Over at Deep Genre, there was a discussion that started off talking about the film, The Golden Compass, but ended up much more interesting to my mind.
An author made this remark: “The book was morally manipulative to the 9th degree. I strongly disliked it, and it’s no surprise to me that the movie only make it worse.”
This comment niggled at me for some time. Now I can understand perfectly that some readers might not like the message of the books, and may heartily despise Pullman’s atheism, just as there are many who can’t stand C.S.Lewis’s brand of Christianity in the Narnia books, or even George Orwell’s politics in Animal Farm.
But morally manipulative??
Is an author morally manipulative when he or she writes a book that reflects their religious beliefs or philosophy of life? Was the commentator meaning “immorally manipulative” in that he was trying to get children to question their religious beliefs (if indeed, he was?)? If so, then was Lewis also morally manipulative when he tried to encourage children to be good little Christians? After all, that implies that he was also trying to manipulate Muslims/Buddhist/Jewish/atheist/etc/ kids away from their present religious persuasion!
I don’t know, but I thought the comment distinctly unfair. Just because an author holds a belief and writes stories on themes reminiscent of those beliefs does not mean that we have a right to condemn them as manipulative. Perhaps it would be more honest to say they are holding true to themselves.
(Anyway, I am more likely to criticise a writer when their themes/beliefs swamp the story in moralising, and you end up with self-righteous prose that is as tiring as it is ineffective.)
What do you think?