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Here is a piece that is similar to the last piece we wrote about morality and art. This one is more focused on literature.
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During the Great Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Pack Horse Library Initiative as one of his New Deal programs.
Librarians would ride on horseback into the Appalachian mountains to provide books and literacy to the mountain-folk of Kentucky. However, Appalachian mountain people were often distrustful of strangers.
In order to gain the trust of suspicious mountain families who did not take kindly to outsiders, book carriers would sometimes read bible passages to prove that they were not a threat.
Why Are Authors So Strange? – Op-Ed Piece
Last article I wrote about bad people writing good things. I questioned the morality of an artist regarding the art that they produce. Some of you readers even thought that it is even the other way around, which is what I want to talk about now. Literature has a strange problem when it comes to the morality of the artist; the artist is fairly good, it's the art that is weird and messed up.
Last time I cried out how it was so awful that we live in a world where criminals can be your favorite artists. "This is wrong. Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!" I exclaimed as if doing so would get some intervention from a higher power. Like Zeus will come down from Mount Olympus and fix the problem.
"Hello Greg, I heard that you are having a problem with artists being bad people. I have come to fix that." The leader of the Olympians would say to me.
"What are you going to do?" I ask.
"Throw a lightning bolt at it. Obviously."
Lightning bolts solve everything; I forgot about that. See, that is why Zeus is the god, and I am a mortal man. The god is throwing his lightning bolt at stuff he can't even see and solving issues; talk about efficiency. Do you think he can do my taxes?
Anyway, I didn't mention literature, the world of books that we all like to talk about, in the last article as much as other fields, because I feel that literature is quite the opposite of that. The authors in literature, those who write your favorite books, create your favorite lines and make your favorite characters, never seem to be as weird as the art they make.
What the hell is that about? And can I throw a lightning bolt at it to solve my issue with it?
You can take the two most popular authors alive, J.K. Rowling and Stephen King, as examples of this dichotomy.
J.K. Rowling's claim to fame is a series about a boy wizard defeating a powerful evil wizard. We grow with the boy wizard as he fights snakes, prisoners and travels back in time. The whole thing is stranger than any comment Rowling can make of our world. Wizards are mysterious characters, probably because nobody really understands magic. The guy waves around a stick a few times, says some garbage that sounds like Latin but is not Latin, and then a chair turns into a frog. That's reasonable and not something that would only happen to someone who was on drugs. Stories with wizards can not have the story being told to another character in the story. What I mean is that one character is actively explaining the story to someone in their world, rather than us, the audience. This can't happen, in my opinion, because the other character in the story wouldn't believe any of the stuff.
"He did what? He turned what into what? And he wore a strange hat the entire time doing it? Dude, are you telling me this story because it really happened, or are you high? Cause that stuff that you said with a wizard, that shit isn't normal."
"Oh, be quiet! You think Zeus throwing lightning bolts is normal!"
"You mean it's not?"
The fact that Rowling didn't include anything like a Greek god in her story is more unusual than if she actually decided to mention someone from Mount Olympus. Would any of us really have been surprised if, after Voldemort was defeated, Poseidon came from the sea to wreak havoc?
That is the kind of book that Rowling wrote about. She chose to have a series about the most strange character type in all of storytelling. Don't worry, J.K., your sanity will always be fine compared to those in the stories you produced. It must be weird for her to say things to people today and have them flip out at her. We were all fine with the boy wizard. We all accepted the scar. We all were fine with the talking hat, but a random comment Rowling makes about the actual world we live in is not cool.
Then there is Stephen King, who made a career of writing strange stuff too. His books always get too much for me at certain points. Like you can tell, his mind was out of ideas, so he added a supernatural element to the piece. Hey, the guy makes it work. He sold a bunch of books, so I am not hating on him; I am only saying that his books are stranger than he will ever be. You actually have an easier time finding supernatural stories in King's catalog than any normal stories he ever wrote. That is something to note because another writer, Shakespeare, only had ghosts appear in four of his stories. We all like to think that Shakespeare had unusual elements in every story he wrote, but that is not true. For King, that couldn't be more true.
If you were to talk to Rowling and King, you wouldn't think that they were unfit for writing. You wouldn't claim they're insane. You may not even think they are strange at all. For the most part, both of these authors are very normal in their lifestyles. They are not criminals. They didn't live unique lives, such as being a lawyer or detective for thirty years. They have never been in any major scandal or trouble. They are writers with a great ability to tell a story.
If you think that this is only modern writers who are still alive who have this happen to them, then think again. Edgar Allan Poe is arguably the most famous writer to ever live. He is certainly one of the best America ever produced. Then why was he so? How do I put it…. Normal? He wrote of people getting buried alive, of a hypnotized person dying, among others classic of the macabre, yet he looked like an accountant. The guy invented the genre that would influence many horror classics going forward. If you were to do a profile of him, you'd probably think the guy was a nut job, who spent a few years in prison for a crime, and he may have even killed someone. You would probably even say that he personally knew a famous criminal, like Jack The Ripper, and was inspired by that deranged monster. And you'd be wrong. For all accounts, Edgar Allan Poe was a normal person. He was very dedicated to the craft of writing and was always found wearing a suit. He was the last guy you'd expect to write disturbing stories of death. Frankly, Poe's stories are more interesting than he ever was.
So what is going on here? Why are the most popular authors like this? Is this a question of the writer's personality or the reader's choice? Is it natural for a writer to eventually explore the darkness of our world, to speak of the unusual and the wicked as much as the hopeful and the lighted-hearted? Could we as readers prefer the demented stories over the regular stories?
Perhaps what these writers did is not as off or out of place as I think. Perhaps, I am wrong with this very premise, and there is nothing inherently out of order here. All the pieces are in place. Everything is set. All is good here. To write stories is to explore humanity and the more one writes, the more one explores, leading to the development of all of humanity's side from the writer. Stories need conflict and what better conflict to have than one that is from a messed-up aspect of people. The story writes itself then since all the author is left to do is to show that the darkness can't be the light. Or, if they prefer, they can have the darkness win. This exploration into the human psyche and interaction is about the characters in the story and observations on our world.
Or maybe we are to blame for this strange phenomenon? We like King and Rowling and Poe because they are great, yes, but also because they are writing about all that sick stuff we can't get enough of. We want to read of two wizards battling it out. We want to read of murder. We want to read of a man losing his mind. It appeals to us for some reason.
If you think that option is crazy, go to the beach sometime in the summer and take a look at all the books that everyone is reading there. Everyone is reading a summer thriller as they relax in the sun. Think about that. As you are lying down on your towel, getting a tan, you are reading about a man being accused of murdering his wife. That is not seen as off by anyone, though. This sight is quite common among readers, and we have even given those books a name; summer thriller.
Even recently, many of you have complained about 50 Shades of Grey, how awful it was. It mainstreamed BDSM. It is not good for women. All valid points, by the way. But maybe the controversy and the sex are what we like about. In a twisted way, we don't mind seeing two characters performing sex acts. Are we the problem because we secretly like it, or are we the problem because we don't deny that we secretly like it?
Writers are comfortable being good people but are not comfortable with their stories to reflect that. I don't see this changing anytime soon. And let's be honest, you don't want it to either.
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About The Blogger
Greg Luti is an editor and blogger on pensandwords.com. His favorite writers are Robert Frost and Charles Bukowski. He enjoys reading up on history, watching comedies, and playing video games, when he is not writing down a few notes for his next piece. He started this blog out of his love for literature and hopes that the reader shares that same passion.
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