Hi there Virtually Readers. Today I want to talk about violence in books. It’s a deep discussion, so get ready to set in. Violence is something that I always think about, particularly in fantasy, and it’s portrayal matters a lot to me.
First off, let me explain what I mean by violence. I mean humans intentionally hurting each other (or animals, I guess?). Violence in books exists in a variety of ways. One: The main character of a book does something violent. Two: The main character of a book has something violent done to them. Three: Violence happens and characters that we care about are not involved, but it’s there. Almost all books have violence of some kind(physical, verbal, etc.). It fuels the plot. It creates tension. But how necessary is it?
So here’s the thing: I, personally, do not like gratuitous or unnecessary violence. I see books praised for being ‘brutal’ or ‘savage’ or even just plain ‘violent’… and that’s a positive thing? What level of violence is acceptable? I guess that that level will be different for every single person, but is there such a thing as too much violence? And how can you decide what is unnecessary and what isn’t?
For me, I think that when violence is added for shock factor, it is unnecessary. It is completely possible for there to be a strong emotional moment without violence—and don’t get me wrong, that’s fairly common, and obviously you can tell from the genre of a book how much violence there’ll be (like contemporary doesn’t have much, but thrillers and fantasy have more). I think that everyone will agree that violence is not a positive thing. Various studies have shown that, to a greater or lesser degree, violence in media normalises it, and I for one don’t want to live in a society where violence is normal. But if I didn’t read books with violence in them, I wouldn’t be able to read much that isn’t children’s non-fiction. (because kids fiction is horribly violent).
It’s hard to know this going into a book—and part of the reason I like to stick to YA and look at sites like Common Sense Media—but I am unhappy with a book if it demonises the person you are fighting. If it says that ‘they are bad because they are bad and therefore they deserve to die.’ Old time fantasy like The Lord of the Rings, or even Narnia, is totally guilty of this. Two books that I think have a sensible portrayal of violence are An Ember in the Ashes and Days of Blood and Starlight. Both of these (truly superb) novels do, indeed, contain a lot of violence. But they consistently say that violence is not a way of life that we should be comfortable with, and advocate for peace.
“Dead souls dream only of death. Small dreams for small men. It is life that expands to fill worlds. Life is your master, or death is.” –Days of Blood and Starlight.
“Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love and dared to imagine a new way of living—one without massacres and torn throats and bonfires of the fallen, without revenants or bastard armies or children ripped from their mothers’ arms to take their turn in the killing and dying.”-Days of Blood and Starlight
“Seeing the enemy as a human. A general’s ultimate nightmare.” –an Ember in the Ashes (that was sarcasm btw)
See, people are powerful. The words we read and the words we write and the words we say are powerful. Isn’t this a belief that all book lovers hold? And as a book lover, I don’t want violence. I don’t want to be violence (hasn’t the news of the last week made you think about that). I don’t really want to read violence, because violence is not the right answer. I want to read books where the violence is complicated and terrible (and maybe I just want to read that which reflects my own beliefs, but isn’t that okay?).
*climbs down from soapbox*. Sooooo what do you think? How do you feel about portrayals and perceptions of violence in books? Do you have any recommendations for books with a more complex depiction of violence, or do you want reccommendations? Tell me in the comments.