Redheaded Neanderlady

Redheaded Neanderlady
This is a photoshopped version of something I found in National Geographic about the time I started researching

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Writers' viewpoints, writer's "objectivity"?

It can be really interesting to get readers' comments. This is aside from the fact that I always welcome them, regardless of whether or not I completely agree with them. Mostly, I do agree with them. But even when I do, every so often there is one tht started me thinking. In a previous post, I mentioned that I'm "into" wolves, and a kind reader responded that when writing about wolves, one should be "objective" about them; they are part of nature, neither evil nor good. Now of course I agree with this, siince I happen to know a good deal about Canis lupus and its various relatives, and this knowledge actually, eventually spurred me, in a roundabout way, to start writing what I'm writing now. I should add, for the record, that in my Great Medieval Science Fiction Masterpiece With Neandertals, wolves don't come into it. I have some other things, set in the near future, where wolves do play a part. And it is this that got me thinking.

When I was growing up, wolves were almost always the "bad guys". And "we" were "right" to finish them off. This attitude is very old and rooted iin agricultural and pastoral pasts: when there is a danger of wolves eating your cows or sheep or goats or whatever, then they will be looked at as "the enemy". Never mind that they are just doing what they have evolved to do, namely catch vulnerable: weak, sick, very old, very young, "in the wrong place at the wrong time" prey, usually hoofed mammals, of which there are usually reasonably abundant numbers . Unless something in the environment has drastically changed.

So, for years, people shot wolves(and coyotes, their smaller and more adaptable cousins), pretty much on sight. But at about the same time as Farley Mowat's Never Cry Wolf was first published(again, for the record, I read it at about that time, but it didn't make much impression on me at first), an environmental consciousness began to flower, and people started looking at wolves quite differently. Yes, as the reader pointed out, after this time, some people started "idolizing" wolves as everything noble in nature, which, in my opinion is just as silly and unrealistic as "demonizing" them. But people who wanted to write anything that featured wolves, could not do what C.S. Lewis did in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, where wolves are pretty much instruments of evil. This attitude, by the way, is rooted in certain medieval notions of wolves as aspects of the Devil. But even that attitude is rooted even more distantly in agricultural fears.

Be that as it may, far fewer people live off the land and practice agriculture any more. And in many parts of the world, wolves, and their environments, are constantly threatened by various forms of human intervention. Yet people's consciousnesses in most parts of the world have been raised to various degrees, so that now they actually value the environments they live in, not only as a place where "things they need" are produced, but as important in and of themselves, and important to preserve, for the people themselves. This consciousness is even setting in in a number of poor and developing countries where deforestation is extensive. Of course, these places don't have wolves, but they have creatures that are just as important in some symbolic way, and increasingly, people have made the choice to live with them.

This shift in consciousness was brought home to me after rereading the young adult book Viking Warrior, which I mentioned in another post, where the 15 year old hero encounters a wolf pack and thinks of fighting it, then decides the appearance of the pack is a sign from Odin, and "talks" the wolves out of trying to eat him. Nowadays, people just don't write about predators(wolves, bears, lions, etc), in anything like the way they used to, as "enemies" to be "bested" by "manly hunters", but are more likely to see them as "part of nature", though they may have to be careful in encountering them.

Which brings me to the meat of my question: Shouldn't a writer have a viewpoint? Shouldn't s/he express that viewpoint? Supoose they do "love wolves" and see them as "noble expressions of the greatness of nature" or the like? It may be a silly viewpoint, but it is a viewpoint, and more basically, isn't that the reason writers write? To express something they believe about their world, or something they believe in? I'm not suggesting writers and other creative people go on "political" crusades, though I know some who do. Rather, I'm suggesting that it is well-nigh impossible for anyone in a creative field not to have strong ideas or opinions about something. Wht else would make them want so much to be heard, that they take up the difficult task of writing it down, or painting it, or singing a song about it, or whatever they do? If such a person, for example, writes a poem about the nobility and grandeur of wolves in the natural world, and someone reads it, and ends up thinking it is silly, because they, the reader, thinks they are being "objective" about the p lace of wolves in nature, again, so what? It is one reader's opinion. To take another example, I don't much care for the current wave of what I call "Celtomania" in fiction and other places; I particularly don't like the endless stream of romances that feature hunks in kilts and are written about a Scotland that probably exists or existed only in their overheated imaginations, but I tell myself, okay, it's a viewpoint. A phony one, maybe, but a viewpoint still. And I could go on and on. In my view, writers must have a viewpooint, a belief. Otherwise, why write. I don't have to like it; I may end up beig very "objective" in pointing out that the writer's viewpoint is extreme or not grounded in reality, or whatever, but neither I, nor any other creatively inclined person, can ignore the fact that the person has a strong belief that they must express.

And this, by the way, is one of the things that makes "art"(and here, I mean any creative endeavor, no matter how "popular",) often a controversial enterprise. Because the author's viewpoint is probably never going to please everyone. Sometimes, such claims as the person makes are bizarre, such as in Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, stringing Da Vinci, Templars, certain Catholic religious organizations, and a lot else, into(in my view) a dreadfully weird mix. But he really thinks he has an idea, and he's really making money off it. It's unfortunate, again in my view, that a lot of people believe much of what I consider complete, though quite entertaining, nonsense, but then, what can I say? I'm mixing Neandertals, medieval England, and some medieval "mythology" all together. Is my "mix" any weirder? I don't know. I am trying to make what I'm doing as historically accurate as I can, but I am sure that, if I can ever get it written and published, and people read it, there will be those who think my ideas are as bizarre in their way as those of Dan Brown. And, just for the record, I don't know what they'll think when I start doing the near future(with Neandertals, of course), and add wolves. . . .
Anne G


Bee said...

Hello, Anne

Just to clarify (curse of writing short blog comments!), I didn't mean to imply that one must be always devoted to strict objectivity when writing about wolves or anything else. Very little fiction would get written at all! I am just getting to know you a little bit through reading your blog, and wanted to make a cautious statement regarding my own feelings on the subject of wolves in particular, and the manner in which they have been popularized, sometimes to the detriment of the real animals.

I'm an admirer of writers in general. As with visual art, it is one of the few occupations which must be almost entirely self-driven; you can have the most magnificent ideas ever, but if you don't actually muster the energy and commitment do the writing, or paint the painting, no one else will ever have access to those ideas.

I personally find those ideas and fictional directions which you are pursuing fascinating, and I *really* look forward to reading more, particularly any end product.

But of course, I also am a person awash in personal views and opinions and experience, and naturally bring them to bear (ooo! bears! I like bears, too!). I use twelfth century technology (with a little help from modern equipment) to make traditional metal oxide painted kiln fired stained glass art (any old cathedral will have religiously themed examples). I specialize in flora/fauna/landscape images, and I try to be very accurate in presentation. This goes over well most of the time, and I sell most of what I make. However, in 1994 I created a front facing portrait of a Lynx with a rabbit under its paw. It attracts a great deal of attention, but no one will buy it because of that very discreetly dead bunny. I've always felt this particular market failure speaks eloquently of human responses to nature.


Anne Gilbert said...


Sorry it took so long to get back to you, but I've been bogged down in other things(among other excuses).

Anyway, what you described about the lynx and the rabbit is interesting, to say the least. A stained glass representation of a lynx kill done in 12th century style is fascinating in itself. But there are two things going on here. First, you created something that (probably) no stained glass maker in the 12th century would have thought of producing. Second, a lot of people nowadays are "funny" about the "nature red in tooth and claw" aspect of the "natural world". I have a friend who watches wildlife shows on occasion. We watched one together, about wolves, where the wolves brought down a deer and "chowed down" on it. She felt sorry for the deer. Well I did too, sort of, but I did point out to her that "wolves gotta eat, too". She understood, even if her feelings were the same. I think a lot of people understand this intellectually, but emotionally, unless they are hunters or farmers or the like, there is a disconnect. Which is most people, since most people are not hunters or farmers these days.
Anne G