In yesterday's post we discussed whether or not it's a reasonable expectation that protagonists should always be pushing the plot forward or otherwise taking decisive action in order to justify their place at the center of the book.

There were some interesting suggestions in the comments about how that expectation might have arisen among certain readers, as well as some examples of well-known protags who don't fit the derring-do mold. But I think [livejournal.com profile] megancrewe brought up an especially good point about the crucial difference between a protagonist who is too passive to hold the reader's interest, and one who is believable and sympathetic in spite of not always being proactive:
Even if there isn't anything the MC* can do to change their situation at certain points, I want to know that they want things, and will try to get those things when they can.
I think that sums up the essence of a good protagonist really well. You can have an MC who is too reluctant or self-doubting or depressed to drive the plot forward on their own for a while, but if it's clear to the reader what the MC wants, and as long as there's hope that the MC will take action to get it when they have the chance, then you've still got a story.

It's not that I think those who find quiet or reluctant protagonists frustrating don't have a right to say so. But I do think it's a mistake to take what amounts to a personal preference ("I prefer MCs who are decisive and proactive") and voice it as though it were an objective criticism with which all right-thinking readers should agree ("The MC spends more time reacting to things than she does in making things happen, and that's a fault in the book").

***

Now on to today's Unreasonable Expectation!

2. Any development which is surprising to the characters must also be surprising to the reader.

Now, to be fair, I should have said "major development", because I think we all understand that not everything that happens in the book has to be a surprise. What I'm talking about is the expectation that when some significant discovery or revelation occurs in the plot, it has to be set up in such a way that the reader will find it surprising, or the author has failed in her duty -- and I don't think that's always the case.

Don't get me wrong, I love surprises... )

All of which is to say that it may well be hasty and even unfair to criticize a book if you guess a certain "surprise" before the characters do. It may indeed be that you are more perceptive than the author gave you credit for, and that a better author would have handled that aspect more subtly and cleverly so as to surprise you. But it may also be that the author considered it only a minor revelation in relation to the rest of the plot, and wasn't expecting most readers to be surprised by it at all. The real question is, do the characters have good reason to be surprised? Are their reactions believable and satisfying, and do they contribute to the advancement of the plot? If they do, then I'm inclined to give the author a free pass -- even if I feel a little disappointed that they didn't trick me into being surprised as well.

***

But what do you think? Am I right in thinking it unreasonable to expect every twist to be surprising to the reader, or am I setting my own expectations too low?

Or if you agree with most of what I've said, can you think of some other books, movies or TV shows where a particular big revelation wasn't a surprise to you, but you found it satisfying all the same? What about books that do have a genuinely shocking twist -- without spoiling, can you give some examples for those of us who like that kind of thing?

--
* Short for Main Character.

And hey, nobody got my Big Country allusion from yesterday? Probably because I misquoted the first line of the song (it's "This time" and not "Sometimes"). But still, YOU ALL FAIL MISERABLY. (And also, I want that girl's hair, in the video. So pretty.)
I've seen a couple of criticisms cropping up in reviews lately -- not reviews of my own books necessarily, but of some very fine books by other authors. They're often stated somewhat crankily, as though they are universal rules and every author worth her word count ought to know better than to flout them -- but as a matter of fact they are comparatively recent expectations, and not ones that every reader shares or, I think, even needs to.

The criticisms are, as follows:

1. The protagonist must drive the plot at all times;

and

2. Any development which is surprising to the characters must also be surprising to the reader.

Today I'm going to tackle the first one.

Now, on the surface, insisting that the protagonist should incite the plot of the book or at least keep pushing it forward sounds like a solid fictional principle. After all, nobody wants a book where nothing happens, and nobody wants to read about a main character who never does anything. If a particular protagonist never grows or changes or becomes stronger or takes decisive action, one may be tempted to wonder why the author bothered to write a book about them at all (and this is certainly a fault which dooms many an unpublished manuscript).

But I am not talking about books so obviously flawed as all that. What puzzles and annoys me is that I've seen the "protagonist isn't doing enough" charge leveled against books which I really don't think deserve it. To use one specific example, I've seen a couple of reviews of Erin Bow's lovely, haunting, utterly unforgettable upper MG / lower YA novel Plain Kate which accuse Kate of not driving the plot enough -- that too many things happen to Kate rather than being initiated by her.

Now to me, this is just mindboggling, because Kate has a quiet strength and determination which is very evident from the beginning of the novel. She is not spineless or soppy or whiny; she suffers greatly and experiences deep sorrows, but she also displays great courage. And if Kate were what these critics seem to want her to be -- a feisty take-charge type who sets off into the world to have a great adventure -- then Plain Kate would be a very different story, and not nearly so emotionally affecting as it is.

Yes, we all enjoy reading about larger-than-life characters who do extraordinary things. But people like that are only a small part of any world's population, and most of us readers aren't like that ourselves. Very few of us get to be constantly in charge of our lives or otherwise making things happen; instead we spend most of our lives reacting to what others do around us, or to us. And when we face obstacles and challenges, we don't all leap at them with drawn swords and hack until the walls come down. Sometimes we run. Sometimes we hide.* Sometimes we're too busy reeling in shock to do anything for a while.

To me, as long as an MC keeps responding to the things that happen to her in a way that I can understand and find at least a little sympathy with, and as long as the plot keeps moving forward to the next situation or circumstance, there's nothing wrong with her not being Miss Spunky Dynamic. In fact I find it easier to care about her and identify with her if she isn't, because that makes her seem more realistic to me.

Of course, at some point in the narrative the protagonist has to take some kind of deliberate action to face their fears or confront the villain or solve the mystery, or they aren't worthy of being the protagonist at all. When a character is completely passive and does nothing but cringe and moan about their hardships without attempting to resolve them in any way, they become contemptible to the reader.

But if the character reacts to a succession of difficulties by trying to make the best of them, or trying to escape them, they are taking action, even if it isn't a big showy action. We aren't all knights of Camelot setting out on quests, after all. Often we're more like Hansel and Gretel, abandoned in the woods and trying to find our way home. And I think we need both kinds of stories -- and both kinds of protagonists -- to remind us of that.

Now, having shot off my own mouth on the subject, I'm interested to know what you folks think. Can you tell me about books you've enjoyed where the MC is more of an observer or reactor than a take-charge type? (I'll give you one: Alice in Wonderland.) Or do you have a different perspective on this subject that I might not have acknowledged here? Let me know in the comments.

And tomorrow I'll tackle #2, about surprising the characters vs. surprising the reader, and whether the two always have to be the same thing.

--
* Sometimes we draw on all the fire we have inside. (And +100 points to anybody who gets that reference WITHOUT googling.)
I'm over at [livejournal.com profile] newport2newport's journal today, talking about The Intersection of Faith and Fantasy along with my good friend and fellow 2009 Deb Saundra Mitchell a.k.a. [livejournal.com profile] anywherebeyond.

If you're interested in how two YA authors choose to approach matters of faith and spirituality in their novels, or have some thoughts of your own to contribute about the subject, come on over and join us!
First, let's watch a video. No worries, it's short. If you haven't seen it before, trust me, it's well worth watching; and even if you have seen it, I think it's worth watching again.



Right. Is your mind officially blown? I know mine was, when I first saw this and realized just how unimaginably huge VV Cephei is compared to… well, basically everything else in the clip, and yet how that single star is only one among countless others in this vast universe. I mean, space is big. Really big (thank you, Douglas Adams).

Which leads me to another video narrated by Carl Sagan entitled "Pale Blue Dot", which many have found to be similarly astounding and moving:



(Or if you're tired of watching videos you can just read the text of the monologue instead.)

What interests me about Sagan's monologue is that so much of it is undeniably true – and yet there's one crucial point on which I would have to disagree. Sagan, as many others have done before and after him, looks at the sheer inconceivable size and scope of the universe and comes to the conclusion that it is simply too big, and we are simply too small by comparison, for us to believe that our lives have any higher purpose, or that there is a God who cares about us.

To which I say, wait, what?

Further thoughts... )

So while I view the video about the relative size of stars with open-mouthed awe and a chill running up my spine at the unbelievable immensity of it all, and while I am also moved by Carl Sagan's appeal for human beings to be good to each other because our world is so tiny and so alone, I can't mistake either of these things as evidence that there is no God, or that God is too big to be bothered with the needs and struggles of puny human beings.

Rather, I believe that because God is so great – so vast and complex indeed that the size of the universe is just a tiny picture of His greatness – He is also infinitely capable of noticing and caring about you and me, far more than we humans are capable of noticing and caring for even the people we love best in the world.

Which means I can watch those videos about the immensity of the universe and the apparent insignificance of the Earth and humanity in the cosmic scheme of things, and then, with no sense of irony or self-contradiction, I can tuck my children into bed and sing to them:

Jesus loves me, this I know,
For the Bible tells me so;
Little ones to Him belong,
They are weak, and He is strong.

Amen.


Recent discussions and debates generated by RaceFail '09 and its most recent iteration of Mammothfail have got me thinking a lot about my own mistakes and carelessness when it comes to trying to understand, and be responsible about, issues of race (as an author of fantasy and science fiction, that is).

I want to be careful about writing this post because it's easy to get derailed into "Why you should feel sorry for me because I'm white and dealing with racial issues is so haaaard" or "So this is why you people of color need to cut us white folks more slack," both of which are, not to put too fine a point on it, crap. Nor is this post about me patting myself on the back for not being like Those Other White People Who Don't Get It, because even now I am one of those White People Who Don't Get It and to some extent always will be.

What I mean by that is, I frankly have no idea what it's like to be discriminated against, patronized, and thoughtlessly left out or even downright negated on account of my skin color and cultural background. I can try to imagine what that would feel like, but imagination is all I've got – with all the errors and omissions that kind of guesswork inevitably implies. I still have a lot of reading and thinking and most importantly listening to do before I can even begin to appreciate where all my blind spots and thoughtless prejudices are, let alone how to address them and make them right.

So I will just say this.

My thoughts on THIRTEENTH CHILD, authorial decisions, inclusiveness, and writing race )

I am no expert on racial issues, as many people who know me could tell you. I've only recently started thinking seriously about these things, and I've said stupid things in the past, and my first novel is full of whiter-than-white characters. I am in no way trying to set myself up as an authority here: that's not what this post is about.

But I am grateful to the fans of color who have spoken out about their reading experiences and the problems they've seen in the F&SF books they love, and called out us privileged white authors on our careless bigotry, and challenged us to be mindful of what we're doing, and listen to other voices besides our own, and apologize when we've screwed up, and resolve to do better in future (or at least not make the same mistake twice).

It's a challenge we authors have been given, and a humbling one. But it's a challenge I want to rise to, and I am trying to do so, one small (perhaps too small, but still better than nothing, I hope) step at a time. And I know other white authors who've followed RaceFail '09 and felt similarly challenged to include more racial and cultural diversity in their writing, as well as reading more books by authors of color and including more fans of color on their friends list. So even though the debate was very painful and frustrating for many of the people involved, good things have come out of it as well.

I hope the same can be said of Mammothfail, in the end.

--
* I did wonder a little whether those characters might fall into the "magical negro" category (not so much by virtue of them being literally magical, because that seemed to me a positive thing, but because they are both involved in educating and advising the white heroine as their primary function in the narrative). I am still undecided on this point, but anyway they're two of my favorite characters in the book.

** Though not so much the apparent belief that those were the only two options.
I'm still alive! I'm feeling quite happy! I think I'll take a walk!

Seriously, though, I am still working hard on revisions, but you can find me as today's guest blogger over at Booklover Carol:

R.J. Anderson on "Writers as Readers"

Feel free to drop by and leave your thoughts about books that have influenced you in the comments!
It seems to me that for most people nowadays, servant is a dirty word. We tend to think of it as a synonym for slave, associating it with drudgery, dependence, and bondage. Oh, sure, we may have to work for a living, we may have other people telling us what to do, but still we're employees, or contractors, or caregivers – definitely not servants.

Stylized drawing of a maid on a WPA poster.Image via Wikipedia


In a way this is understandable, because it conflicts with our ideal of personal freedom – the ability to say proudly along with the poet, "I am the master of my destiny / I am the captain of my soul." We resent any system or belief that threatens to constrain us, and we admire those who cast aside tradition and break conventions in pursuit of their individual passions and dreams. There's something exhilarating to many of us about a heroine whose inner blaze of self-will cannot be quelled by duty, or guilt, or even love – or so it would seem judging by some of the popular books I've read in the past year or so.

Nevertheless I'd like to suggest, with all respect to the talented authors of those books, that this view is wrong.

There's a difference between a servant, a slave and a doormat... )

I'm all in favor of delivering people from slavery, and I don't think there's anything good about being a doormat. To be forced into servitude is a horrible thing, and it can be just as terrible to be enslaved by the fear of others. There's also a tragedy in selflessly but ignorantly giving your life to the service of the wrong master, as Kazuo Ishiguro's brilliant novel The Remains of the Day illustrates.

But willing, principled, intelligent servanthood, given out of love and as a free choice, is a very different and much more positive thing. And personally, I would like to see more stories that acknowledge and even celebrate this kind of servanthood, and fewer that seem to disparage it.
In a recent post [livejournal.com profile] carrie_ryan commented on an article suggesting that several newly purchased copies of Stephanie Meyer's Breaking Dawn had been withheld from shelving at a junior high library in Utah because of one parent's complaint about the book's content. The objectionable content: "a honeymoon scene in which sex is implied".

This led to a discussion on the tendency of conservative religious parents to challenge books which contain sexual references and content (even, in this case, when the sex occurs within the bounds of marriage), while rarely or never objecting publicly to books which contain violence and gore. Many of the commenters felt that this was a bizarre and worrying double standard. As [livejournal.com profile] anywherebeyond remarked:

I think it's time we quit acting like hysterical ninnies about teen sex and start taking a hard look at teen violence. I don't think a book should be challenged for EITHER reason, but it makes me crazy that people think nothing of the 1500 people who die at the end of Titanic, but hesitate because Leo and Kate might get hazily busy before the ship sinks. It's absurd.

And if that's what's really going on here -- that conservative parents are so blindly focused on keeping any sexual content away from their children that they are giving violence and other serious issues a free pass -- then I agree, that's not right. On reflection, however, I had some different thoughts.

I believe that what's really at stake here is not the kind of behaviour the conservative parents involved approve or disapprove, but the behaviour they are most concerned their children will emulate -- and particularly, the way in which the books being challenged seem (to them) to encourage or feed into that behaviour. As I remarked in comments:

...The reason conservative parents tend to challenge books for sex more than for violence is that by and large, they don't see teen violence as being nearly so widespread a problem and nearly such a threat to their children as teen sex is. Especially where girls -- girls who may become pregnant and be left with a baby to care for, or else choose abortion and thus (in the eyes of many conservative parents) be guilty of murder -- are concerned.

I don't think that many conservative mothers of teen girls are worried about their daughters being mauled from the inside out by their own half-vampire babies [i.e. as in Breaking Dawn], however distasteful they might find the concept in fictional form. Ditto for most other fictional violence, which they don't expect their teens are going to want to emulate, or even be able to (to borrow Saundra's example, how do you reenact the sinking of the Titanic?).

But anything too sensuous, that might get their sons and daughters sexually worked up and tempt them to become sexually active before they're ready for it -- that is a serious concern.

It may seem ridiculous for a parent to object to the off-stage sexual content in Breaking Dawn when that activity is taking place within the bonds of marriage -- after all, aren't conservative parents hoping for that very thing, that their children will wait to get married before having sex? But while I'm not in a position to read the mind of the parent making the complaint, I can imagine where she (I'm pretty sure it's a she) is coming from. The point is not that sex within marriage is morally objectionable, or even that it should never be mentioned or implied in any books whatsoever -- but that to put into the hands of a junior high reader a book where sexual activity is being presented in an enticing way is, to the mind of this parent, potentially dangerous to their child's sexual self-control.

I've used this example before, but I think it's a good one -- if you have a friend who is trying to lose weight, and you believe that she really needs to lose that weight for the good of her health, you're not going to give her a copy of 101 Gloriously Decadent Chocolate Desserts (lavishly illustrated with full-color photos) for her next birthday. It's not that you think chocolate is bad, or even that she won't be able to eat chocolate and enjoy it in moderation one day, but that at this point in her life it would be a bad idea to expose her to something that's going to make her want to make a chocolate cake and eat it immediately. And that kind of concern, I think, is really what's in the minds of many conservative parents when they challenge books that would otherwise be freely available to their children.

Nevertheless, having said that, I don't believe that banning books is the answer. Obviously if you're going to have a school library aimed at a certain age group, you're going to have to pick and choose what books you feel are appropriate for that library, and community standards are going to be part of making that decision. But for a parent to rise up and insist that all copies of a certain book be removed from the shelves, because it contains something that you personally see as problematic (even though few if any people agree with you) -- then you're stepping beyond your authority as a parent and as a member of the community.

The sane and measured response to a book you are concerned about your teen or pre-teen reading is to be aware of what's really out there, and prepared to discuss it with your child in the context of your own family and in accordance with your own convictions. In some cases that may amount to "Yes, you may read Book X, but I'd like to talk to you about some of the content afterward," and in others it may go as far as "I feel that Book X is not appropriate for you at this point, so I'm asking you to respect my wishes that you not read it." But I do not believe it should ever amount to, "I'm going to insist that nobody in my community be allowed to read Book X, regardless of whether they share my religious beliefs and moral convictions or not."

I believe in right and wrong -- in the absolute sense. I do believe that certain descriptive content in books, certain philosophies which those books may express, are objectively morally wrong and may damage the minds of those who read them. Nevertheless, I don't believe there's any merit in forcing people to do what you believe is right by taking away their ability to choose otherwise. If God Himself respects free will, so should we.

And that's why, even as a conservative evangelical Christian, I don't believe in this kind of censorship.
[livejournal.com profile] shvetufae was kind enough to invite me to take part in her annual Three Days of Fey celebration. [livejournal.com profile] lisamantchev's delightful entry on Monday was a hard act to follow, and I suspect that [livejournal.com profile] janni's entry on Friday will be equally splendid in its own way. But here I am, nonetheless:

The Beautiful Other: or, Why I Write About Faeries.

Hope you enjoy it!
Having spent the last couple of days feeling horribly guilty for not writing 1000 words a day on my latest WiP and even more guilty for spending time reading books, doing housework and hanging around on the Internet instead, I think Cory Doctorow's latest column for Locus may just have saved my sanity.

It's amazing to me how I can keep learning the same hard lessons, and keep forgetting them and having to relearn them, on a regular basis...
We woke this morning to a tranquil-looking world lightly blanketed in snow. There seemed no reason that this Sunday shouldn't be just as busy as I'd anticipated – rush out the door by nine, drive out of town to our little country chapel for nine-thirty, and then a whirlwind of meetings, piano playing, rehearsing and preparing for the evening's Christmas pageant. After setting up the stage with props and scenery we'd dash home for a late lunch with kids who would undoubtedly be cranky and restless by then, and then rush out again at five for the dress rehearsal and final performance. My husband and I often find Sundays hectic anyway; this one was bound to be exceptionally so.

But then the phone rang. It was one of the elders, telling us that due to blowing snow and poor visibility on the highways, the morning meetings at our chapel would be cancelled.

I knew that if I were a really spiritual person I would feel disappointed, but all I could feel was relief. No panic to get out of the house, no expectations, no programs. Just a relaxing day at home.

My father, however, is a godly man with a much better sense that "what is essential is invisible to the eye," as Saint-Exupery put it. He immediately picked up the phone and started calling all the chapel folks who live in our town, inviting them to come and meet together at our house. So my mother and my visiting sister-in-law and I bustled around preparing tea and coffee (but that was easy because I was working in my own kitchen), and making up platters of Christmas cookies and other snacks to share with our friends. And at ten-thirty this morning, twenty people – men and women, teens and young children – gathered in our living room, opened up Bibles and hymn books, and had an impromptu service.

It was simple. It was meaningful. It was relaxed. And afterward we all stood around and enjoyed food and conversation while the kids played together. Nobody was stressed out or in a hurry.

It was really, really nice.

So why don't we do this all the time? )

Modern Christians often assume that we are better off than the early Christians were because we can meet without fear of persecution, and make our buildings as large and splendid as we like. But I'm not sure that in separating our church meetings from the homes where we live our daily lives, what we've lost isn't greater than what we've gained.
--

* Not my church, by the way -- just one I photographed while in Wales.
** "…the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, the Breaking of Bread and prayers" – Acts 2:42
Shannon Hale has just written the most insightful and accurate description of what high school and college reading lists do to many passionate young readers that I've ever read. Her experience mirrors my own in many ways, on the high school side at least:

How Reader Girl Got Her Groove Back


But how about you lot on my f-list? Do you find that the books you were made to read in high school and the way your teachers approached them whetted your appetite for reading and literature, or stifled it?

ETA: As is her gift, [livejournal.com profile] sartorias has linked to the same essay with much more thoughtful comments and a more interesting topic of discussion. I'll just send you over there, shall I?
I love that people are still weighing in with comments on my Problem of Susan essay over three years after it was written. Warms the cockles of my heart, it does.

But although the post has generated a great many thoughtful remarks from readers on both sides, it took a quasi-anonymous comment from someone called "Nj_Librarian" today to bring out a point I've never seen made before:

SPOILERS for C.S. Lewis's 'The Last Battle' )

I can't believe this hadn't occurred to me (or, apparently, anyone else on the thread), but I'm very glad it's been pointed out now. Thank you, Nj_Librarian, whoever you are.
[livejournal.com profile] jenlynb, who knows whereof she speaks, has written an absolutely splendid post about why YA books are awesome, and why having a YA category in the bookstore is useful and worthwhile regardless of what age you are as a reader. I heartily agree.

Though I'd extend that to MG too, of course (says the woman who is currently in the middle of reading Starcross, and still giggling over Philip Reeve's description of the planet "Abnegation, which was woven out of brown string by Presbyterians").
[livejournal.com profile] msagara writes a spot-on comparison of how being a mother is like being a writer.

Happy Mother's Day to all my friends who mother, or write, or both.
Got this link from [livejournal.com profile] wittingshire a couple of weeks ago, and thought it an essay worth recommending:

When Others Pray For Your Conversion

To take the ideas in that article a little further -- my brother recently remarked that evangelical Christianity, if it is truly evangelical, is not a fearsome enemy of non-believers but rather the best friend that (say) a secular liberal person could wish for. Because, he said, a Biblical approach to evangelism demands that the Christian maintain an open and respectful dialogue with non-believers -- and never treat them as a lost cause, or as the enemy.

The good news about Jesus Christ cannot be imposed or enforced, either on individuals or on nations; it has to be sincerely understood and received by individuals of their own free will and in response to the Holy Spirit of God working in their conscience -- things that no external influence can compel. Therefore any Christian who claims to be "winning souls" by means of threats or bullying tactics, making false promises or offering bribes, withholding sticky facts or suppressing honest questions, or otherwise distorting the Biblical message is disobeying Christ's teachings and example. Rather, the Christian is to share the message of salvation through Christ freely, but always to do so "with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience," as the apostle Peter wrote.

The danger that many secular liberals and other non-Christians fear arises when people who claim to be Christians behave in un-Christlike ways, attempting to force legalistic standards of righteousness on those who do not believe -- but a Christian who truly follows Christ's example and teaching will not side with such people, but rather against them.
If a godless totalitarian government ever takes over and forces us all to celebrate Take an Atheist to Lunch Day, I want dibs on Theodore Dalrymple. Mind you, that's assuming he's still available at that point, and not locked up as a traitor to the State.

Here's a sample from his recent essay on the books of Dawkins, Harris et al, "What the New Atheists Don’t See":

In The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins quotes with approval a new set of Ten Commandments for atheists, which he obtained from an atheist website, without considering odd the idea that atheists require commandments at all, let alone precisely ten of them; nor does their metaphysical status seem to worry him. The last of the atheist’s Ten Commandments ends with the following: “Question everything.” Everything? Including the need to question everything, and so on ad infinitum?

Not to belabor the point, but if I questioned whether George Washington died in 1799, I could spend a lifetime trying to prove it and find myself still, at the end of my efforts, having to make a leap, or perhaps several leaps, of faith in order to believe the rather banal fact that I had set out to prove. Metaphysics is like nature: though you throw it out with a pitchfork, yet it always returns. What is confounded here is surely the abstract right to question everything with the actual exercise of that right on all possible occasions. Anyone who did exercise his right on all possible occasions would wind up a short-lived fool.

And another, in response to Christopher Hitchens' assertion that "Religion spoils everything":

It is surely not news, except to someone so ignorant that he probably wouldn’t be interested in these books in the first place, that religious conflict has often been murderous and that religious people have committed hideous atrocities. But so have secularists and atheists, and though they have had less time to prove their mettle in this area, they have proved it amply. If religious belief is not synonymous with good behavior, neither is absence of belief, to put it mildly.

In fact, one can write the history of anything as a chronicle of crime and folly. Science and technology spoil everything: without trains and IG Farben, no Auschwitz; without transistor radios and mass-produced machetes, no Rwandan genocide. First you decide what you hate, and then you gather evidence for its hatefulness. Since man is a fallen creature (I use the term metaphorically rather than in its religious sense), there is always much to find.

There are plenty more gems in the essay, but to appreciate Dalrymple's honesty as well as his dry wit, you really need to read the whole thing.

Thanks to [livejournal.com profile] wittingshire for the tip.

YES.

Aug. 29th, 2007 05:03 pm
rj_anderson: (Rupert - Thoughtful)
Thanks to [livejournal.com profile] thegameiam for linking to a splendid essay by Dave Wolverton that explains the difference between literary and genre fiction, and reveals the little-known origins of the modern literary novel. It also does a very good job of explaining why I read very little so-called literary fiction, and don't feel a bit embarrassed about not writing it either:

On Writing as a Fantasist.
[livejournal.com profile] lydaclunas has written a truly excellent, well-reasoned and thought-provoking essay about adult virginity which I think deserves much more attention than it's received so far. Here's a brief excerpt:
Why do adult virgins get such a raw deal? Judging a person based on their status as a virgin is reducing them to but one experience (not even a character trait) -- one which (in my observation) has little bearing on personality. Though sex is an important part of life, with responsibility and consequences attached, I do not believe the choice not to have sex makes one any less a normal, well-adjusted human being in our society. In my opinion, that is comparable to saying that I am a different person because I have not had the common and important life experience of purchasing and owning my own home....
She makes a lot of other good points as well. Go over and have a look, won't you?

(And of course I had to use this icon.)
Amanda over at Wittingshire has a lovely post this morning, which comforted my heart and made me think of some of the people on my f-list who are going through struggles and uncertain times:
"God is good."

It's easiest to grasp that truth in retrospect, after the days of darkness, the nights of grief, the months and even years of waiting are over. Then we know: God is good all the time. All the time, God is good. Even then. Even now. Whether we understand what he's doing or not. ...

Waiting is not the same as wishing. Wishing is wistful; it might well go unfulfilled. But waiting implies a certainty: we wait for a bus, or for Christmas, or for lunch, only because we know it's coming.

And so even if we don't know exactly what it is for which we're waiting--and after all, the best presents are wrapped, are surprises--we can be confident that an end to our waiting will come, and it will be a good ending; for ultimately we are waiting on God. ...
You can find the whole post here.

Thanks to [livejournal.com profile] carbonelle for pointing to Wittingshire in her journal a few weeks ago -- I've subscribed to the feed and have been enjoying the posts ever since.

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