Alexander the Great in Fiction, WWI to the
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Rarely does a single novelist cast such a shadow over an entire topic in a genre of fiction.  If one asks for a list of  mainstream historical novels on Alexander the Great, or even on ancient Greece, the reply is usually some variation on, "You have read Mary Renault, haven't you?"  With good reason.  Even if one wishes to quibble with details or characterizations, Renault managed to capture the feel of ancient Greece as well or better than any other novelist to date.  That doesn't mean a "New Renault" won't emerge in the future, yet for the moment, she reigns supreme as the queen of Greek historical fiction.

In fact, the impact of Renault may be somewhat responsible for the relative dearth of fictional works on this enigmatic personality dubbed Alexander Magnus by the Romans and who was, arguably, the most famous non-religious figure prior to the 20th Century.  Comparisons to Renault are unavoidable, and authors (and publishers) may prefer not to run the risk of being "almost Renault."  (Lest I be thought to exaggerate, consider the plethora of books on King Arthur, Julius Caesar, or even Robin Hood.)
Nonetheless, fiction on Alexander has been written since antiquity itself.  Some of the (now lost) Alexander historians such as Onesicritus were considered, even in their own time, to have written more fiction than history.  Perhaps the best known of these early fictional accounts is the medieval Alexander Romance, in various recensions (Greek to Armenian).  Alexander also appears as a character in Greek and Iranian folk legends, and has been a subject for art, poetry, and drama from his time to ours.  A few fictionalized stories did appear in the late 1800s and early 1900s, but the boom in Alexander fiction (reflecting a boom in publishing) didn't take place until after the First World War.

The list collected here records fiction published from about 1920 forward, in which Alexander is -- if not the protagonist -- then at least a significant figure.  (Although in a few, such as Mary Renault's Funeral Games, his "presence" is largely posthumous.)  Many of the books have reviews, as I've been collecting Alexander fiction for some years and have read (in fact, own) most of these works.  The reviews focus on two aspects which I consider essential to fine historical fiction:  good writing and good history.  It's not enough just to spin a compelling yarn; one should also practice the art of getting the details right.  But by the same token, if dry historical accuracy is all one seeks, one may as well read non-fiction.  The best authors -- the Renaults -- do both.

Text c1996-2011, Jeanne Reames
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