There are people, believe it or not, who believe that fictional characters and events need to be brought to justice in the real world. How I wish this was a straw man argument (we’ll get to Oz later). They want to bring authors like Agatha Christie to trial because these terrible (some would say terribly talented) authors dare write about murder, politics, or assault in its many forms. (Despite Mz Christie dying in 1976 – this somehow does not register).
The premise of bringing fictional characters to trial sounds like something from a dystopian horror novel, but it is indeed a real, though luckily rare, phenomenon, at least in so-called civilized places.
You’ve probably heard about those crazies who stalk actors because they believe the characters they portray are real, or spew hate speech because they believe the actors endorse the actions they portray in movies. Or that all successful people in the world are part of a singular conspiracy that is a sign of impending doom for planet earth.
They want nothing less than to end fiction.
I wonder how the end of fiction would play out? A squad of fictional detectives trouncing around imaginary landscapes to arrest fictional characters. “Take that King downtown, officer, for he doth murdered his brother.” …and off to Verona… “Verily I’m placing you under arrest, Lord Romeo, for the indecent assault of a minor”… then a quick spin in Dexter or Hannibal – “Will you look at all these bodies, chief, what sick mind would…?” and Oz, “Come with me, you wicked witch, because your author is under arrest for allowing a young girl to travel unaccompanied with strangers and you are witness in the trial.” I wonder what crimes all the characters in Alice in Wonderland or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory would be accused of.
Well, if certain activists get their way, authors may be brought to trial for fictional crimes in the near future. If that happens we’ll be in a bad place indeed. Bat-crazy country. It will make government censorship look like a French farce.
As authors we sometimes think we are immune to psychopathic absurdity because we are by our very act of writing able to separate reality and fiction into two neat heaps.
The idea of the Thought Police is nothing knew — we know it from George Orwell’s iconic 1984, where people are required to not only behave according to the authority’s ever-changing whims, but think the correct thoughts too. Correct according to those in power, of course, as coincidence would always have it. Cults use this to indoctrinate their victims, though no person who was ever successfully indoctrinated knew that they were.
And that’s the crux. Controlling the thoughts of another is a desperate attempt at grabbing power over them.
As a writer I am sensitive to the events in my novels, some are dark and some are funny, but I can separate the fiction from reality. I hope never to Write What People Want, but to write fiction that asks questions. Fiction is an opinion. Opinions change, grow, and sometimes they pass through strange places before arriving home.
For some, reality and fiction are intertwined in a conspiratorial mashup that feels as real to them as the screen you’re reading from now – you’ll often find that people who believe one fiction believe in all of them. UFO’s in the same world as Dragons, Illuminati and Lizard people. And when an author writes about characters that feature in conspiracies (a double whammy) they believe the events are real, even though the writer is telling a story no less fantastical than Peter Rabbit or The Wind in the Willows.
Without the ability to confront the fictitious character they often resort to confronting the writer. (As Lionel Shriver found out after being attacked by an ‘activist’ saying that she was not permitted to write about things that were not wholey about white women)
What books would be struck from the shelves because their characters broke the law? Fight Club. 1984. Every Louis L’Amour book. Every Tom Clancy or James Patterson book. The Bell Jar. The Perks of Being A Wallflower. Juno. Lolita. Romeo and Juliet, all of Shakespeare’s works, actually, Game of Thrones most certainly. Most medieval tales. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. There’d be almost nothing left except for tales of mild personal corporate struggle in a corporate world of obedience. Nice, quiet books where the protagonist wants nothing more than to make his master more money, with no crimes, no extra-marital affairs, and little to jiggle the senses.
And what about writing about the crimes in other books… or writing about the writing about the…? That too would also be a crime, since withholding criminal evidence is criminal in itself. Increasingly journalists are being attacked merely for reporting the news.
It does give me an idea for a short story, one where all the characters in other books are rounded up and brought to justice. The fictional cops would have a busy time on their hands – every murder mystery, every story about abusive parents, or forbidden love in the wrong religion, all brought into the justice system for a rake over the coals of judgment. I wonder what the fictitious penalty for killing a fictional character would be, Ms Christie?
I say let the fictional victims come forward and speak.