Log in

No account? Create an account

Previous Entry | Next Entry

Here's a question...

It occurs to me that many of the authors whose work I have been enjoying recently are or were people whose views on morality, religion, politics or economics I disagree with. In some cases those views are diametrically opposed to my views. In a few, their views are (to me at least) quite repugnant.

Examples? Well, there's the racist H.P. Lovecraft (see his poem that I added to ladyofastolat's journal here http://ladyofastolat.livejournal.com/310358.html). Or how about Michael Moorcock's argument that most of the people reading this journal are more or less Nazi sympathisers? "If I were sitting in a tube train and all the people opposite me were reading Mein Kampf with obvious enjoyment and approval it probably wouldn't disturb me much more than if they were reading Heinlein, Tolkein (sic) or Richard Adams." (Full essay* here: http://flag.blackened.net/liberty/moorcock.html .)

Now none of this makes me less likely to read 'Herbert West, Re-Animator' or 'The Warhound and the World's Pain'. In fact, I've read both those works and enjoyed them immensely. But, I get the strong impression from t'internet that many fans are not only fans of their favourite authors' works, but also agree with that author on moral / religious / political and economic issues.

Now I'm not sure what comes first. Do they find an author whose views they agree with and start reading? Do they start reading, but stop if they find out that the author holds unpleasant views? Do they read lots of authors' work, but only allow themselves to become a 'fan' of morally / religiously / politically / economically acceptable writers?

Dear readers, are you in this category? I'm not saying that it's wrong in any way. I'm not in it, but maybe that means I'm not identifying as closely with my favourite authors as you are. Be honest with yourself. Perhaps you hadn't appreciated this on a conscious level before. I would be interested to see your views.

* I say "essay". I mean rambling and confused rant.


( 22 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 31st, 2010 11:35 am (UTC)
No, I agree with you entirely.

What is more, you may like a person very much and think their writing is crap. I had this problem with Ken Bulmer, who was one of my favourite fannish people, and whose work was pure hack.

You can think the book is brilliant, but dislike its message. After reading any of Allen Drury's political novels I have to go around muttering that "the Russians aren't that bad" but Advise and Consent deserved its Pulitzer.

However, if the book and the message and both crap, for particular reasons, then I'm out, however good other books by the author might be. I have several real problems with Heinlien's I Will Fear No Evil, not least that the author can't write convincingly from a female point of view. If it had been well written, I could have ignored some of the more dislikeable messages.

I'm a militant atheist, but George MacDonald's Lilith stands high on my list of favourite fantasies.

Also, there is something very cathartic about reading about someone who expresses what might be considered outrageous views with a real sense of humour. I commend the later books by Ruth Dudley Edwards, particularly Murdering Americans and The Anglo-Irish Murders. (The first of which would have made the race!fail police foam at the mouth, while not being in the least bit racist.)

Furthermore, one of the reasons I can't stand most history-based fiction is that most authors impose modern morality on people who'd never understand it. I like my history un-processed, thanks.
Aug. 1st, 2010 10:18 am (UTC)
I don't read a lot of historical fiction, but I would share your views on anachronistic modern morals.
Jul. 31st, 2010 11:38 am (UTC)
I like all sorts of writers whose views (insofar as I know them or can guess at them) are different from mine.
Jul. 31st, 2010 03:49 pm (UTC)
Hmm. This probably means I should finally get round to reading some Michael Moorcock!
Aug. 1st, 2010 10:24 am (UTC)
Start with 'The Warhound and the World's Pain' or 'The Eternal Champion', either of which can be seen as the beginning of the Eternal Champion cycle. The latter is quite a straightforward fantasy, but the former I thought was superb.


Jul. 31st, 2010 11:45 am (UTC)
It depends. Jane Austen, for instance, was horribly classist by today's standards, and if a modern writer put out novels with the same kind of attitude I would find it intrusive and irritating. But I read Jane Austen by the standards of her own time, and by those standards she was fairly enlightened; she certainly didn't hesitate to poke fun at the grosser results of class distinction, even though she upheld the underlying system itself as part of the natural order of things.

I also dislike historical fiction where the writer clearly thinks much the same way as I do, but is trying to put their ideas into the heads of historical characters who just would not have thought that way. That's not to say that there weren't, for example, Romans who thought gladiator shows were revolting; I'm sure there were. But I don't suppose for a minute that you'd get an ancient Roman who wanted to abolish slavery. It was such an accepted part of society - the Roman Empire pretty much ran on it.

So, yes. Really I'm interested in internal consistency. I dislike Heinlein because he was so clearly using his fiction to push his right-wing ideas, and, although it's true that I don't agree with said ideas, the sticking point comes not because of that but because there's a credibility issue about so many of his characters believing them.

If that all maakes reasonable sense.
Jul. 31st, 2010 11:51 am (UTC)
I seem to remember that Nero didn't like the Games - and they were far less popular than the chariot racing throughout Roman history.
Jul. 31st, 2010 11:55 am (UTC)
That's interesting to know, and it also doesn't surprise me too much, since despite Nero's well-documented bloodthirsty tendencies he was also very short-sighted. I understand he used a cut emerald to try to see things at a distance. Being in a similar position myself, I can entirely understand that he didn't like the Games; I don't suppose he could see a blessed thing.
Aug. 1st, 2010 10:47 am (UTC)
Like I said above, I agree with you on the anachronistic modern morality point.

You make an interesting distinction concerning whether or not the writer's views are expressed or pushed in the writing. I hadn't considered that. Would I dislike a book because it _pushed_ some agenda that I disagreed with? I don't know to be honest. My suspicion is that I have probably read some such book and missed the message! C.S. Lewis's Narnia books are supposed to be very pro-christian. I'm very much an atheist (not necessarily as "militant" as lil_shepherd though), but I don't think that's the reason I hated the three books in that series I read. (More to do with the twee setting and obnoxious posh children.) In fact, any christian allegory pretty much washed over me - you probably have to be reasonably knowledgeable about a religion to spot allegories in the first place...

So I suppose I might not mind a message being pushed if it was done subtly, or if the book was otherwise interesting enough to hold my attention.

Conversely, would I be more likely to enjoy a book if the message being pushed was one I was sympathethic to? It's funny that you mention Heinlein - I've never read any of his books, but one in particular ('The Moon is a Harsh Mistress') is often held up as one of the definitive libertarian science fiction novels. So maybe I should read it. Reading the wikipedia entry for him, I'm not convinced that 'right wing' is necessarily the most appropriate label for Heinlein anyway.
Aug. 21st, 2010 09:07 pm (UTC)
Thrown back to this thread by ladyofastolat recent post, but, passing through, I suggest you do read The Moon is a Harsh Mistress which is one of the most liked of RAH's books. Though I've only just realised that the heroine is a much sicker puppy than I thought at the time, it remains fun.
Jul. 31st, 2010 11:48 am (UTC)
To be honest, I think it depends whether the writer seems to be prioritising the story or the message and I can easily get irritated even by messages I agree with if they seem to be over-bearing, sledge-hammery and generally thoughtlessly conveyed.

I can't say I've ever sought out an author because I agreed with their politics, although I have occasionally sought them out because I enjoyed non-fiction by them which is similar, though not quite the same.
Jul. 31st, 2010 01:29 pm (UTC)
I would find HP Lovecraft's racism disturbing if I were reading it in a work penned today, but as the product of a man 'of his time', I judge it rather to be a representation of the viewpoint of the society in which he moved. In the same way, I don't find it repugnant to play or GM a Call of Cthulhu game in which the characters are frequently both misogynistic and racist.

I find it abhorrent when _current_ celebrities, authors, athletes etc. display such behaviour or opinions, as by now I expect a better level of enlightenment from them. I have ceased to watch anything with Russell Crowe or Mel Gibson in, as one example.
Jul. 31st, 2010 01:31 pm (UTC)
Uh, that was me. I keep forgetting to log in after cleaning cookies recently in a bid to get some malware to sod off (this part was succesful).
Aug. 1st, 2010 10:51 am (UTC)
I'm no expert on this, but he's living in a 1920s New England, not the deep south. Those views seem racist by those standards as well as by today's.

But no, it's not going to stop me reading and enjoying his work. Although I don't think I would, for example, feel comfortable running a Call of Cthulhu scenario in which the investigators fought not against shoggoths but against 'vice-ridden niggers'.
Jul. 31st, 2010 03:51 pm (UTC)
I agree with others about long-dead authors who reflect the opinions of their time (and also about modern authors who put modern morality in the mouths of historical characters.) With modern authors, I suppose it depends on how much those views are reflected in their writing. I don't in general like novels that hit you over the head with a heavy-handed moral, but I suppose I'd be happier with a moral that I happened to agree with, than one I strongly disagreed with.

If I liked a book, and then subsequently found out something that I found objectionable about the author's opinions, I don't think it would change my opinion of the book... unless there were things in the book that suddenly seemed very different in light of this revelation. For example, if the book only had a few female characters and they all had abuse and misfortune heaped on them, I might accept that as part of the plot. However, if I then found out that the author had ranted frequently against women and had past convictions for domestic violence, suddenly those things in the book would seem far more troubling.
Jul. 31st, 2010 04:48 pm (UTC)
I agree with what's already been said - and want to add: I think the author's outlook must contribute to whether I will or won't like a book, but what I mean by outlook is usually far more subtle than "this person has religious/political label X".

For example, I like stories which contain the possibility of redemption and healing, even if there are dark themes on the way. This preference is probably accentuated by me being a Christian, but predates it, and the best example of such a author that springs to mind is Kahled Hosseini, who is afaik a Muslim. This hopefull v. nihilistic divide is the biggest one in fiction for me.

Political views I don't share I can easily live with if the writing is excellent and the author has a sense of humor. I'm not a feminist these days, but I will still swoop on a Sheri S Tepper - her imagination is brilliant enough that I can gloss over any wimmins preachiness quite easily.

It's a bit more difficult for me to enjoy work that has a very explicit anti-religious, or anti-Christian agenda, and what will get my goat is not lack of respect for God, but lack of respect for humans - a belief that the religious are all stupid and/or abusive. Terry Pratchett is a good example of an athiest author I can enjoy because he's as affectionate towards all his characters even when he's poking fun at neopaganism (Magrat) or Christianity (Mightily Oats). Whereas I've never bothered to even pick up Philip Pullman, because I suspect they would wind me up.
Aug. 1st, 2010 10:54 am (UTC)
I don't think I need an author to be affectionate towards his characters or the human race, and I quite like nihilistic stuff - Moorcock and Donaldson probably fits this description. In a way, so does Jack Vance's Dying Earth series - every character knows the Sun may die at any point, so they are all at least melancholic, and often nihilistic.
Jul. 31st, 2010 08:11 pm (UTC)
Or do they just read the books because the books are well written and don't espouse anything they'd disagree with, and unlike some people they don't delve into every aspect of the author's life and all the things they ever wrote (even the drafts)?
Aug. 1st, 2010 10:58 am (UTC)
Maybe it's not all that common to want to know a bit more about the author than is printed in the blurb. In these days of wikipedia and blogs, it's very easy to find stuff out about authors. In the past, you'd have to depend upon finding a newspaper interview or waiting for Humprhey Carpenter to write a biography.
Jul. 31st, 2010 08:18 pm (UTC)
Incidentally Ive read some of that Moorcock essay and he seems to be writing 'Tolkein' at every opportunity. You'd have thought he'd get the names right, but then maybe (as I've often thought) this is just a sign of his jealousy that JRRT got there 'first' when it came to writing a best-selling work of fantasy.
Aug. 1st, 2010 10:59 am (UTC)
Yes, and it seems that whatever any of us thinks, it's clear that Mr Moorcock clearly feels that he has to approve of the author to like the work.
Oct. 10th, 2013 02:54 pm (UTC)
For me it depends on the extent to which the author tries to push their own personal political/social views in their books.

Orson Scott Card for example, now, I'm not going to deny that Ender's Game isn't brilliant. But a lot of his other books very rapidly descend into thinly veiled author-pushing-his-beliefs territory. There was one I read that I gave up on disgust set in a post-apocalyptic America where society had collapsed, and everybody had turned into murdering rapist cannibals, except for one tiny corner of the land which held onto their noble and decent ways, because the Mormons were so morally superior to everybody else and anybody who wanted to be saved had to become one.

Which was actually the very last OSC book I bothered with.

Another example I suppose is Tom Clancy, I adored Hunt For Red October and some of his earlier novels, but then he starts to become increasingly more frothing at the mouth and Republican-Republican-YAY-YAY-YAY DEATH TO FILTHY LIBERALS! And I just rolled my eyes and gave up.

So I guess with Lovecraft the question becomes how often does he push a racist ideology in his actual stories...
( 22 comments — Leave a comment )