Hollywood has been swamped by allegations relating to sexual misconduct against immensely successful and popular actors and producers. Most recently, Harvey Weinstein, the famed film producer who founded The Weinstein Company, has been convicted of two out of five charges of rape and sexual assault in New York. A question has arisen of how to feel about beloved movies he has produced such as “Pulp Fiction,” “Inglorious Basterds” and the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy.
It’s fairly simple to remove a film producer from the work, as the producer did not write the film or star in it. One media incredibly hard to disconnect from its creator is literature.
Literature is not devoid of scandals. Lewis Caroll, author of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” took naked pictures of underage girls. Carroll also allegedly wanted to marry Alice Liddell, the 11-year-old girl whom he based his novel on.
At best, Carroll just used the name of Liddell in writing his story. At worst, he lived out a sort of deranged fantasy by writing about her.
One of my favorite authors is H.P. Lovecraft. Despite his strong command of prose and the defining of the genre of cosmic horror, he was so racist that even his peers in the 1920s said, “Yikes.”
Lovecraft painted any character who was not white in a negative light. It was always the African Americans, although sometimes Mexicans or Native Americans, that worship the evil gods and take part in heinous rituals and general chaos.
The first thing you learn in English classes is to separate the author from the work they create. This can be difficult as authors often pour themselves into their stories. Shirley Dent, a writer for the Guardian, had much to say on the topic:
“Great artists are great artists because of their talent, because, put simply, they are better writers than the rest of us. This talent is distinct from any disturbed state of mind,” Dent said.
This is something that we can apply to Carroll. I was purposefully reaching when I made my earlier accusations to make a point.
Where in “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” do you see the main character sexualized? Nowhere.
Is Carroll a sick person? Absolutely, I will never defend him. I will, however, defend the story.
The story itself is simply that, a good story. We have to separate Carroll himself from the writing in order to appreciate it best. If not, our mind is sullied and we lose sight of what is really a beautiful work of fiction.
Now, I do not think this can be done with Lovecraft. The racism, even taking him out of the picture, is obvious.
A new tactic was created to deal with Lovecraft’s writings; Writers attack it from the inside.
One of the best examples of this is Victor LaValle’s “The Ballad of Black Tom.” LaValle is an African American man with a strained relationship with Lovecraft’s work, which is shown in the book’s dedication.
“To H.P. Lovecraft, with all my conflicted feelings,” LaValle wrote.
LaValle then proceeds to take another one of Lovecraft’s more racist stories and turn it on its head. I don’t want to give away how because it is beautifully executed.
While readers like myself are left with a love-hate relationship with problematic writers and their works, it is up to us to enjoy our beloved books for what they are and avoid falling into that rabbit hole.