This phrase has troubled me greatly since I was old enough to grasp the lie of it. I recall vividly the first time someone said this – my youth group leader, calling books ‘amoral’ and comparing them to a table.
lacking a moral sense; unconcerned with the rightness or wrongness of something
“You could throw it at someone’s head and that would be bad, but a book is just a book.”
This, said by the same woman who was attempting to teach me that ideas and thoughts could change us and then the world. Without even realizing it, she had stripped herself of all credit in my eyes. She was teaching us from a ‘book,’ but she failed to realize the irony in what she said. I had been frustrated with her before, but I was now incensed. I was only fourteen, and I had only been seriously writing for a little more than a year. Writing – the belief and knowledge that words could plant ideas, could promote hope, could condemn evil, could make people better – that was important to me. It still is. In fact, rather than deterring me from my desire to write, my youth leader fueled that desire.
Books changed my life and continue to do so. Books shaped who I am. There was nothing amoral about the way Middle-Earth taught me about bravery and honor. There was nothing amoral about the way Narnia taught me courage and faith. There was nothing amoral about the way fairy tales and fables and myths taught me to stick to my beliefs, carry on when afraid, and fight back against evil with wit and valor. Books forged my soul, and you cannot tell me ‘it’s just fiction,’ as if fiction were a quick breeze here and gone. “As amoral as a table?” Tell that to Tolkien, Lewis, Chesterton, Augustine, Plato. Tell it to any philosopher.
“It’s just fiction” is an excuse. It’s an excuse made by parents so they don’t feel the need to oversee what their children are embracing. It’s an excuse made by readers who want to read literary trash without guilt, and – worst of all, in my belief – it’s an excuse made by authors to justify their own lack of conviction. Why? Because ‘it’s just fiction’ removes any and all responsibility from the author. If it’s ‘just fiction,’ then there’s no point, nothing to teach or uphold, and they have free reign to write whatever they please, consequences be hanged.
I’m not saying I never feel the urge to write something simply because I want to write it. But I’ve been guilty of many things in twenty-two years, and I’ll be guilty of many more, but may it never be said that I, as a reader but especially as an author, took the easy way out under the banner of ‘it’s just fiction.’