Victims of Abuse, Easy Labels, and Fiction

Rant warning.

Are we getting too eager to be seen as victims? What happened to brushing the dust off your shoulders and going on with life?

“Nowadays, we are conditioned to see ourselves as potential victims of numerous groups, races, organizations, institutions, chemicals, climates, and people. It’s almost humorous the degree to which some will go to apply the label of ‘victim’ to themselves, despite the harm it does to those who genuinely have been victimized.” ~ Mike Duran

Yep. Totally agree. He’s talking about abuse in churches in particular, but I’ve seen the terms “abuse” and “victim” getting tossed around every which way. Even in situations where it’s clearly not a case of victimization.

There is real abuse, and there are real victims. But I make it harder for them if I throw labels around like a troublesome student tossing paper airplanes in the classroom. And the real victims and abuses are cheapened, easier to ignore and marginalize, when everyone’s claiming to be a victim of abuse.

Chik-Fil-A, anyone? Don’t like their owner’s stance on gay marriage? Then don’t eat at their restaurant. By all means, complain. Write letters. Boycott. However, the owner’s opinions don’t translate to gay couples not being allowed to eat there, or being forced to drink from separate drinking fountains. Why slap the label of abuse onto his words?

I’ve also seen it a lot in talks of “sexist” or “racist” or “homophobic” content in fiction writing.

And it’s getting exhausting.

[Side note: I’m looking right at you, io9.com. Why must so many cool or interesting articles be buried under all the ridiculous, completely false character assassination? To be fair, that last link is from Jezebel, but io9 shared it. Close enough.]

Do those attitudes sometimes pop up in fiction? Of course they do. Heck, H.P. Lovecraft still makes people shake their heads with the clear racism in his writing.

But a book isn’t racist just because all of its good characters are white. There are lots of white villains in Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones, too. Remember? A lack of strong female characters in a TV show isn’t enough to charge the writer with chauvinism. (On a related note, it’s sad to see lots of people arguing who is or isn’t a strong female character on Doctor Who, but then writer Steven Moffat is accused of being a sexist pig. Cut it out.)

Maybe he/she just grew up around white people and they’re writing in a mode of existence that is “default” for them, or he/she can’t write strong female characters well, and they’re playing to their strengths.

Variety in fiction is a beautiful thing, and if political correctness has its way, authors will write books that all have the same feel, cater to the same hot-button topics, say the same things, seek to satisfy the same audience in the same way, and they’ll never be allowed to go anywhere unusual or dangerous.

If authors are frowned upon every time they take a risk, or we try forcing them to focus on aspects of life they don’t feel qualified to write about, are we really allowing authors to be themselves? I don’t think so.

But, back to the overall topic about abuse and victimhood making easy labels. Again, please be careful in saying who’s a victim and who’s abusing someone else. These trigger words have wrecked reputations and lives without adequate cause, and that…well, that does qualify as abuse.

Advertisements

Was J.R.R. Tolkien A Racist?

…Or “The Coincidental Christmas.” Coincidental, since I was working on another blog post, detailing the races of my own fantasy world, when this little chestnut slithered back into the light: “Was J.R.R. Tolkien a racist?”

Um…no. No, he decidedly was not. In fact, he wrote an eloquent letter to the Nazi party calling the race doctrine “pernicious and unscientific.”

He certainly had races which thought themselves above the others, like Elves and the men of Numenor. Problem is, as soon as they started forcing themselves on the other races, calamitous consequences were not far behind. This little nuance is often lost on those who consider Tolkien a bigot.

Some will never give up on tarnishing one of the 20th century’s greatest storytellers with racist accusations. Today, on this blessed and sacred holiday, I tripped across one rather shrill blogger, who has decided ahead of time that Tolkien’s racism can be recognized by any rational human being, and that the writer’s defenders are immature, angry little white supremacists. Normally for the sake of objectivity and letting the reader reach their own conclusion, I link to pieces I disagree with. In this case, I will neither do this nor mention him by name. This man is getting no more views or attention on my account.

But I’d like to offer my refutation to his all-too-common accusation in the form of someone else’s words. They put it better than I ever could, and you’ll find the whole excellent piece by Michael Martinez here. This paragraph was especially neat:

“Unfortunately, though many people rise quickly to defend J.R.R. Tolkien against the absurd arguments that his critics raise against him, they fall quickly into the trap of replying to silly provocations — a trap that is designed only to control the conversation. Trust me, I have walked that treadmill more than I want to recall. You cannot win an argument with someone who declares blindly that J.R.R. Tolkien was a racist. At best you can write your own thoughtful explanation of what Tolkien was doing and not respond directly to these sensationalists. That is, after all, what they crave: a passionate response from you and as many other people as they can provoke.”

The accusation will always be around, no matter how ridiculous it is. Never quite goes away. Maybe I’m dropping right into the aforementioned trap by replying at all. But since the accusation is finding more ears in the wake of the Hobbit movie, I thought someone’s insights might be offered against it.

Thanks for your time. And Merry Christmas!

Books and Movies for Halloween

Nothing fancy today. Just a recommendation list of novels and movies that would be great to watch on All Hallow’s Eve. I welcome any additional suggestions from you, of course. Feel free to add them in the comments.

Books

  • Cain, by James Byron Huggins — An inventive, action-packed thriller about a supersoldier who gets possessed by the devil. Not only is it scary, it’s just plain cool with all the lovingly described weaponry.
  • The Terror, by Dan Simmons — Fictionalized account of the doomed 1845 Franklin Expedition as they look for a trading route near the north pole. I’ve only begun this book, but I’m fascinated by Simmons’s approach of having a supernatural creature stalking the men and picking them off one by one. A perfect book to read on a cold night.
  • Threshold, by Sara Douglass — This fantasy novel is mainly about a servant girl and her master falling in love, but there are truly terrifying episodes of some creature or presence using a pyramid as a gateway into the world. Highly recommended.

Movies

  • The Mummy (1999 remake) — Not particularly unsettling, but it’s still kind of scary, and lots of fun. Plus, Rachel Weisz is one of those actresses whose mere presence can improve a film’s quality.
  • The Invisible Man (1933) — Claude Rains knows how to enrapture and frighten using only his voice. The special effects are way ahead of their time, too.
  • Jurassic Park (1993) — Odds are you see big flesh-eating dinosaurs as either scary or awesome. Either way, it’s a good night to watch this.
  • The Others (2001) — Captivating ghost story that relies less on jump scares and more on sounds and suspense. A masterpiece among haunted house films.
  • Fright Night (2011) — In my honest opinion, the remake is completely awesome and a whole lot smarter than the original. I’m a sucker for remakes, I know. But Colin Farrell excels as the vampire next door, and David Tennant very nearly steals the show
  • The Thing (1982) — A movie about a shapeshifting alien piling up bodies in the isolation of Antarctica? This is just begging to be watched on Halloween.
  • Sleepy Hollow (1999) — In my opinion, this is Tim Burton’s best movie (that I’ve seen so far). Christopher Walken as the horseman? Genius! That alone makes the film worth watching.
  • Lord of the Rings (2001-2003) — Let’s face it, any night is a good night for this astounding trilogy.

In Defense of a “Hobbit” Trilogy

Peter Jackson has made it official, now. The Hobbit will be told through another epic film trilogy in Middle Earth.

For better or worse, I am excited and optimistic about this decision. Most of the internet is rejoicing at the news, but given the smaller, tighter focus of The Hobbit as a book, some are rising up to say the trilogy will feel stretched and boring. Film cynics immediately settled into their favorite act of projecting, stating that the studio “just wants more money.” One or two people have thought themselves exceptionally clever by invoking Bilbo’s quote from Fellowship of the Ring: “I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.”

Perhaps they will be proven right. The movies aren’t out yet, and anything can happen. But, as an optimist, I refuse to go along with the mourning and bemoaning about this development. Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy still is made up of my three favorite movies of all time (heck, I’m watching Fellowship right now).

The man and his creative team sweated blood to respectfully bring the spirit of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth to life twelve years ago, and he knew an adaptation of Bilbo’s journey to the Lonely Mountain would require the same care and love. I am trusting him to do well with this decision, and I believe him when he says the third movie was motivated not by money or marketing, but by the needs of the story that was coming to life before the camera.

Here’s why I believe him. Tolkien himself once said that his visits to Middle-Earth resulted in “tales that grew in the telling.” Even with Jackson’s films, that was the case with the Extended Edition DVDs, which most Rings fans agree are the superior versions of each movie. Jackson wants to draw on the appendices (published at the end of Return of the King) to supplement Bilbo’s simple adventure story, which he obviously knows doesn’t need three movies by itself. And now that I think about it, my opinion is that three movies are needed, for a simple reason: to immerse viewers in Middle-Earth by showing them a much larger world. Tolkien’s lifetime of work produced a realm that was much more than the adventures of a ragtag group of Dwarves, and later a Fellowship.

No doubt the filmmakers will enjoy even more profits from expanding two films into three, but so what? The richness and depth of Tolkien’s world deserves a better cinematic treatment than a strict, by-the-numbers telling of Bilbo’s side of the story. The films may be part of a trilogy called The Hobbit, but they should show much more than what is seen through Bilbo Baggins’s eyes.

And even if I’m wrong, if the movies are bloated and stretched and Jackson couldn’t quite tell as good a story this time around…well, I would rather have too much of a good thing than too little. Especially when it comes to Peter Jackson and J.R.R. Tolkien.

Besides, the more movies Ian Mckellen plays Gandalf in, the better. That’s pretty self-evident.

UPDATE: Here’s an io9 article that helps show why The Hobbit can’t be fully realized in just one movie. If you want to know why Gandalf repeatedly leaves the Dwarves and Bilbo behind, know how the Dwarves started up on this quest in the first place, and have each character become sympathetic and memorable so you actually care about them, the solution is to build your story through multiple films.

The Reason I Love Speculative Fiction

I do not mean to say other genres suck or are inferior. I mean only to celebrate what I love in my own field, shameless optimist that I am.

Science Fiction. Fantasy. Alternate History. Together, these genres form the pillars of what is called speculative fiction. There can be lots of blending and subgenres that don’t quite belong to any one group (just look at steampunk and dystopia), but together they give an image of worlds that, as far as we know, don’t exist. Yet that’s not all they do. They can accommodate any other theme or motif, perform any other task, that characterizes fiction of other stripes.

Speculative fiction is a field of storytelling that specializes in “What if?” and “Why not?” It probes, challenges, questions, and explores in ways that no other kind of fiction is capable of. Yet it can take whatever has been produced by other sorts of fiction and give it more flavor, more chances for originality and finding what has been overlooked. Science fiction can probe as deeply into human nature as any literary novel you can think of. Alternate history can be as pulse-pounding as any spy thriller, or as romantic as a bodice-ripper from the checkout line. A fantasy can be a murder mystery, or even a slice-of-life tale (though it may be a slice of life from a magic student or an apprentice dragon-breeder).

Admittedly, there is a reputation which says speculative novels are not as introspective or deep or profound as “literary” novels. There are indeed thousands of shallow, hackneyed tales in all three genres, with little thought behind them.

However, one-dimensional stories do not remove the capacity for profundity or depth from any genre. Though fantasy may have its Twilights and Eragons, it also has its Name of the Wind and Song of Ice and Fire. Science fiction may allow The Fifth Element or Transformers into its ranks, but it boasts of  Star Trek, Fahrenheit 451,  and Dune. A million terrible novels could not extinguish even one book that doesn’t just ask “What if?” but also provides the best answer it possibly can.

I think bad fiction is usually bad because of untapped potential. The writer did not squeeze hard enough, or didn’t look in enough shadowy corners, to see what could nourish their characters, story progression, pacing, or anything else writers need to consider about their work. But when they do, they should be recognized for their incredible achievement.

In summary, this is why I love to read and write speculative fiction: It can always find a new place to go, and there’s nothing other fiction does that it cannot do.