If Lee Had Not Won the Battle of Gettysburg"
  •  "If Napoleon Had Escaped to America" 
  • "If the Moors in Spain Had Won" 
  • "If the General Strike Had Succeeded
  • "If the Emperor Frederick Had Not Had Cancer" 
  • "If Louis XVI Had an Atom of Firmness" 
  • "If It Had Been Discovered in 1930 that Bacon Really Did Write Shakespeare" 
  • "If Booth Had Missed Lincoln" 

A subsequent U.S. edition, published later in 1931, eliminated the essay on the General Strike and replaced it with three new essays:
  • “If the Dutch Had Kept Neu Amsterdam”
  • “A Jacobite Fantasy”
  • “If Napoleon Had Won the Battle of Waterloo”

Of all the essays, I found the “If the Moors in Spain Had Won,” by Phillip Guedalla, particularly appealing.  In this history, the Moors hang on to defeat Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492, eventually establishing a liberal humanist form of Islam along with a constitutional monarchy. Still later, the Moors fight in World War I on the side of the Allies.  

I found myself what would’ve happened after Guedalla ended his story in 1930. Would Franco have risen if Spain were under Moorish influence?  Would the Moors have participated on the Allied side in the Second World War? I like to think so – I imagine the Moors accepting great numbers of Jewish refugees from Europe as the clouds darkened – perhaps even a certain Professor Einstein. And what influence would the Moors’ humanist form of Islam have on today’s world where we are faced with the extremes of Al-Qaeda? 

It’s a fascinating story that still needs to be told. 

In the meantime, you can read War Plan Crimson, A Novel of Alternate History, for $2.99 and in Elvis Saves JFK! for just 99 cents (both are free to preview). Both books are also available through such fine online retailers such as Barnes & Noble, Apple's iTunes Store, and ChaptersIndigo.


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