Saturday, May 26, 2007

On Authorial Worldviews in Literature

Let's stay with the literary topic, shall we?

I've just finished reading a novel called King of the Vagabonds, by Neal Stephenson. I liked it well enough. A rousing, rip-roaring kind of tale. Audacious story-telling. It all takes place in late seventeenth-century Europe and seems to encompass every major person and event that happened during that time. The main character is a likable rogue, and one with an interesting "interior life" as well. It's the second book in a series (hey, wasn't I ripping series novels in yesterday's post?) and I'll definitely move on to the next book.

But there were also things I didn't like about this novel, and that's got me thinking. Some of the things I didn't like have to do with the tone of extreme irony throughout the book, and occasional passages that are "on beyond vulgar." One of the things I find myself looking for in a novel is an authorial worldview that is marked by humility and love. An example from American literature that many people would be familiar with is To Kill a Mockingbird. From imaginative literature (fantasy/science fiction), say, A Wrinkle in Time.

Perhaps to understand my point it would be well to speak of what is not a part of this authorial worldview. The obvious elements would be fascination with the grotesque, voyeuristic fixation with the sex act, indulgence in graphic violence, etc. More subtly, a supercilious irony, a scoffing tone, and a tendency to undermine notions of goodness, justice, etc. This type of attitude produces writing in which goodness seems always foolish, false, shallow, and hypocritical. Mind you, I am speaking of an authorial attitude here, rather than the attitude of one or more characters in his story. And since authors don't usually state their worldviews plainly, it is something that dawns on you, the reader, as you move through the author's work.

Now, I also know that authors are magicians of sorts, and it is not their intention to put themselves on display, or to depict their worldviews in the novels they write. Yet there is no question, for example, that the narrative voice in King of the Vagabonds is extremely ironic, especially when the supposedly good is in view (and in the case of "Vagabond" especially with regard to ideals derived from religious beliefs).

In his comment to yesterday's post, Milton said that his own novel was "too raw for Christian publishers and too out of touch with the Zeitgeist for secular publishers." I understand his point. As a reader, I'm still looking for imagination, engagement with ideas, characters that live and breathe, and a worldview that recognizes and wrestles with the essential nature of the problem facing humankind.


Anonymous said...

Characters that live an breath...that makes me giggle. I have those all around me. They are walking and breathing and talking and very interesting. And a worldview like the one that you mention...that's the Bible.
I am just waking up and in a silly mood. Every thing is striking me phunny. I better go wash my face.

Anonymous said...

Here is an idea. The next time you feel like reading, go instead to a place where you can people watch. Write down your view and thoughts that come up. Maybe a story that you make up about the life of the people or just about what you are seeing. Publish the outcome in this blog. I think that would be very interesting!