Another short post today while I figure out how to factor in some things I read today. There are now probably going to be multiple posts involved. I think I’m going to aim for one long post a week, possibly on Saturdays.
Today I just feel like hitting some people over the head and ranting about authorial intent. If you’re uncomfortable with a work, don’t read it. Or maybe try actually discussing the subject. If you feel you have to blame the author and suppose intent for the fact that the books you’re reading make you uncomfortable, maybe you should take a closer look as to why those books make you uncomfortable. Rather than, I don’t know, imposing a set of false morals and beliefs on the author. Horrible people do horrible things. Good people do horrible things, too. The world is not as black-and-white as you’d like it to be. The author of these particular books has actually done a spectacular job of showing that complexity. Traditional fantasy work usually presents things with a very clear-cut, Good versus Evil mentality, and this author steps around that completely. His work shows that the choices people make are very often determined by the society they live in. He creates a very realistic picture of what it would be like to live in the kind of society he has created, and that means not glossing over things that make people uncomfortable. Nowhere does he label anything as “good” or “bad.” That distinction is left completely up to the reader, which is admirable in a genre in which authors are constantly labeling characters and their actions Good or Evil. Does that mean the author condones the actions of his characters? Absolutely not. Does that mean the author does not condone the actions of his characters? Absolutely not.
If something you read makes you uncomfortable, you should find ways to analyze your discomfort. Exactly what is it about these scenes in particular that provoke such a strong reaction? Is it because of the characters’ reactions to those events? If so, is it because the characters are acting according to the moral and social limits imposed by the society in which they live? Is it because they’re just a good or bad person? Could the characters have acted any different in that particular society? Why didn’t they?
And let me tell you, the answer to that last question is NEVER “The author decided it should be that way because obviously he believes in X.” It always has to do with the motivations and intentions of the character you’re looking at, and those of the characters around them. Did the author decide it should be that way? Obviously–they’re the one who wrote it. But the reason can never be attributed to the author’s character. Stating that “The author chose to write this” is a stupid and unproductive statement. Of course the author chose to write it–that’s why we call them the author.
It’s one thing to analyze the text through the lens of the society in which it was written. But trying to guess why an author wrote something or what they meant when they wrote it is stupid. It was the absolute worst thing about primary and secondary school English classes, and it is one of the worst things you can do when you’re trying to tell people why you don’t like a book. You might as well say it outright. You don’t like the book because X. Own up to it. But don’t try to blame the author because they wrote something you don’t like.