This week has been rough on me emotionally and really brought hard questions with which I now grapple. I finished The Warding of Witch World. I learned of allegations of child abuse and molestation by an author, I’ve enjoyed very much over the years. Finally, the Starter Set for D&D 5E has come out. Individually, each event would cause me to become contemplative, but together they create a unique conundrum for me: When does the work become separate from its creator?
The Warding of Witch World appears to be the last book, Andre Norton wrote in the Witch World Series . Even though another book for Witch World came out after this one, coauthored by Lyn McConchie, The Warding of Witch World appears to be the end of the Witch World series. The setup of this book is the idea that some event has set all the gates of the Witch World in flux and the protagonists must seek them out and close them forever. It is like Ms. Norton is effectively closing and locking the door on her most famous creation. What does that mean for us the readers and for the various coauthors who wrote with her?
Marion Zimmer Bradley’s daughter has posthumously accused her mother of physically abusing and sexually molesting her. I met Ms. Bradley, years ago, at a SciFi Convention in Jackson, MS. It is hard reconcile the nice writer of the Darkover Series and many other enjoyable stories with the woman portrayed in the blog post that first broke the story. It is even more distressing when I try to wrap my head around her admissions about her then husband’s pedophilia. All are flawed, but some are broken to the point of monstrosity. These accusations have resulted in a number of responses. The one that most concerns me for this blog is the question, “How far can culture heroes’ work stand apart from their lives?” (2014.07.30)
Finally, July 15th was the release date for the Starter Set for Dungeons and Dragons: fifth edition. Here is a review of the Starter Set. I have yet to purchase it, but its very presence taunts me. I want to begin a new campaign, build new cultures, design new plot hooks, and run new stories. It, also, brings up some questions. “Who owns a (insert your favorite role playing game here) campaign – is the person crafting and running the setting or is it the Players, whose PCs make all the action happen?” “Is the person creating the campaign integral to the campaign or can anyone run it?” Finally, “Where do I begin and end in Rilmorn?”
When a writer has done horrible things, has beliefs that are repugnant or unpopular, or has been a jerk, it is understandable for people to equate the work with the writer and condemn both. This works fine, if one has never read anything by the author in question, but what does one do when a book has spoken to one’s soul and then the reader discovers the horrible truth about the writer? Does that take away what one has gained from the work? Does it make the work less, because its creator is flawed or a monster? I’m not sure.
Does the consumer have the right to dictate the mores and ethics of the creators of whose work they consume? No and yes; we cannot expect that those who create great things for us live up to our expectations of them; that is not fair. At the same time, all creators are expected to be responsive to the standards of the society in which they live. If a creator chooses to defy convention and social standards of behavior, then that is his or her choice, but the person that is creator is still responsible for his or her choice and must pay the penalty for wrong doing.
Can the public, rightfully, demand that the creator change the work to fit the public’s ideal of what the work should be? No. The public, the consumers of the work, can quit purchasing the work, but the creator has the final say in what happens in his or her work.
What do we, as consumers, do, when the writer, artist, actor, etc. decides to create in a way that challenges our sensibilities of the work (kills off a favorite character, replaces the actor portraying the main character, etc.)? We can, either, drop it and go onto something else or we can attempt to expand our view of the work. We, the consumers, never have to buy something, watch something, or read something because bought, watched, or read something before. We cannot control what the creators produce, but we can control what we consume.
Does a creator’s personal life and beliefs irrevocably taint the creator’s work? I don’t know.
Does the public ever gain ownership of a work or is it always the child of its creator? Yes, the public does get a claim on a creator’s work. Once a movie is shown, a story is published, or painting is displayed, it is no longer the sole property of the creator. The creator should reap the benefits of his or her labor, but the creator can no longer, in good faith, tweak, fiddle, refine, or improve on his or her work. It no longer a pupa developing with the cocoon of the creator’s art, it is a butterfly living its own life and experiences.
Is there, at any point, a time that a work can stand on its own merits without its creator? Yes. A work can be judged on its own merits only as long as its creator remains unknown. Deconstructionist Theory aside, a work that has no creator to be examined by the consumer can critiqued on its only content.
Living campaigns (those run by GMs, not those put to print and pixel to be published for the masses) can never be judged entirely by their content. You cannot separate the Game Master from the Game. Individual games are performance art. They are interactive theater telling a series of stories crafted through the actions of the Players and the GM. Campaigns and Adventure Paths are the tools wherein the Game Master reveals the inner workings of his or her psyche. The Game Master places the emphasis on the events encountered. Whether one is running a sandbox homebrew campaign or an adventure path, the GM inserts his or her biases into the game table. He either emphasizes the things he likes or she ignores or avoids the things she doesn’t want in a game. Check out DMing with Charisma’s The Great Tower of Oldechi series; it talks about various styles of DMss. The Game is the Denominator that reveals the essence of its Creator.
This post has wandered over a lot of ground and it hasn’t answered all of the thoughts and conundrums in my head, but it is a start. Please feel free to comment and share.
Until we cross paths again, Game On!