This morning I’m listening to Simply Red (flashbacks from freshman year at BYU) and the song “Money’s Too Tight to Mention” is a good song. If it weren’t, I wouldn’t have it in my library.
It also trashes things I believe in. Does it bother me? On some visceral level, yes, but that doesn’t make it difficult for me to listen to it and it certainly doesn’t keep me from listening. I’d miss a whole lot of good music (and that voice!) if I took umbrage at other people’s opinions and the way they state them (usually the way they state them is more off-putting than what they say).
So it started me thinking about how I read fiction,
what fiction I read, and how I deal with ideas and philosophies, opinions and teachings in fiction that either I don’t hold, don’t like, or despise for any number of reasons. I surprised me. I don’t care as long as the story’s good.
At some point, I must have gotten over my instinctive outrage when, in the middle of a good story, I got plopped down into philosophical wanderings that were either not my own or insulted mine. I know it wasn’t one piece that did it. It was bits and bites of stories throughout the years that let me know that A) I wasn’t alone in the world and B) other people had different opinions from mine and C) they were no less valid and D) informed their worldview the same way my opinions inform my worldview and E) it didn’t make them wrong and didn’t make me right. The only caveat to that is that the story be engaging enough for me to swim upstream.
I can actually pinpoint the one book that started me down this path, but I have only recently thought about re-reading it as an adult with vastly different tastes than I had when I was 15 and completely repulsed by the heroine. Who, in case you would be wondering, was Scarlett O’Hara.
I also became a more discerning reader, understanding that sometimes, ideas that were neutral or positive for me did inflame others. Example (because I can’t remember the last book I read that I thought was that didactic, which only speaks to my current tolerance level): Dogma is one of my favorite movies of all time. It’s irreverent and profane (well, naturally, because Jay and Silent Bob are in it) and, most would say, blasphemous. Protests were organized over this movie (although I think protesting something you haven’t seen is disingenuous).
Don’t get me wrong; it is irreverent and profane. Deliciously, devilishly so. But it is not blasphemous. Through all the muck and mire, the four-letter words, the irreverence, Kevin Smith gave me something uplifting and positive. Trevor, over at Toward an LDS Cinema, had an intriguing post why Mormons would do well to take some lessons from Fight Club for many of the same reasons I like Dogma.
Another reason? I tired of one-dimensional characters long ago. I remember distinctly a Harlequin Presents I read when I was a teenager (I think a Janet Dailey, but don’t quote me) wherein the hero is a pastor of a church whose denomination is not specified who sets out with great determination to seduce the heroine. I was shocked and outraged all the way down to my 15-year-old good-Mormon-girl toes. When she questions him of this dichotomy, he quotes the Song of Solomon and gives her some bullshit meant to fuzz the issue of what is and what isn’t fornication and besides, it’s not really bad.
Please. Anybody with a contact high off any one of the Abrahamic religions knows that fornication’s not on the kosher side of the Chinese menu. I kept reading in spite of my outrage, but over the years, that’s morphed into a different take-home message:
People aren’t one-dimensional. I don’t know if he was attempting to justify it to himself as much as or more than to the heroine, but even now as an adult, I still don’t think it was honorable for him to twist the concept of fornication inside out to get to his goal without owning up to it eventually. It would have been more interesting for him to have owned his weakness, but it was interesting enough that an author put religion and sex together in a book. Lookit, here I am 25 years later still remembering and being influenced by that concept.
In Dogma, Kevin Smith gave me a cast of characters with depth. I mean, really, a descendant of Jesus who works in an abortion clinic? Christ’s 13th apostle who’s pissed he got written out of the New Testament because he’s black? A muse-turned-stripper because she lost her touch? George Carlin as a Catholic priest? Alanis Morissette as God? Priceless!
(‘Scuse me while I go put it on the DVD and watch it again.)
So that brings me to The Proviso, in which I will have managed to offend most everybody with the language, the sex, the politics, the religion, the money, and, most likely, the reading preferences of its characters. It’s my Dogma. I thought a lot about what a reader would bring to the table while reading this book, but at the end of the day, I had to write the story Knox, Sebastian, Giselle, Bryce, Eilis, and Justice gave me whether it offended anyone or not.
Likewise, my antagonist, Fen, is as morally ambiguous as the protagonists. One-dimensional villains don’t interest me anymore, either, and I wanted a villain who was likable, to show him on his downward spiral, wherein he owned what he did and actively engaged protagonists he knows and (in the case of two of them), loves.
This is who these people are and to mitigate them in some way would be to cheat them. Some of them believe the doctrine they’re attached to by birth and some of them don’t. They are flawed, deeply so, and they have questionable motives for what they do, but they do them and own them and take the consequences for it. I think that makes them interesting.
I finally came to the conclusion that if my storytelling is engaging enough for a reader to keep reading in spite of his umbrage or discomfort or disapproval, then I will have done my job.