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!