So you remember how last week I kept wanting to blog about something, but could never remember what that something was (because I'm gifted that way)? Well, I've finally found the time, the words, and actually remembered! Now, hold on to your hats, people. This will be a rant.
A few weeks ago, I posted THIS article on my Facebook page regarding a certain writer, Veronica Roth, and the ending of her Divergent series. For those of you who don't know what the fuss was about, it goes a little something like this:
Right, well, at the end of the series (the whole of which had seriously romantic overtones, I understand) she kills off her main character, leaving the romantic interest all alone forever and ever amen.
Her fan base exploded, spewing all manner of vitriol at her. Some of it was the stuff one might expect. Things along the lines of 'OMG, this was so depressing. I want to curl up and cry forever now' (I'm paraphrasing). You know, the normal grief that readers go through when a beloved character passes into the literary beyond. I have grieved for such characters myself (looking at you, David Eddings. SPOILER ALERT: I still cry about Kurik. Seriously. That was an iced blade right in the feels).
Some of the stuff, however, were threats; promises of bodily harm and promises to do everything in the readers' power to destroy Ms. Roth's career.
It got so bad that author John Green (whom I adore, if you must know) weighed in on the raging twitter fire storm, saying things like:
"As a reader, I don't feel a story has an obligation to make me happy. I want stories to show me a bigger world than the one I know."
"Basically, I would argue that books are not primarily in the wish fulfilment business. Okay. Rant over."
Incidentally, a reader wrote a blog post HERE about how John Green was wrong, noting:
"You don’t get to build up the promotional machine and pat all these passionate fans on the back for their grass roots support and then slap them in the face with criticism when they aren't loving all the decisions made by the author."
Um, yes. Yes, you do. But more on that later.
Ms. Roth is not the only author to receive threats. Charlaine Harris, author of the Sookie Stackhouse series (you know, the series that served as the base for the television series True Blood). When an early copy of the book was leaked online by a German fan, Ms. Harris ended up getting all kinds of seriously mess-up shit. There was the usual milder stuff like, 'I can't believe the author would do that! That sucks!' (paraphrasing again) to threats of suicide and death threats. You can read all about these treats (sarcasm is not a typo) right HERE if you feel like you absolutely must.
As a writer who simply does not write happy tales (Ethan Cadfael: The Battle Prince is an exception, and even then, people die and friends part ways), I do have a vested interest. In my defence, none of the endings I've written were a conscious choice I've made. I've written about this before, but in all honesty, the way my imagination works is as if the ghost of the protagonist came to me in a dream, introduced themselves and then said, "And this is how I died." Which I then relate to you good folk in prose.
Don't say I didn't warn you.
But I'm putting away my writerly hat for this. Today, I am donning the robes of a reader; a very, very grateful reader. And to those readers who somehow feel entitled enough to dictate a story to its creator to the point of personal threats when the author deviates....
The fuck, people? Just whose story is this, anyway?
I get it. People are invested. I, as a reader, tend to get very invested in the books I read (provided that they're well written. Poorly written books also give me a visceral reaction, but it's usually gagging). When the aforementioned Kurik was killed in the final book of The Ellenium series by David Eddings, the first thing I did was shut the book, walk from my bedroom to my mother (who was sitting in the living room), and cry on her shoulder for a good five minutes. This is absolute fact. I mourned the death of that character for weeks and weeks. It took about three weeks before I was ready to return to Sparkhawk's world now that it was devoid of Kurik. When I cracked open that book again to continue reading, I did so through bitter, bitter tears. I was twelve or thirteen at the time. I'm tearing up a bit now just thinking about it (not even joking)!
Even still, I genuinely don't understand where this reader entitlement is coming from. The Ellenium was not my story. I was reading a fantastic series about amazing people and riding along with them like an invisible shadow; experiencing all they did, but unable to affect any of it. Did I wish that Kurik didn't die? You bet your arse! I still wish to this day that he lived on, forever snarking about how idiotic the nobility are. That didn't happen, and I'm going to have to live with it.
I suppose it's largely because I absolutely agree with John Green and, without knowing it (I only discovered Mr. Green a year or two ago), always have. Books to me are invaluable treasures. They are looking-glasses into other worlds, other times, other modes of being. They exist to expand my horizons, challenge my courage, teach, comfort and chide. I can engage in battle with vicious denizens of Hell, sail the high seas, ride the clouds, fall from the sky, swim in the darkest ocean, walk through fire all from the safety of my bed. Wrapped warmly in blankets and with a comforting hot cup of tea (or a large glass of heady red wine, depending on my mood), I can bravely march through the wilderness in hail and sleet towards untold terrors.
Books have been my greatest teachers. They have taught me empathy. They have shown me that what is right is often not easy. From an early age, I knew the value of courage, that courage is not bravado and that even the most insignificant creature in the world can become a hero if they have true courage. Books have taught me about grief, and hopelessness, and despair, and that I can get through it all to see brighter days.
I treasure books for this reason (and a wee bit of much-needed escapism, but that's beside the point). I was never under the delusion that I had any control over what happens in these books. That was never for me to decide, which is another important lesson books taught me; sometimes some things are out of your control and it sucks giant hairy balls.... but you will survive it.
If a book affects you deeply, you have in your hands a good book. Whether it makes you laugh or cry or rage, you have experienced something profound from the safety of your seat. This is a rare privilege, denied to many, for which you should be extremely grateful. If you are so involved in a story that you can call yourself a super-fan, then the author has done something right.
But being a super-fan entitles you only to your fandom, not the story itself. Divergence is not your story. It is Tris' story. Sookie Stackhouse belongs only to Sookie Stackhouse. It is her tale. The Ellenium is Sparhawk's story. None of these stories are yours. They may not end the way you might like. Fairytale endings they are not. And you should grieve! You should rage against the unjustness of the world these characters you loved inhabited. But you should also understand that you did not make this world. You were granted entry into it; a peek at something wondrous you would otherwise never have known.
So, perhaps, instead of threatening the authors of these amazing wonders that you were lucky enough to experience, you might, instead, consider expressing gratitude... you know, once you've stopped balling your eyes out.
Damn it, Kurik...