Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Rights of a Writer

This is a subject I do not approach lightly, for there are many people who have opposing views. But it is a subject close to my heart. Call this my little "Soap-Box Moment" if you will.

The other day while browsing through some old posts on different blogs I follow, I came across one with an interesting subject matter: it had to do with the "burning of" or "banning of" certain books and it showed a clip of the old TV show "The Waltons" which backed the author's point of view on the matter. Personally, I love watching that old TV show; my whole family does. We'll sit down to watch 5-8 episodes of "The Waltons" over almost anything on regular TV in the evening (though it's been a VERY long time since we've done that lately). It's set during World War II way out in the country, in a mountain home that houses… I think a family of 8 kids, the parents, and the grandparents, if I remember correctly. And to make matters even better, the Waltons' oldest son, John-boy, is an aspiring author striving to see his first work in print and working at going to college. I can so relate!

The clip was set during the time when Hitler was burning books in Germany – including the Bible – and replacing God's Holy Word with his own book. In the clip, the Waltons' church had found a copy of Hitler's book and planned to destroy it along with a bunch of other German books in a ceremonial burning. As you can probably imagine, John-boy went ballistic. Rising from his seat, he rushed to the pile of books on the ground and told the people staging the burning that it wasn't their right to destroy books just because they were German; the Germans had a right to read and write what they wanted to just as much as anyone in the states. He then picked up one of the books and, fondling it in his hands, stated simply that he wished someone could read German to them. An older woman hesitantly stood and joined John-boy in the center. She gently took the book from him and began to read it aloud. John-boy stopped her after a few sentences. "Could you please read it to us in English?" he asked. And with tears misting over her eyes, the woman lifted her head higher and began to read:

"In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, 'Let there be light.'"

John-boy had made his point: those who had planned to burn the German books were just as hypocritical as those who were burning books in Germany. Those who so strongly opposed the desecration of books had very nearly burned the Bible, the very book that they held so sacred.

After reading and watching this post, I ended up posting an extensive comment about how I agreed with John-boy, and when I had finished writing I thought about what an interesting subject it was to explore.

What are the rights of a writer – especially one that writes speculative fiction? And, for that matter, what are the rights of a reader?

What are they truly?

It is indeed a delicate subject to broach. Many people have different opinions on the matter and are not afraid to try and influence writers and readers towards their opinions. Indeed, many writers and readers have been influenced. It isn't always a bad thing, but sometimes it can be difficult to fight.

For example, I am a Christian Fantasy writer. As soon as people hear of this, there is immediate speculation. It's not uncommon for Christians to worry about reading Fantasy and Science Fiction. With the popularity of secular speculative fiction on the rise, and with the booming recognition of books like Harry Potter and Twilight, the church's hackles have risen and many people are on the watch for new pieces of fiction with underlying "evil intent", thoroughly convinced that only bad can come of reading such things. The Harry Potter books have all but been banned from many churches, and even from certain private schools because they are believed to be evil.

And why are they believed to be evil?

Because they have magic in them. And wizards. And even some witches. And because these characters are made out to be "Good" and even "Wise".

Now, I am no fan of witches, but for anyone who's ever read "The Lord of the Rings" or "The Dragon Keeper" series, the concept of good wizards isn't exactly new. Nor is the concept of magic. (think of Narnia, for instance.) My personal opinion is that the author had no real intention of writing evil into the books except for in the form of her villain. The rumors that give the books a bad name came from the outside. True, I haven't read any of these books yet and I don't know if I ever will, but I'm not about to judge them by their cover… or their author… or their author's intentions. People can read what they want to into anything they want, but I doubt that Mrs. Rowling regrets writing the Harry Potter books, or that she ever will.

How does this effect Christian Speculative Fiction Writers?

I would think that was obvious. Fantasy and science fiction have been given a bad name, and because of this many people refuse to give it a chance. While the amount of Christian Speculative readers (and writers) has grown drastically over the last few years, it still seems that there are more people against it than there are for it. Which is a real shame.

I have an older friend whom my family has known for years. I absolutely respect her and her advice, except for on one little matter; she believes that all "magic" is evil, she hates "The Chronicles of Narnia", despises Lewis for writing it, and believes I am desperately sinning by writing fantasy of any kind.

I absolutely disagree.

I believe that we were created in the image of the Creator of the Universe, and that he gave us an imagination so that we could use it and follow in his footsteps. My idea of magic isn't that of demons wreaking havoc in the world and those who try to harness the demons' power; rather, I believe that "Magic" is a term people stamp on to any fantastical happening that they have no explanation for, be it good or bad. Enchantment is rather a different story, but I won't get into that now. Do people in fantasy books use magic? Well… some readers say so. So what? "Magic" can be anything from a simple trick to something totally supernatural. People in today's world are too focused on the reason for things. If we don't understand something or it seems supernatural, we immediately have two options: God did it, or the devil did it. There's no in between. But where's the mystery in that? Who wants to know the source of every problem or the source of every answer that comes into their life? "Magic" is the source of wonderment in a fantasy book, and yes, some of it is supernatural… actually, most of it is. And in Christian spec-fic there are only two options for the source of magic: God or Satan… but we don't have to say that. We just say "Magic" and the context explains the rest. Are we really so different, then?

The point of the matter is that I can decide for myself how I am going to write something, why I write something that way, and what I do and do not believe. I am entitled to my own opinions; they are no one else's but mine. If I am influenced by someone else's opinions, well, that just means they touched me in some way. But I know what is right and what is wrong, and I can choose for myself which is which because God gave me that knowledge and I have his Word to guide me. I don't need somebody else to tell me that something else is right and that I'm a sinful person because I write a certain way… shoot, I know I'm a sinful person! We all are! But for goodness sake, take the beam out of your own eye first.

Another guy that I know believes that ALL fiction, no matter the kind or genre, is pure evil. When I asked him why, he said that it was because God wants us to search out truth and God made what is real. Therefore, what is real is truth, and if we read or write things that aren't or couldn't be real, then we are reading and writing lies and thus purposefully and willfully disobeying God.

I obviously don't believe this. But the matter of fact is, he is entitled to his own opinion and I won't try to sway him. Why should I? He didn't change my mind on the subject, and by trying to convince him otherwise I would knowingly be telling him that I sin on a regular basis (in his mind) and that I would like him to sin as well.

Another friend I know says that he believes Christian Romances are actually evil because they put certain ideas and desires into women's heads, awaking feelings (or something of the like) that should not be awakened. Ok, admittedly I almost laughed at this one; for one thing, I've read some Christian Romances and I don't ever recall have any type of "feeling" awakened in me that was wrong in any way, shape, or form. But I didn't try to tell him otherwise. That was his own outlook on the subject, not mine. If he believes that reading Christian Romances is sinful, then he doesn't have to read them, but my outlook is quite different. It is NOT a sin to me.

So my question is, what are the Rights of the Writer? What are we entitled to? Who must we listen to?

And this is what I came up with:

We are entitled to our own opinions and are under no obligations whatsoever to be influenced by other outside voices unless we wish to be.

That means, don't just throw good, solid, righteous advice out the window because you don't entirely agree with it: listen to what others have to say, but do so with discretion. God gave you your own brain for a reason as well as the freedom of choice. Use his gifts wisely – read his word, and pray, and don't forget to listen carefully for what he might whisper in your ear (it's always good to follow His advice. :D) But when allowing others to voice their opinions about a subject, listen with an open mind, yet remember who you are in God and be confident in what he has shown you; you can't go wrong that way.

Besides, we can't please everybody no matter how hard we try.  So if we just write for ourselves and for God, we'll know inside that we are doing something right.

*steps down off of soap-box*

So, what are your thoughts on the matter?


Vrenith said...

Man... Good point, Star-Dreamer! I, though not a writer, agree with you... I have my own opinions about books, and others have their own. We're all different, and we may listen to other people's opinions, but we may decide ourselves what we think. God made us that way.

Jake said...

>_> Well, my friend...this was an interesting post.

Just two notes here.

First, are ye speaking of everything in general when you wrote several of your points, or is this just amongst the subjects of books? Because...if it were everything I'd have a problem with this post. ;)

And second...I personally do not like or read or recommend any books that are against what I believe. More or less. I'm not going to recommend a fiction book bashing Christianity because the writing is good, and I don't recommend Harry Potter because of the morals behind the story, the rather 'dark' feel to it, and the cursing and other content within those pages. So, aye. That's it in a nutshell. Or paragraph.

Not to say I don't allow other people's opinions--not in the least! Tis rather hard to explain...but several red lights are popping up randomly, and I cannot place them. >_>

Star-Dreamer said...

Exactly Vren!!! :D

Star-Dreamer said...

Jake: Actually, this was just for the subject of books. Movies, TV shows, and other media are a completely different matter. :D

I have not read the Harry Potter books and I seriously doubt that I ever will, because I, too, refuse to read something that bashes Christianity. However, to be completely and totally honest, I have never read the books myself (as I mentioned) and so can't really tell you my opinion about whether they bash Christianity or not; I've heard mixed reviews on that subject, though from what I've heard of it morally, I would never read them. (an example -- and hopefully a good one -- of the influence of others I allow to alter my own opinions and beliefs. :D )

That was not the point I was trying to make, however.

Basically what I was saying was that just because people say things about her books now, that doesn't mean that Mrs. Rowling didn't have the right to write those books. Nor does it mean that she should NEVER have written those books. As a person and a writer... and yes, even as a part of God's creation gifted with free will (even if her writing seems like the exact opposite of anything Godly)... she was entitled to write what she felt like writing. Just like you are entitled to write what you write, and I am entitled to write what I do.

Because of this "entitlement", I strongly feel that is wrong for people of opposing views to just "burn a book" because they don't believe the same as the author, or other readers. If the book is seriously and truly, truly EVIL... (yes, like "evil" in all capital letters) that may be a completely different story.

But seriously. Lets say you (or I, or anyone else that we know) publishes a book, and several people don't agree with our outlook on things, so they decide to burn it publicly and ceremonially. Is that really their right? Really? The message they send is so negative, it feels to me more like a baby throwing a temper tantrum because they didn't get exactly their way. And then how does that the writer feel? Does it change their mind about writing and publishing their book? Should it change their mind?

Do you get my meaning now? I hope this comment helps to clarify things. :D

Star-Dreamer said...

And the truth of the matter is, you can't please everyone no matter how hard you try. :D

Seth Skogerboe said...

I wrote a post on the same topic. Check it out.

Star-Dreamer said...

Thanks Seth! :) I'll go check it out.

Galadriel said...

An excellant article. Some of my family members end up a little concerned with some of my fiction reading, but I do attempt to keep my reading under the guidelines of "true, noble..." etc...

Star-Dreamer said...

Same here. But, like you, I try to keep the reading clean, noble, true... etc. That's one reason why I enjoy Cornelia Funke's books. In her newest one, "Reckless" there is a minor scene where things are suggested, but there's nothing graphic. Most of the time she stays well within the boundrey lines and most of her writing is clean. That, for a secular fantasy writer, can be quite rare these days.