You’ve discussed why a masquerade probably wouldn’t work nowadays, but what about historical fiction? Say, the Roman Empire, Medieval Europe, or the Golden Age of Piracy.

Could a masquerade have been upheld then? And if it could, would it?

Dave L

Hey Dave, great to hear from you again!

Yes, a historical setting can make the masquerade feel more credible, but it depends a lot on how far back you go. The main advantage to going back is that you can get away from the era in which nearly everyone has a video camera in their pocket and the ability to easily share whatever they see with the world. The less advanced your technology, the more difficult it is to share information, and the easier it is to believe that the supernatural stays hidden. 

However, there’s a trade-off: the further back you go, the less it feels like the supernatural should be hidden. For a variety of reasons, audiences are simply better primed to believe that magic needs to stay secret in modern times than in olden times. In extremely broad strokes, people in the past were more likely to believe in the supernatural; plus there’s the assumption that modernity is somehow hostile to magic and wonder. 

For my money, the sweet spot is from the 1920s to the 1980s. This is late enough to feel modern without getting into the camera-phone problem, so assumptions about what justifies a masquerade will be at their highest. If you go further back than that, it’s probably a wash. 

Of course, you can still have a Roman, medieval, or piratical masquerade if that’s what you want to write about. There’s nothing to say that masquerades inherently won’t work in those settings, but I don’t think they’ll be any more believable than masquerades in a modern setting. If there is a benefit, it’s too small to be worth transplanting your story into a different time period.

We also need to remember that camera phones are far from the only obstacle to a believable masquerade, nor even the most daunting. You’d still need to justify why magic would stay hidden in the first place despite all the advantages that would come with magical beings living in the open. If there’s no way to justify the conceits, then you need to keep your audience from thinking about them in the same way you would in a modern setting. 

Hope that answers your question, and good luck with your writing!

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