Friday, January 30, 2009

Author Influence

I am reading a book right now--Doctor Who: The Writer's Tale--and it is brilliant. Seriously. I think it's the best book that I've ever read on writing (although I am not sure how helpful it would be to someone who isn't aware of the show). I digress.

The reason I'm writing this post is because in the first chapters of the book, the author makes it very clear that not only is he nonreligious, he's a bit anti-religion, specifically anti-Christian. Perhaps I should have known this before, given that Philip Pullman wrote the foreword.

It's not there much, but it is there. And I have to say that it taints my idea of the author--and the book itself--a bit.

This has happened to me before. When Pullman did so many interviews about being anti-Christian and wrote the His Dark Materials series as a reverse-Chronicles of Narnia, I was completely turned off. Whatever I liked about his books--and there were some of his that I loved--everything I read from him from that point on was completely tainted with his anti-Christian viewpoint. I can't help it. I'm fine if you're another religion, or if you're not a religion, but if you attack my viewpoint, I'm not fine with you or your work.

The author of the writing book I'm reading now isn't as anti-Christian as Pullman, but there are some dark undertones in some of his words that gives me a knee-jerk negative reaction.

So, I was wondering: If there is something about an author that you don't like--his view point, his opinion on something, his politics or religion--do you still like his books? If this has never happened to you before, could you find yourself reading a book that you liked, even if you knew the author was diametrically opposed to something you felt strongly about?


Sheri Perl-Oshins said...

Good question. And it reminds me of one of my favorite sayings... where ever you go, there you are. In other words, as an author, or an artist of any kind for that matter, you can't help butput yourself into your work. So, I think it is very hard to read work by someone with a view point you might find offensive. It's just hard to get past that sometimes. I think, however, if you knew someone wrote something opposite of your beliefs, but you are reading BECAUSE you want to hear their side, that is something entirely different.

A little sidebar here... I read a book in which the writer quoted from every major religion, but mine. Even though he wasn't saying anything negative about Judaism and its teachings, I found the lack of it as a positive example, over and over again, so irritating, that I could not finish the book. I tried to get past this. I believe all religions have positive messages and often times they are similar, but every time he spoke about Christianity and Buddhism and Hinduism, and so on and so on and so on and never, not once, mentioned Judaism... it really bothered me.

So, even in the instance where I didn't know EXACTLY his viewpoint, some message seemed to be coming off the page to me and I just couldn't read further.

Even though we try to be open-minded, and allow many viewpoints to teach us, some things are just too hard to ignore.

Gottawrite Girl said...

I absolutely still like an author! Often, it's when a character just grates my soul that I feel the most respect for a writer, you know? Rather than bland and un-debate-inspiring! Thanks, Beth!

Shannon Morgan said...

It's much more likely that an author's writing style will turn me off. That said, if I found out an author was, say, someone who denies the Holocaust, I won't buy his/her book. If what the book says is affecting the cultural zeitgeist, I might still read it, but would check it out from a library.

Bowman said...


I guess he did that because Judaism and Christianity are much more at odds (historically) than say Christianity and Buddhism. I could be way off here.


I'm not sure anymore. In the past, I would refuse to pick up any books I considered dangerous to my viewpoint, but I've changed a bit.

I read Harry Potter, after all. Ha ha. I also read some philosophy, and they tend to disagree with Christianity.

You know what might bother me more is a terrible scene... I've stormed out of many rooms because of movie scenes, and I know at least one friend of mine who ripped a book in half because of a rape scene.

Then again, I have put down books where the author consistently attacked my religion, and I have a friend who bit a Playstation CD in two because he couldn't take it's polytheistic overtones any more.

I'm not sure if this is a southern thing, or a rural thing, or a what thing; but there are many more tales of obliterating offensive material.

Did I manage to answer your question while rambling along?

PJ Hoover said...

OK, I admit it. I am totally swayed by what I read about authors. The past election nearly drove me nuts regarding all the political posts. And here's the truth. If I read a blog entry where an author goes on an on about politics and...well, you get makes me not want to read the author's work.
Horrible but true. Politics are politics. Writing is writing.

One author I know posted the question to a yahoo group we're both on as to whether she thought she should tone down her personal opinions now that she writes for kids. My answer is an absolute yes.
But, that said, many famous authors are very open and direct about their beliefs. The kids don't really care. It's only us adults that seem to mind or even know.

lotusgirl said...

I don't know that I care what an author's belief system is as long as they can tell a marvelous tale and not thrash my belief system in the process.

That said. I am concerned someone like Pullman, whose agenda does seem to be pushing what I don't believe, directs his stories at children. I haven't bought his books for my children. I don't trust what he's peddling. I'd have to read them first, and I haven't had a chance yet. I'm not even sure I want to.

Michelle D. Argyle said...

This is kind of like actors, too, you know? Sometimes when information comes out about somebody famous, it doesn't matter what they're performance is, some people think they're terrible.

I'm with Lois. As long as the author is telling a good story and not peddling off their beliefs, I'm usually okay.

Michelle D. Argyle said...

And I misused "they're" twice in the same sentence. How embarrassing.

Michelle D. Argyle said...

Even more embarrassing. I just misused it once. Man, I need sleep. Thanks for a great post, Bethy!

Unknown said...

Sheri: I do think that an author cannot help to put himself into his work. But I also think that a reader can't help but put herself into the reading of the work either. Ironically, the exact example that the author of the book I mentioned wrote about as an episode of the show that he had intended to be anti-religious was one that I had actually interpreted to be religious. All his sly mentions of religion as useless were things that I had taken to mean that sometimes organized religion doesn't work--but that faith is still true. His intention and my interpretation were entirely different...but if I had read his version and explanation before watching the episode...I don't know...I might not have seen my interpretation and might have drowned in his.

Susan: You do make a good point--more often than not, it's the characters that influence me, not the writer. But if I do know the writer's opinion....argh.

Nomadshan: I'm the same way with anti-Holocaust (and a few other certain issues, such as Scientology). I take an ethical stand on that--I refuse to give any amount of money or time to an author whose moral standing is like that.

Justus: I'm not necessarily worried about danger to my viewpoint--in other words, I know nothing could sway me from my beliefs. It's the principle of the thing that I am against--and I get angry, too!! Although, I've never bitten a PS CD!!

PJ: The politics doesn't bother me (unless it's something extreme. I don't mind Rep vs. Dem, but I might have some issues with people anti-American or such). But yeah--I do get turned off by some issues, and then I'm just out. And I agree--especially with children's authors, sometimes opinions have to be toned down. I know some people (the husband included) don't think this should be the case, but as a teacher (where I already have to have a good moral standing and part of the judgment of how well I do my job is determined by my morals/actions/words on AND off the job) I already censor myself in my profession.

Lois: I try not to care...but I do. With Pullman, I felt that His Dark Materials was diametrically at odds with my Christian values, so I quit reading them...but I also quit the Sally Lockhart series (which has little to nothing to do with religion) just because I couldn't get past Pullman himself. And I, like you, would certainly be hesitant to put his books into the hands of my own children. I don't say anything to kids in my classroom reading him (unless they ask), but I will have no problem banning him from my house when I have kids.

Glam: You're so right! This totally influences my reaction to actors as well!! I simply cannot enjoy any Tom Cruise flick now, either.... (And don't worry about the grammar!! )

PS--Everyone: Thanks for all the great comments! I love hearing diverse opinions on the topic!!

Christina Farley said...

I have a real problem with people who bash a religion, one way or another. But to be honest, I've rarley seen anything written bashing any other religion other than Christianity. And as a Christian I find that bothers me when a writer does this. There are so many great books out there, why bother with those who have no appreciation for other's beliefs?

Anonymous said...

Hey Beth,

One of my favorite writers is Orson Scott Card, even though he's a devout Mormon and I'm an atheist. I enjoyed his novel Saints, the story of a fictional plural wife of Joseph Smith, even though I don't believe in most of his faith and I don't support polygamy.

Part of the fun for me was seeing things from a different angle, understanding that even though these people believed and did things that I would never believe or do, they had good reasons (good to them, anyway) for believing and doing those things.

It also inspired me to write a fantasy novel where the heroine is a fundamentalist soldier and the hero is an atheist psychologist (religion is a strong theme). I'm querying that one at the moment.

I also like Ayn Rand's novels even though I don't support Objectivism. For me, it's about how well the book is written too, and whether I find the characters appealing. If I do, then as long as they aren't actively burning anyone at the stake, I'll hang in there to see what they do.

Unknown said...

Christina--You're right--In my experience, the bashing usually seems to be against Christianity. Is that true also in Korea and Asian literature? I've always assumed because the Western world in which I live is Christian (or at least monotheistic) based and because organized religion seems to be more zealously clung to here, that is why the brunt of anti-religious books seem to focus on Christianity and organized religion.

Marian--While I do have some fundamental differences in belief with Mormonism, I have never had that much of an issue with Orson Scott Card or even Stephenie Myers. But I think that is because of all the (few) works that I read by OSC, I never saw those issues I disagreed with, and the Mormon aspects of Twilight are aspects that I do agree with.

But then again, I don't mind diversity--I have a lot of experience with world literature; one of my favorite book is by a Muslim, another of my favs is by an atheist.

I think my only problem with Pullman or Davies lies primarily in the fact that they used symbolism to incorporate not their own beliefs, but ideas against my beliefs. It feels sly; it feels underhanded.

I think part of my problem then lies within the character. You say that you like seeing that even thought they do things you would never do, they have good (for them) motivation to do it. I find that after I read comments such as those by Pullman, I cannot look at the characters in the same way. I do not see their motivations, I only see Pullman's.

Marian Perera said...

By the way, I've come across a lot of anti-atheist bias in books as well. Very often, if a character is described as an atheist, they're bitter and unpleasant unless they convert.

Or they'll have become an atheist because of some traumatic event in their past which has caused them to yell "Noooooo" at the sky, from which point they go through life cursing a god in whom they supposedly don't believe.

It doesn't make me happy, but it does inspire me to be even-handed in my own writing.

Corey Schwartz said...

Interesting question. Not sure I care about an author's personal views, but I had a very hard time keeping my respect for friends with opposing political views this year.

C.R. Evers said...

I do find that an author with an offensive personality can taint whether or not I'll read more of their books. An author can have completely different views than me and I can still enjoy their books. However, if they have a nasty personality and they are attacking in nature and it shows through their blogs and interviews, I will be less likely to read their stuff.

I read Bitterwood by James Maxey and LOVED it. I had the feeling he was an athiest after reading his book, and found out through is blog that he is. But he wasn't nasty or anything and I hope he never will be, because I'd love to read more of his stuff.

It's kind of like an attaction to a guy. A guy can be drop dead gorgeous, but if his personality stinks, it taints his looks (for me anyway) Same way with authors. I can be turned off by a good writer if they come across nasty.

Unknown said...

Marian--I honestly can't think of any examples of what you mentioned--but I do tend to read children and teen books, which usually plays less on that theme. I think atheism is treated with an easier hand in teen literature, where the audience is much more malleable in their religious views. Or maybe it's just what I happen to read. I do see some very pro-Christian works as well (Narnia, of course, comes to mind, but in younger children's work I see more obviously Christian themes--although I think children's work does tend to be more positive influenced).

And you're right--stories that are even-handed are generally just more engaging. People don't want heavy handed preaching in any direction in literature that's intended to entertain.

Corey: Me, too! And I just got sick of hearing about it after awhile, to be honest, even among people who agreed with me.

Christy: Personality does influence me (which is one reason why I think Pullman bothers me more than Davies). I'm that way with actors, too. If I think that the actor is the kind of person I could sit down and drink a beer with, then I like their work...but if not, I don't.

Anonymous said...

Dean Koontz's books are pretty good examples of what I mean. I enjoyed his older work - it was an auto-buy. Then I read "Twilight of the Dawn" in the collection Strange Highways.

That was the beginning of the end. After that the antagonists grew steadily more atheistic/nihilistic/evil - not synonymous, to me. There are other examples, but that one was very disappointing, because I loved Koontz's earlier books.

I have to say, though, that while being even-handed is my preference (what's the point of preaching to the choir?) you can sometimes attract more attention by being really controversial even if it turns lots of readers off.

Unknown said...

So true! Controversy sells--just look at the controversy surrounding the Golden Compass movie. I think many sales happened because the churches protested--all news is publicity, after all!

Unknown said...

OK, so honestly, I'm just writing this comment so I could get to twenty comments on a topic! :)