Hallie O'Donovan hallieod at indigo.ie
Tue May 15 12:44:40 EDT 2007


>I also see the point about slavery, social values etc, but these books are
>fiction, not advocacy. I enjoy other books that include slaves such as I
>Claudius and Lindsey Davis' Falco mystery stories that are set in Rome
>around 50AD, but I am utterly and ineluctably opposed to slavery in real
>life, and so are other HP readers. And, to be fair to JKR, she also points
>out that house elves are enslaved and wizards treat other species very
>badly. (One thing she does very well is to depict moral ambiguities.
>Virtually every character and situation is drawn in shades of grey.)

Really don't want to contribute to a sense of got-at-ness HP fans may 
be feeling (though I have to say that almost everywhere aside from 
this list - and even here a few years ago - THE unacceptable position 
seems to be criticism of HP).  I can't imagine anyone thinking that 
fans are in any way advocating slavery, bullying about physical 
characteristics including overweight or anything of the sort.  But 
the problem with relating the Falco books and HP is that the former 
are historical fiction set in a time in which slavery did exist, 
while Rowling created the race of house elves who apparently are to 
an extent willing slaves.  (I say 'apparently' because I stopped 
reading after book 4 and my memory is fuzzy on lots of details.)

Charlie and I have been discussing the idea of authorial 
responsibility with respect to issues like this a lot lately.  I 
suppose the question at its most general might be whether or not it 
matters if a modern author of children's fiction allows some 
attitudes which are generally considered unacceptable to undercut or 
shadow the overtly presented, 'correct' views.  In the above example, 
the use of slavery is shown to be a bad thing, but the fact that many 
of the elves seem to be made more miserable by being freed undercuts 
that.  Intolerance of people with other ideologies from your own is 
generally accepted as another bad thing, but that message will be 
undercut if the bigot him- or her-self becomes inevitably associated 
with one large group.  (Not thinking of HP here, but, for example, 
the multitude of books with the bigot as 'a Christian', which is the 
most inevitable association these days.)

The question that might be tricky with a modern setting, becomes even 
more so when you consider historical fiction.  Can you present 
attitudes which may have been standard at the time but would now be 
considered intolerable bigotry or sexism or homophobia?  How can you 
write about a time in which those views would have been standard 
without either appearing to endorse them OR without indulging in the 
worst sort of anachronism?  Or if you try to avoid the problem 
altogether, does the conspicuous silence speak louder than dealing 
with it up-front?  And which is 'worse'?  Fiction of course implies 
something other than non-fiction, but surely doesn't remove the 
responsibility of the author to some kind of accuracy.


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