Critical Essays The Killer Angels — History or Novel?


Michael Shaara opens The Killer Angels with a note to the reader and explains that while he "condensed some of the action . . . eliminated some minor characters . . . had to choose between conflicting viewpoints," he did not knowingly violate the action or consciously change any fact. He also notes that the interpretation of the characters is his own. While Shaara no doubt strove to preserve the "spirit" of the action, the very act of interpreting and adjusting things for dramatic effect makes the story fiction.

D. Scott Hartwig, author of A Killer Angels Companion, sums up the dilemma: "Shaara's story is told so well, his character portrayals so believable, that the unknowing reader might believe what they are reading is history." Hartwig, Donald C. Pfanz, Glenn Tucker, and others who have studied Gettysburg in great detail, show through their writings that the novel and facts differ in a number of places. The Killer Angels is a great work of historical fiction, but fiction is not and never will be history itself.