When we were in English class in school, I’m sure we all dreaded that one question that we were always asked. What is that question? Of course, we never liked to decipher the hidden (or obvious) meaning that the author is trying to tell us. But what happens if our books are being dissected in English class?
That there is hope.
I guess I’ll go with my still-unpublished first novel.
I imagine that a common answer to that question would be “The system is broken, but the will to change it for the better is unbreakable.” Alternately the more simplistic “Queer people can be heroes, and organized religion can be destructive.”
I don’t think Jasper will be in any classrooms, but I’ll entertain the thought. I’d like for students to make parallels between the Jasper universe and our own political climate. It’s not a scenario that can plausibly happen, it’s more of an extreme case. But the culture of fear, casting out an entire group of citizens as the “other,” those are scenarios that can make one think.
Thinking of my children’s stories, I think the message they would believe I was trying to convey would be that you can grow up to be whatever you want. You are only limited by your imagination.
IN SIEGE OF DAYLIGHT. The message: gooseberry pie is the key to victory.
Well, I assume they’d be reading “Nowhere to Hide“, since that’s the only option we’ve got at the moment, and they’d probably say that I was trying to convey a sense of disgust for humanity in general. I won’t say much more than that because, hey…I want people to read the book…but I’d say that theme is fairly obvious if you have read it.
If an English class were to read A Broken Race, they would hopefully see that even the most unlikely person can make a large difference in a community by speaking up and taking action.
Heh, I have wondered this a lot! And I do write toward certain themes which I think could be easily excavated with a little work. A major one is that diversity adds skills and value to any group; my army guys start off as just normal soldiers but slowly accrue ‘special’ soldiers, mages, outsiders and former enemies into their group, whereas the villains they’re up against stick with their old ranks and tactics and so can’t really adapt to how the good-guy group operates. Another message would be that cultural homogenization (especially when forced) robs people of history, community and context for many things that go on in their lives. I would draw some connections between the actions of my evil Empire and the Native American boarding schools that ran during much of the 19th and 20th centuries to try to get Native Americans to conform to Euro-American ways. Several characters suffer the after-effects of this, as they feel disconnected from their home cultures but unwelcome in the dominant one because of their origins; two don’t know their own native languages because they were taken away too young. There are a lot more themes and undercurrents at work in the story, but I think these are the most clearly visible.
If you take as an example my recently published novelette, “All Good Stories,” I’d say the author was trying to say it’s okay not to take life too seriously. And be as creative with it as you can be.
Well I write High Fantasy, so that’s a bit unlikely. (Why don’t you have to read High Fantasy in school? That’s so stupid!) But maybe something like “you should do what’s right no matter the consequences” or “nothing is impossible if you try hard enough and have friends backing you up.” I mean there are definitely themes of loyalty and friendship and sacrifice in my writing.
Not sure I can — or should — answer that! My themes are usually quite dark or controversial. And each story is different, of course. But as a generalisation, I think the main underlying message is that people are people and we all have our light and dark spots, as well as lots of grey areas too. There’s rarely such a thing as good vs evil; we are complex creatures.
That brings to mind the meme that shows up every once in a while on social media, where the teacher is lecturing his students on the symbolic significance of the blue drapes in a story, where the blue represented a certain mindset of mood the author was trying to fold in as a literary tool, and the author’s take was, “I just meant the drapes were freaking blue.”
Sure, I have a lot of hidden backstories and meanings in my books. I like to ask questions and make my readers answer them on their own. If I wanted to make one thing clear in my work, it’s that Life is a gift so precious that we can’t afford to take even a single breath for granted. And it’s not just our own life which is precious, but all lives. I know it sounds odd coming from an author of white-knuckle thrillers with characters dropping and bullets flying all over, but I guess you just have to read it to get it.
I never liked answering this question. I always thought that the teacher didn’t know the answer to this. In many cases, it was likely that the author had no real message to give, they just wrote the book to make money. But in other cases, there is a message. As for my first unpublished Ariadne novel, I’d hope that they’d understand that differences between people are not something to be afraid of or to fight about. We’re all human, and we’re all trying to live our lives. We need to trust each other and make the world a better place to live in. This doesn’t mean that my book ends like this, though.
How about you?
If you’ve written a book or want to write a book, what message would you hope that the students and teachers would get from your book? Let us know in the comments below.