Messages & Morals

            I am sometimes asked “what message or moral is conveyed in “The Devil’s Grandson?”  

            I never sit down to write fiction with the aim of creating a message, moral, or meaning. Let me explain.

            I write because something interests me. I love the research part of writing and I also love the act of putting words down on paper. I write because I love to write.

            I believe that a novel “means” what it means to you, the individual reader. For one reader the message of “The Devil’s Grandson” may be “work hard and you will rise in the world.” For another it may be “a hero is loyal.”

            Most novels are open to interpretation. When I read “The Scarlet Letter” in eighth grade, I thought the message was “do not have sex outside of marriage.” I got an A on my argument along that line. However, Hawthorne himself stated that the moral of the novel is “be true to yourself.”

            To me, a well-written novel has as many messages as it has readers. That’s why the great classics, such as “Jude the Obscure,” “War and Peace,” and “Moby Dick” contain several, if not many, different messages, depending on who is doing the reading.

            I am uneasy when a writer of historical fiction tries to draw an overall message from a character’s life. I mean, my life doesn’t seem to me to have an over-riding moral or meaning, since each year I change a little or a lot, both psychologically and physically. My life is a series of episodes strung together – some of my own decision-making and some definitely not.

            Morally instructive fiction can leave the reader with a feeling of being overly controlled and judged. I find that intention in fiction reveals an author who is controlling, rigid, and smug.

            Since morals are relative to culture, an author’s moral messages tend not to stand the test of time. Not all virtues are important to one society or another. In Medieval times, loyalty was a much-needed virtue in a dog-eat-dog world. Today, tolerance may be more valuable.

            Moreover, when we look at human history, we find that truth is elusive and always changing.     

            Messages in novels tend to be multi-layered (and personal) because several people may have had a hand in creation. In the “History of William Marshal,” (ed. by A.J. Holden, Anglo-Norman Text Society, 2004) several people are responsible for the meaning you, the reader, perceive.

            As he selected the stories of his life to tell, William Marshal himself probably shaped the biographical material in order to stress loyalty and courage. The person who recorded the stories in the long French poem added his own slant. One such slant is that ” . . . [Death] is cruel and excessively violent and has no thought for any damage which is left behind in the world.” Another is that a woman is worth much less than a man. And, of course, the writer who turned this poem into an historical novel injected her own values. Can you tell that I value clarity and accuracy (and I don’t think that a man is worth more than a woman)?        

            I’d like to know what message you yourself get from “The Devil’s Grandson.” Please let me know. Thank you to all my readers.

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