I've had this post knocking around my head since Monday, when I first read that toxic YA twitter drama article. I've been thinking about how I would delicately state my opinion that every book should be read before it be judged, that fiction is a mirror to life, and how life has its ugliness and is not a bubble of protection from things we don't like, don't feel comfortable with, and don't agree with (just look at our current political climate).
I've thought about how to assert the fight against institutionalized racism, ableism, and homophobia that The Black Witch allegedly represents while also defending a fiction author's right to pen her world as she sees fit, through a fictional perspective she saw appropriate, no matter how rooted in a real world view it was.
How does one say fiction is important, fiction mirrors the real world, but also, fiction is fiction?
While fiction itself can be uncomplicated, its themes and portrayals often laid bare, interpretations of fiction are complex, subjective, and as many in number as there are people who read it (or who haven't, in this case).
Good fiction should challenge its readership, ask them questions, and confront them with ugly truths. It's great that passionate people rally behind or against a book's themes, sparking discussions about fiction's very real effects on people. What is worrisome however, is when these discussions turn to calling for the mass panning of, denouncement of, and censorship of a book, drawing a line for what they think should and should not be allowed within fiction.
As an author myself, and as someone who grew up reading a number of problematic books, some even school-assigned, I believe that everything should be fair game in fiction.
I won't talk about The Black Witch specifically, as I haven't read it yet and don't want to presume too much based on articles and out-of-context quotes, but regardless of what this book does or doesn't do, my opinion is unchanged: fiction should be free to tell stories, even if those stories are about things that make us uncomfortable.
There are stories about child abuse, about alcoholics beating their spouses, about murderers and psychopaths and serial killers. There are stories that make us sympathize with these types of people. I recently read a book that contained a graphic rape scene - something I am incredibly uncomfortable with and fearful of - where the rapist felt justified raping a room full of young girls because of the atrocities those girls' fathers committed upon his people. I didn't like it. I was sickened by the justification and that a character I'd followed through hundreds of pages had to undergo the atrocity. But the book isn't endorsing rape. It isn't justifying rape. It's simply showing a character and saying look, in this fictional world - and maybe in ours - there are people like this, there are people who think like him one way or another, and look at the harm they do.
Fiction reflects the real world, and sometimes the real world isn't just. There are racists. There are sexists. There are bigots and animal abusers and rapists. Fiction is an exploration, and whether that fiction is about space wars, women gettin' it on with bears, or racism against werewolves, it should be allowed its freedom. Authors are not endorsing the acts of their fictional characters. They are telling stories, often about worlds as broken and unjust as ours.
That doesn't mean you have to like it. It doesn't mean you have to buy the book, nor recommend it to your friends. Criticize it if you've read it - that's your right as a consumer - but don't go after your peers for liking something you did not. Don't harass reviewers for having something positive to say. And certainly don't misconstrue the ugly part of the truth for being the whole truth in a piece of fiction.
I myself have not read The Black Witch, but just picked myself up a copy this morning. I'm not reading it to be defiant, or because I'm super excited to read a book about a racist character, but because no matter what side of the debate you fall on, this uproar is important. This piece of fiction is important. I'm looking forward to reading the book for myself and forming my own opinion on its themes.