Writing About the Important Stuff

I know I’ve had a lot of posts on writing and on my writing. Be patient with me – having an editor of a small e-magazine tell me he loved my story and may give me 250 dollars for it is a matter of little consequence to folks like Mr. Wright or other professional writers, but to a twenty-something college student who’s been writing since before he was ten (my own version of the Gingerbread Man, an “I, Spy” book, and a book called “”Blue Bear” that I basically took directly from “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you See?” by Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle) it’s the validation for my craft I’ve always dreamed of getting, small as it is.

And I recently told the story of the teacher who was oh-so-proud he managed to convince a student he subconsciously didn’t care about poor people and successfully steered that student away from “The Lord of the Rings”. This got me thinking about the topics I want to write about.

I’m not, and never have been, interested in writing novels that tackle trite themes like “diversity is important”, “we should help the poor”, or love triangles and the “perils of teenage life”. I am willing to include all such things in my stories, even the diversity one to a very limited extent (“Opera Vita Aeterna” in one sense had a diversity angle to it), but they will never be the main focus.

I’m much more interested in the important things – the really important things, not the self-absorbed claptrap much of modern literature has become, or nihilistic despair-filled preaching. I want to write about truth, beauty, honor, sacrifice, love, hope, friendship, bravery, charity, and sometimes even faith.

So my stories will always be considered “inferior” to the fools who write our AP tests and refuse to take seriously an essay that talks about the beauty and tragedy seen in books like “The Silmarillion” or “The Great Divorce” (which along with, presumably as I haven’t read it, Dante’s “Inferno” should stand as one of the great treatises on Heaven, Hell, and the afterlife ever written) but will take seriously an essay about “Ulysses”. I’ve tried to read “Ulysses”. It is obscure, self-indulgent, self-absorbed borderline nonsense. No wonder it’s considered one of the greatest modern books ever written.

Give me Tolkien over Dickens. Give me Lewis over Joyce or, God help us all, the narcissistic black hole that is Kate Chopin (which is unfortunate, as she has some skill). I’ll take hope over nihilism, integrity over adultery, and heroism over “Caring” any day.

I write about things worth writing about. Whether my writing is any good is a matter for readers to hopefully, one day, decide.

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5 Responses to Writing About the Important Stuff

  1. G. Rodrigues says:

    “I’ve tried to read “Ulysses”. It is obscure, self-indulgent, self-absorbed borderline nonsense. No wonder it’s considered one of the greatest modern books ever written.”

    I do not want to pick up a fight, but as someone who does think that Ulysses is “one of the greatest modern books ever written”, or that Joyce or Dickens are not even in the same league as Lewis or Tolkien, I do have to protest that while Joyce is certainly obscure in parts (and then again, there is method to his madness), he is certainly not “self-indulgent” or “self-absorbed borderline nonsense”. There is a lot there about truth and beauty, about sacrifice and hope, about love and friendship, and sometimes, even faith.

    In the foreword, to his no-nonsense book about Joyce “ReJoyce”, Burgess has this to say at its end:

    “I do not mean to imply that Earwicker is Joyce’s wry portrait of himself; rather I want to stress the universality of Joyce’s creations, the fact that they are as demotic as ‘come-all-ye’. Also I enfold there the hope that it will not be long before everybody comes to Joyce, seeing in him not tortuous puzzles, dirt, and jesuitry gone mad, but great comedy, large humanity, and that affirmation of man’s worth that more popular writers stamp on in order to make money.”

    The hope is naive; “Ulysses”, despite Joyce himself, will not open itself to anyone and everyone. “Finnegans Wake” certainly will not. But then, neither does Dante’s “Divina Commedia”. But the rest is spot on.

    I have no idea who is Kate Chopin.

    • G. Rodrigues says:

      Forgot to say “ReJoyce” is by Anthony Burgess.

    • That’s fair enough about Joyce. I won’t argue taste – I was trying to make a larger point.

      Chopin was one of the early feminists, author of such works as “Story of an Hour” (the story of how a woman, when she hears her husband dies, becomes joyously happy and then has a heart attack and dies when she learns he’s still alive) “The Storm” (the story of a woman having an affair) and “The Awakening” (ugh).

      You really wouldn’t put Tolkien or Lewis in the same league as Joyce or even Dickens?

      Unless I’m misreading you.

      • G. Rodrigues says:

        “You really wouldn’t put Tolkien or Lewis in the same league as Joyce or even Dickens?”

        No, I wouldn’t. Joyce and Dickens are in that select company (of mostly European dead white males) that set the standards for what a classic is. Of course, this is not to say that Lewis or Tolkien are not very good writers.

        note: I should probably add that the Lewis I am most conversant with is his apologetics (and here I include things like “Screwtape letters”) or his literary criticism (say “The Four Loves”), but not his fiction. For some reason things like “Till we have faces” or “That hideous strength” are continuously being put off to some remote future.

        note 2: and while I am at it, the Dickens I love the most is not the one of “Great Expectations” or “Tale of two cities” (which I think you mentioned before, with not exactly glowing admiration), but the one of “Bleak House”, or the gorgeous, gorgeous “Pickwick Papers”. I also have a special fondness for “David Copperfield”, but the reasons here are more personal and less distinctly aesthetic. Chesterton, which was an admirable literary critic, although not widely read today (as critic), has a great book on the magnificences of Dickens.

      • I actually LOVE the second half of “A Tale of Two Cities”, and I absolutely adore “A Christmas Carol”, which I think is probably the greatest novella ever written. It is a masterpiece of character development. So I don’t hate Dickens. But the first half of “A Tale of Two Cities” is a slog. And books like Oliver Twist are just terrible. So I stand by my analysis: Brilliant at best, unreadable at worst.

        For what it’s worth, I couldn’t stand “Great Expectations”, Miss Havisham notwithstanding (she was a great character). Never read “The Pickwick Papers” or “Bleak House”.

        No, I wouldn’t. Joyce and Dickens are in that select company (of mostly European dead white males) that set the standards for what a classic is. Of course, this is not to say that Lewis or Tolkien are not very good writers.

        Okay, Tolkien practically created a freaking genre. That really doesn’t set the standard of what a classic is?

        Okay, granted, I’m arguing taste, but I find it hard to overestimate Tolkien’s impact on fantasy literature. There’s an entire sub-genre basically modeled off of “The Lord of the Rings”, high fantasy. Few people have even heard of pre-Tolkien fantasy writers. He’s a literary giant.

        And at any rate, I actually have no special objection to Dickens except that he’s read in schools ALL THE FREAKING TIME.

        As for Lewis, well, I simply think that the philosophical insights in his works are practically unparalleled, though I have yet to read Chesterton, who sounds a lot like Lewis but written slightly earlier. And for that matter, his Narnia books also helped set the standard for the fantasy genre, though to an admittedly lesser degree.

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