Weekly Geeks: Secret pasts and peculiar presents
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!