Sunday, 20 March 2016

But he's a poop head!

I have a few reasons for that childish title, but among them is the inspiration of having recently had a conversation about famous children's author Roald Dahl. We discussed his merits as a writer (many in my opinion), his less known raunchy works (originally published in playboy), but the conversation turned to the controversies about him. Even long term Roald Dahl fans have to acknowledge that he had some problematic anti-semitic,racist and sexist views  (for a really great explanation of the problematic nature of the sexism inherent in one of his works see here). Honestly I think for the most part these views don't permeate his writing too badly. However what I really wanted to write about was the fact that this discussion happened at all and that I found myself leaping to his defence so readily.

I like a few writers who I know to have held problematic views, Orson Scott Card, or downright reprehensible ones, H.P. Lovecraft (see here in particular ). I think there is an interesting word present in the previous sentence however, the 'like' I used, specifically applying it to the author's not the work. I think this speaks to why this is interesting to me. After all I don't think I would be even the least bit shaken if somebody told me that the inventor of the ballpoint pen used to beat up puppies (at least, I'd be annoyed for the dogs, but I'd still keep using his pens all the same). There is something in the personal connection we feel with writing that makes us care what these people believed.

Form me certainly a part of this is that books are rich ground for ideas, and if I enjoy treading that ground then it is because it is filled with good ideas. This is honestly one of the reasons why I like Terry Pratchett so much. I think he writes well and he amuses me, but I haven't found his books laugh out loud funny for a long time. The ingredient which keeps bringing me back to them, is that I think he is such an interesting thinker and I love his musings on human psychology and thought processes. If I found out that he also held some similarly dumb and acidic views to the above authors then I would find it deeply upsetting. It would suggest that I could not trust him as I once believed, that rather than absorbing and assimilating his musings in a more relaxed way, I had to be on watch, judging each thought for its validity. I have experienced this in part when seeing the long standing
feud between two of my favourite comics writers, both of whom end up seeming rather more juvenile as a result of their participation.

Having said that, I think the main reason why I care about a writer's belief is that writing and reading is such a close collaboration. What I mean by this, is that reading a book creates something rather akin to a conversation in your head between you and an author. This is true for many mediums of course, however I think writing is peculiar in that it is more creator controlled than many. In films for instance, many people talk about the director as being the creative vision behind a movie, but there are hundreds of other people involved in any production. This means that what you read from the page is much closer to the author's original thoughts when they put them there. Leading to people feeling that they are much closer to and have a greater understanding of their favourite author's thoughts and feelings. As a result finding out that they are somehow dumb or hateful as people feels like much more of a betrayal. This is probably the root of my defensiveness over Roald Dahl.

This discussion emphasises why I think writing is hard but fun, that it represents such a close connection between creator and receiver. However it also highlights one of the reasons why I think that this blog is important. If I'm to be a writer that people want to read then I want to have interesting ideas to tell them about through my writing. In order to have those then I need to cultivate and chase after them (culling the bad or dull ones as I go). This blog represents a mental effort to push myself in that direction.

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