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On Loving the Work and Hating the Author

I'm sorry to have to be the one to tell you this, but you likely would not get along with most of your favorite writers. There is something in the need for solitude and seclusion, some inherent misanthropy that make people want to create their own worlds, that doesn't necessarily make for the best people. One could - and many have - delved into this dichotomy, so I won't dwell.

Instead, I will tell you what you need to hear and give you absolution in advance: It is fine to love a book (or album or painting) by someone whose personal politics, demeanor, aesthetic, or anything else annoys you. You can even the creation and still hate the creator (or vice versa).

I will use as example a popular punching bag on this topic: Orson Scott Card. I resisted reading Ender's Game for years. The outline described to me - hyper-intelligent grade schoolers learning to fight a war against space insects - sounded ridiculous and immature, as best representing why I avoid science fiction.

Then I succumbed and read it through. Yes, some of the dialogue is horrid, especially when it comes to Card imagining how such anomalies would insult one another (I believe they would choose acerbic allusions rather than a reliance on flatulence-based jibes). But it is hard not to fall in love with Valentine and Ender, not to feel genuinely compassionate for what he has to go through as the savior of mankind. By the end, even the hated Buggers against whom Ender fights cease to be stock bogeymen and are instead called sisters to mankind. In further books in the series - which I cannot in good conscience recommend but feel the need to mention for point of fact - even aliens called Piggies and their elder trees are treated with love and reverence.

So, years ago, when I found out that Orson Scott Card is a fervent and even proud homophobe, I was taken aback. I am supposed to empathize with anything on the upper end of Demosthenes's Hierarchy of Exclusion, anything with whom communication is possible or anything that isn't a slavering monster, but Card can't regard a gay man as worthy of respect because he is in love with another man? In fact - and this is a direct quote from here - he goes so far as to say that states allowing gay marriage "marks the end of democracy in America." (In the same article, he also creates the fiction that doctors are killing baby mid-birth in excessively late term abortions, mixing together slanderous hyperbole and one of the weakest slippery slope arguments I recall having ever seen, then later conflates "marriage" with "property rights" in a way that cannot help by vex feminists. Really, read the article. It is painful how bad Card is at avoiding logical fallacies.) To Card, people I love are suffering from "tragic genetic mixups" (or, perhaps, that is what they are). The only solution he sees is completely overthrowing the government to create one that agrees only with his definition of marriage. This is very likely to be a Mormon theocracy.

His demagoguery more suited to the initial fictional incarnation of Demosthenes, his belief that he is entitled to legislate away the civil rights of a group with whom he disagrees on the basis of his religion, marks him as someone I would not care to know. Yet he wrote a book I enjoy, one I have read to students. One, frankly, that I will continue to enjoy, if a bit wryly when his characters are preaching tolerance I know Card does not personally believe. (I will also note, purely as literary criticism, how often he feels the need to describe naked, young boys and how he opts to name the enemies "Buggers".)

As I see it, once the work is created, it belongs to the author only so far as copyright is concerned. What a book means to the reader is not something an author is allowed to decide. I have not read anything from Card dictating what morals to take from his book (though he may be tacky enough to comment on, apologize for, and review his novel on the Amazon page if that review is truly him) and I would hope he would not feel the need to be so pedantic. Despite the fact that he has employed retroactive continuity in his stories, rewriting in one book what had already happened in a prior one, he cannot change how I regarded the novel the first time I read it.

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings.

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