So I’m about 50 pages into my 20th book of the year, Ender’s Game, and coincidentally I ran across this column on the Huffington Post about the author Orson Scott Card. Since I’ve never read Card’s books, I had no idea that he was a Mormon who was staunchly against same-sex marriage. Given what I knew about Ender’s Game, that it was a sci-fi story about a boy genius soldier, I didn’t think Card’s religious views would play much of a role.
And yet, in Chapter Three, Graff tells Ender that his mother was a Mormon and his father was a Catholic. Because of their upbringing, they love their third son even though most families are permitted to only have two children. But they also hate Ender, because he is an everyday reminder that their family does not fit into this society.
I admit that after reading the HuffPo column, I am more aware of traces of religious bias than I would be if I hadn’t read it at all. For example, when bully Bernard is ridiculed for supposedly watching the other boys’ butts, I wondered if this scene promoted homophobia by declaring that being attracted to the backsides of the same sex is somehow wrong and worthy of mockery.
Am I reading too much into this? I just started the novel, so those who have finished it probably have a better idea of its themes. But at least this article got me thinking: Do I like or dislike certain books, just because I like or dislike the author’s personal beliefs?
The answer for me is sometimes. I love pre-modern literature, which is mostly written by racist, sexist, homophobic men. But I just chock it up to the time period and take their words with a grain of salt. And because I can’t go back in time and get to know them personally, how am I to be sure that people like Joseph Conrad or Mark Twain were racists? Anyone who has taken any literature courses knows that autobiography definitely plays a role in a person’s writing, but that you cannot assume that every word of theirs is autobiographical.
On the other hand, I can either love or hate a story whether or not I like that writer’s opinions. My favorite novel is The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman, who is a devout atheist. You cannot ignore his anti-religious messages in the story, which is exactly why I adore it. His modern adaptation of Milton’s Paradise Lost demonstrates that churches are corrupt and that there is absolutely nothing sinful about experiencing puberty and sexual awakening, despite what the clergy brainwashes children into thinking.
And because I’m secular myself, I am extremely wary of books with religious messages. I enjoyed The Chronicles of Narnia as a child, but I agree with Pullman that the books send the wrong messages to kids. I refuse to read explicitly Christian literature now, even if it’s disguised as fantasy.
This is why I have a hard time swallowing The Twilight Saga. As a hopeless romantic, I gobbled up this forbidden vampire/werewolf love triangle. But anyone who claims that Stephenie Meyer’s Mormonism doesn’t affect the story is sorely mistaken. If I had a young daughter, I don’t think I would want her reading a story in which the female protagonist marries at 18 to have sex with her overly controlling, jealous boyfriend. Not to mention, Bella gets pregnant after said sex and refuses to terminate the pregnancy even though the vampire-hybrid fetus is killing her from the inside out.
Feel free to agree to disagree, but Meyer’s anti-choice, anti-premarital sex viewpoints, as well as Twilight’s inherent misogyny, do not an excellent novel make in my humble opinion. And I realize that Pullman’s atheistic epic turns a lot of people off as well. I guess the point of this post is that we should be grateful that we possess the freedoms of speech and press, because even if we disagree with an author’s values, that author has every right to include those values in their novels. And nobody’s forcing you to read books you don’t agree with.
So what about you? Do novelists’ personal beliefs matter to you? Are there certain books you can’t stand or just can’t get enough of on the basis of values alone? Let’s get a debate going, guys!