Note: I will say a few things in this article with which you may disagree. If at any time your feelings are hurt by anything I say, feel free to click the red “x” box in the top right of your browser. It will make the offending text go away. Thank you.
Well. So far, the twenty-first century has been a remarkable one. We have witnessed the rise of stupidity on a level rarely seen since the days of the Roman Empire. We have seen the downfall of common sense as proved by this court case and mindless outrage as in this story, and soon we may even see a megalomaniac elected as the primary leader of our nation. To quote Emily Dickinson, “Much madness is divinest sense.”
But this lack of circumspection isn’t limited to the stage of politics. No, fellow writers, we have officially seen the downfall of platonism in fiction. Allow me to prove it. I just did a quick Bing search for keywords “frodo and sam,” and six out of fourteen links had to do with whether their friendship was more than a friendship.
Six out of fourteen.
Okay, people. Anybody who knows the first thing about Tolkien knows that he would stand staunchly against homosexuality and other such unnatural relationships. Tolkien was a boldly conservative Roman Catholic with strong evangelical ideas that he didn’t hush up. If he really would go so far as to deny everything the Bible and the contemporary English culture said about homosexuality, he would have shouted his opinion from the rooftops of Rohan and Gondor. Believe me, if any of his characters was gay, it would be obvious, as in the case of Baron Harkonnen in Frank Herbert’s Dune. (If you don’t believe that, go re-read the chapter where he made a woman defeat the witch-king.) No way around it; Frodo and Sam were friends and nothing more.
Quick definition: friends (frendz)- people who show loyalty to each other on the basis of mutual affection.
At this point, a lot of readers may claim that it was the fault of Tolkien and other authors for not being clear enough about the difference between agape, philos, and eros in their fiction. They might even cite a prestigious quote like this one:
Don’t write simply to be understood. Write so that you cannot possibly be misunderstood. -Robert Louis Stevenson
But these people are again reading themselves into the text. While Stevenson does make a good point about how writers should be able to write properly, we should never take this guideline out of context. He was referring to word choice- choose a strong, vivid word over a vague, passive one that leaves people bewildered. He was not talking about illiteracy that supports certain lifestyle choices. The person who would twist Stevenson’s words to that extent has no right to call him/herself a reader.
Even if Tolkien had failed to spell out the most important concepts in his books (which is an utterly outlandish claim), it is the fault of the reader, not the writer, for reading a bias into the story. No author can possibly anticipate and dispel every single lie that might be perpetrated about their work. It is the author’s job to write well and expect that readers will read well.
Yet people often don’t allow themselves to understand. If they want to believe something, they will believe it, even if it means ignoring the truth. Think about it: conservationists could always say that “The Mark on the Wall” is a satirical censure of graffiti and other defacing of natural landmarks, or abortionists can insist that “A Modest Proposal” was meant to be taken literally. Frankly, I’m surprised that nobody has tried either of those approaches yet. But none of these claims actually makes it the truth; indeed, anyone with basic comprehension skills can understand that the authors had no such intent in mind.
I may make jokes about how I’m afraid that people will ship my characters, but that is true to some extent. I am honestly nervous about any of my books becoming popular because I don’t want to think about the day when readers insist that the relationship between Elkay and Ramilon was anything but platonic. I never intended it to be more than a friendship, but some people will always try to twist my words. And that is not fair.
At the end of the day, I am calling everyone out- myself included. Don’t read yourself or your opinions into a book that is talking about something completely different. I promised myself a long time ago that I would not juxtapose Christianity, pro-life, or any of my other beliefs into a book written to support other ideas, and I know that everyone would certainly support that commitment. Well, they must get rid of the double standard, and keep their ideas out of my book. If someone really need to find support for one’s choices in a fictional work, they ought to go find someone who writes pro-gay fiction. But never come whining to me or to Tolkien for it.
No matter what our worldviews, I think that we can agree this far: we all should be able to say what we like without readers twisting our words. Read what the author wrote, not what you want to hear. And if no author has yet written what you want to read… then just write it yourself.
Have you seen the downfall of platonic reading? Why do you think it is happening? Can we writers stop it?