Beliefs vs Works

I’ve been thinking about the question of an author’s moral character and the body of work they produce. Sometimes I say it matters. But sometimes I say it doesn’t matter. And then I realize I’m being contradictory and/or hypocritical and what do I really think?

A couple of examples are the authors Orson Scott Card and Marion Zimmer Bradley. Both are well known authors in their genre and I’ve read at least the Ender’s Game, which is amazing, and The Lost Gate, which was also pretty good. I was also going to read Bradley’s Avalon series but then I heard about her scandal. Which was basically that she had been sexually assaulting her daughter and also had been protecting another child rapist. And then there’s Orson Scott Card, who is very conservative with strong views on controversial subjects.

And then there are beliefs of authors. Other examples include Brandon Sanderson, who is a practicing Mormon and JRR Tolkien who was Catholic and also supposedly sexist. After thinking about this, I think there is a division when it comes to beliefs and how far they enter an author’s work.

CS Lewis is one such example. You could definitely argue a very strong case about how Christianity shows up in his Chronicle of Narnia books. But if you’re not Christian and/or you don’t believe in God, should that take away your enjoyment of the book? Or take away the way you, as a reader, interpret the book? In this case, I would say no. Every reader interprets a body of work differently and just because you believe one thing and someone believes another, doesn’t mean either of you are right or wrong.

Of course, this is different when we’re talking about identity. Hermione was never specified about her race, other than the fact that she has bushy hair and large teeth. So she could be white, Asian, black or anything in-between! However, if an author states that Dumbledore was gay or that a race of people in their fantasy novels are a mix of Middle-Eastern and Asian heritage, you shouldn’t change the character so that they fit what your “perception” of the character is. That means whitewashing is not cool and changing someone’s sexual orientation because you don’t agree is also not cool.

I follow a book group on Facebook and sometimes threads on “Who would you cast?” pop up and people always try to whitewash main characters. We get enough of that in Hollywood. This bothers me so much. But that’s a topic for another post.

And then there’s that other side, where you’re so uncomfortable with an author’s personal beliefs that it makes you uncomfortable to read anything written by them. But what if their beliefs don’t enter into their books? Or if their beliefs have changed over the years? Then does the issue at hand change?

I like certain authors because they’re open about their beliefs but they never try to force their beliefs onto you. They also don’t use their books as a platform for preaching. One reason Brandon Sanderson is one of my favorite authors are because of his diverse and dynamic religious systems and strong characters. Including a very believable atheist character–despite the fact that he is a practicing Mormon–that isn’t a villain and is also a strong female character.

But I wouldn’t want to pick up a book by Marion Zimmer Bradley because she was “supposedly” a staunch feminist but then was discovered to be abusing her daughter. Her horrible actions probably don’t show up in her books. But I still wouldn’t want to indirectly support Bradley’s legacy by picking up or reading any of her works.

So what’s the right answer? Is there a right answer?

These are questions that I’ve been thinking about lately. I, of course, don’t have an answer but I think it’s a good idea to be at least aware of who is writing the book you’re reading. Or maybe ignorance is bliss?

Thanks for reading!

15 thoughts on “Beliefs vs Works

  • I definitely see both sides of your argument.

    A lot times, when I’m starting a book by an author I’ve never read before, I’ll be completely ignorant of the author’s background or beliefs.

    But even if an author and I don’t share the same beliefs, I still find it interesting to read their books anyway, just to see what makes them believe what they do.

    • I think it’s normal to be unaware and that we shouldn’t feel obligated to know about an author’s background or beliefs. But if it’s an author I really like, sometimes I make that effort so I know who wrote the book I really liked, haha. Either way! Everyone makes different choices and I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer. Or maybe there is and I just don’t know?? I’m not sure! aha

  • I have had similar thoughts! I’m not really sure what my beliefs are when it comes to creators and their works. For example, I loved Ender’s Game, but I didn’t look into Orson Scott Card and the controversy around him until afterwards. If I had known earlier, would I have read the book? Part of me thinks that I should enjoy the work for what it is, but part of me doesn’t want to support people like that.

    It bothers me when people get upset or argue against the author for stating certain things about their characters. I mean, the author created those characters. It’s their work. I totally agree on the whitewashing thing too. It still happens way too often.

    These are interesting thoughts, Rezina! I don’t think there’s truly a right answer, and I haven’t been able to figure out what’s “right” for me either. I don’t always look up who writes the books or comics I read, but that’s probably a good idea!

    • Thanks for the response Cat! I agree that knowing what the “right” answer is really difficult and maybe there isn’t one? This is something I’ve been realizing that there isn’t always an answer for every worry or concern we have.

      I think it’s okay not to know anything about the author but on the other hand, Zimmer’s daughter never said anything about the assaults because her mother was a celebrated author and she was afraid of the response she would get. It’s definitely difficult to think about!

  • I think it’s easy to see it from both sides really. I don’t usually know much about authors before reading their works, so it wouldn’t usually affect my reading. I can understand not wanting to support someone who’s not a very nice person, but really, how well could you know any author? A lot of celebrities are found to be criminals/ abusers decades after they were famous, so, unless you know them personally, you could never tell.

    I’ve read a lot of works by sexist and/or racist authors for uni and I’ve found those books quite interesting. I usually get very angry when reading them, but I think they show us what the world used to be like and how it’s changed for the better.

    Whitewashing characters for films is something else entirely though. Representation matters, and when you take that representation away from someone, especially from people who aren’t widely represented, it’s disgusting. I hate that Hollywood thinks things can’t be popular without an attractive white American protagonist. It’s offensive to those who are represented much and to the audience who they assume are too narrow-minded to watch something about a character who isn’t white.

    • Wow great point Amy!! I agree that you don’t know what kind of person an author is or any public figure person is really. I also appreciate your viewpoint about seeing it from “their” perspective. I agree that it’s sometimes really eye opening to see an issue from someone else’s perspective. It teaches us a lot of valuable knowledge!

      And yeeeessss!!! Representation matters.

  • Hrm. I admit that I’ve yet to get around to reading Ender’s Game because the author’s views pisses me off. I know it’s not right to not read his books because of it, but at the same time, I can’t seem to get out of that mindset. I should try to separate the author’s belief and their personality from their works, but it’s easier said than done.

    There are some books I’ve read despite knowing the author’s belief that goes against my own and still enjoyed it, though. Narnia is one that comes to my mind. I’m an atheist and a humanist, so I didn’t care for the religious allegory in Narnia, but once I was able to pretend the allegory didn’t exist, I really enjoyed my read through of the series.

    However, Amy does bring up a good point, and that’s something I should consider. However, I am still not sure if I can read something by an author who has certain beliefs I cannot accept. For an example, if I find an author is against homosexuality, and it even shows in their works — I am not supporting them. Maybe it’s petty of me, but that’s one stance that I cannot just overlook.

    Thanks for writing this! It made me think :)

    • I can totally understand both sides of the argument, which is why I struggle with the idea so much. I don’t think that kind of mindset is a bad one! I think it’s okay not to read something you’re not comfortable reading. I feel like it’s all about your comfort levels!

  • I think as long as it’s not hurting another group or themselves that it’s fine to read but even like Amy made a point. It’s always good to read everything even if you don’t agree with it. I virtually knew nothing about JRR Tolkien and still enjoyed his work along with CS Lewis’.

    In the end, it’s fine to explore both sides of the fence and see where someone else is coming from so you can be more open minded. Sure some beliefs that hurt others is morally wrong but why do they feel like that? What do they have to say about it?

    I think reading all sorts of books regardless if you agree makes you a better well rounded individual.

    • I think those are great questions to contemplate Michelle! And yes totally – reading all kinds of books definitely makes you a well rounded person.

  • Interesting thoughts, Rezina! I’ve definitely had a couple of these thoughts. I think it’s when I found out about Woody Allen and the sexual abuse allegations, but he’s made some amazing films but I just can’t bring myself to watch any of them because of what I know!

    When it comes to books, I don’t tend to read up on the authors if I’m honest. I feel like if there’s something in there that stands out to me and is like “Oooh, that doesn’t seem right” I’d probably do some research into it.

    Do not even me started on whitewashing because I can’t believe this is STILL a thing in this day and age. Amy definitely makes a good point that representation matters and in a society where POC are hardly represented anyway to have that taken away is fucking horrid.

    • That’s very true. I think that’s part of the reason I struggle with the idea so much because often times, those kinds of beliefs don’t always show up in the books they’re writing.

      And yes! I get even more frustrated when people can’t seem to understand the concept of whitewashing and why it’s important to think about.

  • Hmm, most of the time I don’t really know much about the author unless I really fall in love with their writing style. But in general, it’s really disappointing when you discover that someone doesn’t practice what they preach. Lately I try to remind myself that we all make mistakes along the way, and it can take years and years to change. Of course, I agree with you that issues like child abuse should be taken seriously and I wouldn’t want to support someone like that by buying or reading their books either!

    • Yes! That is also something I’ve been thinking about – in that change is really hard to do. It’s definitely a complex issue.

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