So I was rereading C.S. Lewis, the Perelandra series (those who know my preference for science fiction aren’t surprised). It wasn’t my idea, but was urged on me by a friend. I was disappointed all over again.
Why? Because Lewis used his opportunity as a stage from which to proselytize. He chose to write an allegory, similar to those written in the seventeenth century.
Which begs the question, Do we, as writers, have a right to use our fiction to further our agenda?
I don’t see that it’s possible not to. Writers, as all human beings, have their biases and beliefs. Some are strongly held, others merely flirted with. But when we are composing our fiction, it is difficult, if not impossible, to ignore those feelings.
In my novel several ideas (I hope) come through. One is that we must overcome our homophobia and accept all people as worthy of respect. Another is that global climate change is real and will have disastrous results in the future.
The most important, though, is that we are all connected. Everybody has a responsibility to all people on the planet, as well as to the planet itself. Any talent that one person has should be used for the benefit of all of us.
If I wrote a tract, a blog, a non-fiction piece advocating those ideas, it might be read by a few. It might affect a handful more. My hope is that, in writing it as fiction, it will have a broader impact. When we write fiction, we create characters that our readers will connect with. As they sympathize with our creations, they identify with them, and take their problems to heart.
As such, we have a greater influence on people than others. Therefore, we have a responsibility to be aware of the ideas we put forth in our work. I don’t mean to be moralistic. It’s not that we have to stick to the straight and narrow. However, we do have to be honest, to examine the subtext of our stories. And our readers have a responsibility to parse that subtext to decide whether they agree with it. Not ignore it because it’s difficult or inconvenient.
Reader and writer are collaborators in the fiction business. We dream up the stories and present them, along with our biases and beliefs. The reader opens himself to our creation, enters the world we have imagined for him. Together, reader and writer construct a world that was intended by neither one. Because, whether we writers want it or not, the reader changes the stories we write and comes away with ideas and feelings we didn’t intend.
So, the question returns. I believe that writers have a right, and a responsibility, to advocate for the issues we believe in. We just have to make sure that we acknowledge the issues. We have to be conscious of those drives.
We have a better soapbox. We should use it.