Readers are divided concerning the matter of actors slipping their opinion in their books. On political/social issues or various events happening in the world. Some like it, some think advisable not to. As for one, I’m in the former team.
Because I think if the author can slip his/her opinion into his/her book his/her in an unobtrusive way, it can really add a lot to the story. Like making one of the characters say or think it, or even putting a character in a situation reflecting the author’s opinion. Creating a link to actualities through the characters or the books’ events, might become a way better connection to the reader too.
If the reader and the author have the same opinion, all the better. And that is why the other group doesn’t like nor wants the author’s opinion in the book. Who would want to read something of a different opinion? That can lead to discord and hostility. Authors even may lose readers over it.
But some authors just don’t care. They want to tell what they are thinking through their characters/stories and if someone cannot handle it, so be it. In my opinion this requires a certain level of courage and a high level skill of negative-comment-flood tolerance. I cannot say which is better, saying our opinion as a writer or keep it to ourselves, but I respect those who are courageous enough to speak up about sensitive matters.
Lately I’ve read a lot of books from Harper Fox which led me to the choice: using her books to better illustrate better how expressing opinion gets done expertly on various subjects. There might be some minor (or major) spoilers in the passages below, so proceed with caution.
Criticizing social issues
When Christmas Lights Are Blue
This is a Christmas story following the break-up, then reconciliation of a paramedic couple riding the same ambulance. The events of the novella take place right after the Brexit vote when a blistering hate is swiping through the country in waves. We see the events through the eyes of Robert (British origin), we follow him through his struggles trying to mend what was broken between him and his Sikh descent boyfriend, Kanan.
Robert is the typical example of the ones meaning well, but choosing each time the wrong course of action. After the tragic Brexit vote he starts to feel the hate towards the Leave-Party members, while being totally oblivious of the fact that hate bears more hate, hurting unwittingly the ones he wants to protect most. He can’t see the wrongs in his way until Kanan breaks up with him.
Robert speaks with one of his medic coworkers the day after the Brexit vote when he finds himself face to face with the destructive effects of disinformation, stupidity and ignorance:
And there was my answer. For every racist twat who’d thought he’d wake up rich and employable in England’s green and pleasant land on the morning after Brexit, there was somebody like Len, whose only crime had been listening to politicians. (…) “Did you never stop to think how this would affect people like Karan?”
“Karan? What’s got to do with it?”
“He’s a Sikh.”
Len broke into chuckles. “Don’t be daft. He can down a pint faster than I can.”
“I don’t mean a practicing one. I mean by birth. It’s very nice and cosmopolitan of you not to notice, but he’s Asian.”
Len gawped at me. I was going to have to get used to that – the incomprehension of good men. “Yeah, but nobody’s got anything against foreigners like him. It’s just the ones who come over here, think they can play the system, calm and -”
“Wait. Aren’t they stealing our jobs? Because it can’t be bloody both. Do you think anybody’s gonna distinguish, when they’re lobbing bricks at people with brown skins, between the nice type like Karan -” (…)
“I know stuff’s been happening around the country today (day after the referendum), horrible racist shit. You can’t think I wanted any of that. (…) People fight when they don’t feel like there’s enough to go round, don’t they? If there’s less immigrants coming in, they might relax a bit. That’s what I was thinking about when I cast my vote.”
“Len, I am sorry I ripped your head ogg. But I swear to God, if you don’t keep your trap shut for the rest of this shift…”
Gender roles, LGBTQ+ issues
Seven Summer Nights
The story of this novel take place after the WW2, describing a country recuperating from the losses and the shock of a war regardless of Britain finishing it on the winning side. The setting of a novel may seem outdated dating 70 years prior of our present, but Harper Fox raises many important issues, problems which couldn’t be more relevant than now-days.
This book is about the struggles of former captain Rufus Denby with his own life, not to mention his growing feelings for vicar Archibald Thorne. He wants to shield the vicar from his life as a gay man, doesn’t want to push him into hiding the same way he’s forced to lead his life.
I picked two little quotes from the book I want to show you.
One for the gender roles (Caroline explaining her life together with an other woman, comparing this way of life to a men-couple’s):
Matilda and I don’t exist, not in the eyes of the law. That’s the only advantage women have reaped from millennia of amounting to nothing—zero plus zero equals zero. The same does not apply to men. You’re hellishly visible.
And the other for the LGBTQ+ issues
Archie wondered if the genie had come out of the bottle for men like him and Rufus, too. If laws would change, and one day Winborn and his kind would fulminate in vain. Archie had a kind of vision—insane, because even in a future of enfranchised women and queers, a vicar would still be a vicar—of walking down a golden beach with Rufus.
Nationalism, racism, xenophobia
Priest, Prophet, Beast (Tyack and Frayne 7)
This book is the seventh volume of Harper Fox’s supernatural series. We can follow the life and adventures of clairvoyant Lee Tyack and constable (later inspector) Frayne, as they do their best to solve cases bordering on the edge of the supernatural and the normal world.
In the books preceding this volume, we can hardly find a handful of hints or traces of opinions from the author. But in the seventh volume it seems like that Harper Fox started to grow impatient with the consequences of the wrong political/personal decisions and events shaking the country the wrong way. Seemingly nor she or Lee had any patience left to justify the hatred spreading through Britain. See the partial discussion below between Lee and a racist girl (when Lee tries to read her future):
“We don’t care about Britain—just our own kind. We’re sick of bloody foreigners coming here and taking our jobs.” Her face twisted. “And as for you queers, don’t get me started.”
“Oh, I won’t. Tell me, though—when you put yourself into hospital last month with alcohol poisoning, which job in particular did you and your own kind want—the Asian doctor you threw up on, or the Polish porter who mopped up after you?”
Brothers of the Wild North Sea
This novel is my all-time favorite along with Seven Summer nights. If you decide to read this book, prepare for a time-travel back to when Christianity was the NEW religion fighting for its place among the pagan/ancient Celtic beliefs or the remains from the religion of the dissolved Roman Empire. The plot of the book revolves around the new God, concentrating on the balance between religious belief and destructive religious fanaticism/bigotry.
The main character, Caius finds himself in a torrent of events marked by Viking raids, a madly religious abbot to lead the monastery of Fara, doing his best not to let the abbot wipe them all out with his hatred/madness disguised as faith before the Vikings could. Caius finds the most unlikely ally in this fight, a wounded Viking warrior who he nurses back to health.
From this book one of my favorite quote is the one when Caius addresses to the invading Vikings and his father Broccus (Broc) and his men, trying to stop the seemingly inevitable battle.
“Look at the men gathered here – vikingr and old Roman, Saxon farmers, and (…) my kind too, the soldiers of Christ. Each convinced the land belongs to them. At least these vikingr pirates know they’re invaders. The rest of us have forgotten—we are too.” A rumble from the hillfort warriors. Cai turned to them—to Broc, meeting the dark eyes that were so like his own. “Yes. The waves of change break on this shore, over and over again. There never was such thing as a pureblood Briton, and… (…) And There never will be, Broc. Not even you.”
Criticizing religious issues
Since I described both of the books above, so from now on, I’ll just show my favorite quotes from these books.
Brothers of the Wild North Sea
Caius believes in God, and does his best to live up to the divine expectations, he understands into what kind of monsters can blind fate and ignorance turn regular men. So he does everything necessary to teach them how to read and think and most importantly understand their surroundings and ulterior motifs behind sweet worded sentences disguised as God’s own.
He’d told them to ask, hadn’t he? Ask, and if I know the answer, I’ll tell you. Nothing is more dangerous than a darkened mind. “I want you to be able to read,” he said, leaning his arms on the pulpit. “If a day ever comes when a man stands among you and says, do this, do thusly, and tells you to obey because the Bible says it is so…”
(…) “You want us to look at the Bible ourselves and see if it is true.”
“Yes. Exactly, yes.”
Seven Summer Nights
I picked up a partail discussion between the two main characters about beliefs and faith.
“Your sermon was very good. I… couldn’t help but notice that you never once mentioned God.”
“Ah. That’s right. I don’t believe in him anymore.”
“Isn’t that something of an obstacle for a vicar?”
“You have no idea.”
“Is it because of what happened to you in France? The things you saw?”
“Partly, but… Tell me, Rufus—do you believe?”
“Yes,” he responded readily, surprising himself. He hadn’t known. “Not necessarily in a church God, a Bible God, but—something. The hills and the trees, perhaps. The broad sunlit uplands. You.”
“Yes. You’re part of it, aren’t you—all that splendour.”
As you can see, Harper Fox has an opinion on a variety of matters, and she has well-developed opinions and a lot of knowledge of each themes she chooses to mention in her books. But she never once tries to decide instead of her readers what to think. On the contrary, by using a variety of characters to show every aspect of the chosen matters, she leaves us the choice to decide if we agree or disagree with her.
I think, elaborating opinions in books this way, is really good, even if Harper Fox cuts into delicate matters, like the religious or ethic affiliation. But if we do not speak about the faults in the system, or simply decide to turn the blind eye, we may lose precious people, knowledge, experiences and even create unnecessary conflicts.
So why limit ourselves instead of trying to learn as much of the world surrounding us as possible? And the opinions in this process could be essential milestones.