And the Moral of the Story is…

I saw a post about this on the Hog’s Head, and thought it was a good topic to talk about here as well.

Shannon Hale’s blog (clicky) gives a number of different children’s authors’ perspectives on how one should approach morals in fiction– to what extent should the author be conscious about including morals in their story, how much “adult” content is permissible, whether including questionable content implies approval, etc. It includes thoughts from Megan Whalen Turner, author of one of my favorite books, The Thief. Check it out. Let me know your thoughts 🙂

Buuuuutttt… since this is my blog, I’ll also give my thoughts. Keep in mind that I am not a parent, a teacher, or an author.

I am of the opinion that books function as training for life. The way one thinks about an issue, a character, or an idea tends to bleed over into reality. I do not think (although I could be wrong) that there is any great disagreement about this. Where I differ from others is that, precisely because we model our lives on books, I do not think  that books should provide models for perfect living. I think training should be hard, or else it is useless. I believe J.K. Rowling said in an interview once (and I am paraphrasing) that those who avoid dementors in fiction are much more likely to fall victim to them in reality. I completely agree. Fiction needs to scare us, to shake up our ethical complacency, to force us to ask the hard questions, and the only way to do so is to include questionable and, yes, even morally wrong content. Even portraying “bad” content as desirable within the story can be a good thing if it makes the reader stop and think (case and point: look at my post on Dexter).  The world is full of liars, rapists, murderers, temptation, and foul language. If one meets these things for the first time in the real world, having been trained by books to think that there are no such things, to quote Lorne, “that way lies badness.”

That being said, I also think that it is the responsibility of the reader to know their own limits. If you are  not emotionally or mentally ready to read a sex scene, then for goodness sake put down the harlequin romance novel! Giving someone an extremely violent text could challenge them mentally and morally and make them into a better person, or it could traumatize them for life, and it is really only the reader (or perhaps their parents) who know the difference. Books are indeed training, and training begins with baby steps. This is not to say that the mature reader reads pure moral trash, but rather that if they were to read moral trash they would be able to walk away from it more or less undamaged, or at least with perspective.

So, basically I think that the responsibility of moral literature is shared between the author and the reader, and that partly because of that relationship one cannot judge the moral worth of a story purely based on its content.This is why I think it is absurd to ban Harry Potter based purely on the fact that Harry is a wizard, but I fully support those who decide for themselves that they’d rather not read it for the same reason.

Your thoughts? Corrections? Crazy rants?

~ by ntertanedangel on June 23, 2010.

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