Truth and kindliness (was Re: DWJ in Israeli newspaper)

Ika blake at gaudaprime.co.uk
Tue Feb 17 08:00:59 EST 2004


Minnow wrote (in response to Melissa):

>>Another example of people glossing over the truth in order to stay safe.
>
> Truth may not always be the best thing, though.

<snip dilemma>

> Now, I would say that in this case "glossing over the truth" is not only a
> matter of "staying safe", it's a matter of not destroying three other
> people (more if there are siblings in the family).

<snip>

> So what good does not glossing over the truth do here, and to whom?  Is it
> better for the son, even if it destroys all his foundations?

All of which spun (in part) off this exchange between me and Ven:

> > I find
> > the confrontation... to be *much* more
> > comforting. But I can see that
> > the "covering-up", or the emotional distance,
> > could itself be comforting
>  > for some readers.
>
>
> I'm going to declare a personal interest in all
> this. While I certainly wouldn't win an unhappy
> childhood contest with  either Harry Potter or
> Cat Chant I did have an early brush with death.
> Worse than the incident itself for me was the
> cover up. I believe that when things finally came
> out into the open it was the best thing not only
> for me but the others involved.
> Hence I am entirely of the head on confrontation
> camp.

I've been thinking about this all morning (thanks! I like being on this
list!) and it strikes me that, of course, talking about 'honesty' in
relation to fiction brings an extra element into the mix. That is, the
first dilemma raised in the situation Minnow describes is 'to tell or not
to tell', but because it's taking place in the real world, the
consequences of the decision are out of anyone's control. However, to
readers of the dilemma as set out in the Independent, those consequences
are visible: we can speculate about what might or might not happen in such
a situation, given our knowledge of the world and human relationships,
etc.

In fiction, though, the consequences of a decision are up to the author:
you could write a book where the natural father revealed his identity and
all was hugs and smiles and "at last I have found my true self!" Or you
could write a book where the revelation irrevocably destroyed the lives of
everyone concerned. Either, as far as I'm concerned, would (probably) be
dishonest: people are more complicated than the first scenario, and less
fragile than the second, suggests. The fiction writer can obscure the
likelihood, even the *possibility*, of the potential consequences we're
speculating about in the case of the 'real-life dilemma'. So the readers -
unlike the characters, or the real-life protagonists in the dilemma Minnow
quotes - are aware of the situation, and have their ideas about what the
consequences might be, *outside* the framework the author sets up.

So... the feeling that an author is telling her readers the truth, rather
than a comforting lie, works differently - on a different level - from
Minnow's example. There is a place for authors telling comforting lies,
just as there are situations where telling the truth in real-life
situations isn't always for the best: but sometimes the "comforting lies"
of fiction are so at odds with one's own experience of the world that
they're not comforting at all, but become, in the extreme case, painful.
(That's the fundamental difference between DWJ and JKR for me.)

Going back to Minnow's example itself, though, I agree that in the real
world there are times when the truth isn't helpful, but I was thinking
about how truth/cover-up work in DWJ's fictional worlds, and actually it
struck me that the (more or less belated) revelation of some truth or
other is central to quite a lot of her books: the protagonist finds out
something about him or herself and comes to terms with it (Cat Chant,
Howard in the Goon, Polly in F&H...). I can't think of any instances where
one character withholds information from another in a way that the
narrative shows to be helpful/positive. I suppose it would have been
better for Kathleen in Dogsbody not to find out the truth at the end, but
she *does* find out... Is it a law of the DWJverse that The Truth Will
Out?

Love, Ika

PS: I have no idea if any of that made any sense. Sorry, if not.

-- 
"There are some bad people on the rise" - Moz
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