Weekly Geeks: Secret pasts and peculiar presents

May 10, 2010 at 12:10 am 12 comments

Does an author’s politics matter to you? Do you have a favourite book or series written by someone you know to be your political opposite? Or have you stopped reading works by a particular author after discovering that their politics were radically different from your own?

I pondered this question for much longer than I normally think about my Weekly Geeks post. As regular WG readers know, I don’t necessarily know anything about the contemporary authors I read, apart from a few random facts like Margaret Atwood lives in Toronto and Susanna Clarke used to edit cookbooks.

There is one author, though, on whom I had to do quite a bit of research last year. My final paper for TCD was on Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series, and as scholars have not done a great deal of critical analysis of his work, I ended up reading a lot of interviews with Pullman in an attempt to clarify what, exactly, he meant to convey with his books.

In the process, I discovered that he and I had radically different views on almost everything, especially religion and politics.

There was a profound sense of betrayal as I discovered that this man was actually quite mad; it was like discovering that C. S. Lewis hated women. I had thought of Pullman as being much like the author in Inkheart, kindly in a grandfather-like way, with a mind full of magic and sunlight. How dare this author be other than I imagined he would be?

Of course, it was erroneous and unfair of me to expect that Actual Pullman measure up to the Fantasy Pullman. Pullman the Writer (versus Pullman the Man) is a brilliant, brilliant fantasy author — there is nothing more magical than the first scene of Northern Lights, with the possible exception of the first time Lucy steps into Narnia in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Pullman the Writer gleans tiny details and references from everything from Arthurian romance to modern theoretical physics and weaves all of those elements into a profoundly beautiful and epic story.

Pullman the Man, however, is a different story. Pullman the Man denies that he’s writing fantasy fiction. He admits that he is trying to do nothing less than kill God — at least in a literary sense. Pullman the Man has entirely mis-read John Milton’s Paradise Lost and has based an entire book series on that misreading.

Pullman the Man takes over somewhere in the middle of The Amber Spyglass and entirely derails the plot, turning what had been an amazing allegorical epic along the lines of Tolkien into a plodding, heavy-handed metaphor reminiscent of Lewis’ most controversial and least well-written Narnia installment, The Last Battle.

As much as I grew to dislike Pullman the Man (especially for his role in destroying what could have been the greatest fantasy epic of the 21st century), the fact remains that somehow Pullman, as a whole, has managed to give me some of the best books I’ve ever encountered. Northern Lights does not become less wonderful just because I know Pullman hates C. S. Lewis, and Will and Lyra’s later out-of-character actions do not make their roles in Northern Lights or The Subtle Knife any less believable.

So while I can continue to be frustrated with Pullman the Man, I would never stop reading Northern Lights because of my dislike for the author’s politics. It would be like giving up Narnia because I know I wear too much lipgloss for Lewis’ taste. I’ve found that an author’s works usually speak louder than the author himself.

How about you? Would you ever stop reading an author’s works because you disagree with their personal views? Please share in the comments!

– KT

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Rereadings: A Dumas First Chapter in Translation(s) Discussion Questions: The Song of the Lark

12 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Britney  |  May 10, 2010 at 3:07 am

    I wrote a paper on The Amber Spyglass in high school! My thesis was that Pullman wasn’t against religion so much as he was opposed to the people who organize it (I probably used many of the same interviews as you – though this was six years ago so maybe he’s given more since then).

    I loved Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, and I’ve enjoyed some of his other works, but Card is anti-same sex marriage and believes that homosexuals are homosexual because they were abused or molested. Which is far from the way I feel on those issues.

    Reply
    • 2. KT  |  May 10, 2010 at 9:35 pm

      I think you’re probably right about Pullman being more against organized religion and its organizers — there must be a reason Metatron is running things, you know? But he still twisted Milton and claims he is not writing fantasy fiction (um, there are shape-shifting external souls), and for that he cannot be forgiven! :P

      Good to know I am not the only one who separates the writer from the written!

      Reply
  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by LiteraryTransgressor. LiteraryTransgressor said: Why I can love the writing and hate the writer: http://wp.me/psAm1-sX […]

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  • […] post). All the posts have been interesting to me but the one that still has me pondering is from KT at Literary Transgressions who has written a terrific responseabout her relationship with author Phillip Pullman both before and after she discovered that Pullman […]

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  • 5. bernadetteinoz  |  May 11, 2010 at 3:12 am

    Sorry for making you ponder longer than usual KT but I really loved what you wrote about Pullman the whole being more than the sum of his parts at least as far as his fiction goes.

    Reply
    • 6. KT  |  May 11, 2010 at 6:40 am

      Thanks, Bernadette! I really enjoyed the question, so I willingly put a good deal of thought into it :)

      Reply
  • 7. Amat Libris  |  May 11, 2010 at 5:50 am

    I have to admit that learning of Pullman’s views on religion made me more interested in his books! I liked Northern Lights well enough, but it didn’t inspire me to read the rest of the series.

    After the outcry over the movie I’d expected it to be more controversial; I really couldn’t see what all the fuss was about. Maybe the film was more obviously atheistic than the book?

    Reply
    • 8. KT  |  May 11, 2010 at 6:32 am

      Yes, the movie is toned down a great deal! I think part of the reason they haven’t continued with the trilogy in film form is because they’ve gone about as far as they can go without making the religious content explicit.

      There really was nothing controversial about the movie, in my opinion — sometimes I think people get offended when they feel they should be, rather than when they actually are. However, I cannot imagine a movie of the third book could ever be released, as that one is less atheistic and more anti-theistic (if that makes sense) with a dash of sexualized situations thrown in. The entire evangelical community would revolt.

      Reply
  • 9. Shannon  |  May 11, 2010 at 10:30 am

    Unfortunately, I’m guilty of abandoning authors who I don’t agree with politically — but it does depend on the type of work they’re doing. I’m more likely to walk out on someone who does nonfiction, but I also won’t read anything that could be remotely construed as anti-semitic. I’ve reached an age where I don’t have the patience any longer to pretend that I read to be educated about things I may know little about, so I don’t feel like I’m missing much. But if you’d asked me this about 15 years ago, I’d have said it was incumbent on me to read anything I could get my hands on and to look at all points of view on the world, whether they agree with my own views or not. Now I am just sitting back, enjoying what I do read, and snickering at my 25-year-old self.

    Reply
    • 10. KT  |  May 11, 2010 at 3:44 pm

      Ha, that is a disadvantage of being a relatively young reader! I always second-guess my opinion and struggle through books just because I think I should, not because I want to.

      Reply
      • 11. Shannon  |  May 12, 2010 at 11:59 am

        Yeah. It’s only been about the last 5 years or so that I’ve been able to say, “You know what? This book kind of sucks. I don’t care how many people love it,” and actually put it away forever after 30 pages. But it was hard to get there. I felt like there must be something wrong with me.

        Reply
  • 12. gautami tripathy  |  May 12, 2010 at 5:44 pm

    Political views don’t matter but values and ethics do matter.

    http://readbookswritepoetry.blogspot.com/2010/05/weekly-geeks-secret-pasts-and-peculiar.html

    Reply

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