This is actually kind of a serious post so the puns in the title are quite facetious. Still, one can never resist, and comedy and tragedy are so often two sides of the same coin.
Fiction can be dark, it can be confronting, and it can be full of horror and violence and issues that people would rather not think about. Some of our society’s favourite books and films are the ones full of death, misery, war, psychological trauma, violent prejudice and sexual abuse. They are horrible things, but they are present in humanity, unfortunately, and so they appear in our art. This does not suit everyone, understandably so.
Question of the week, then: should we shy away from these ugly societal issues for our audience’s peace of mind? On the one hand, no, absolutely not. Fiction is a canvas for expression and so it should, at its most powerful, shock, evoke emotion, and perturb. But it’s not all about literary merit, though works that handle dark topics are often critically hailed (and very popular)—as well as creating empathetic and fantastically dark pieces of fiction, having these themes in literature can bring them to light where they wouldn’t have been otherwise.
Seeing sensitive topics in books can educate and raise awareness to the more sheltered audience members that didn’t even know they existed (i.e. me, reading half the YA section at my high school library and having my quiet little mind blown), and start conversations about these important issues where they wouldn’t have arisen otherwise.
This is why there is so much backlash against banning books, especially the practice of keeping texts with touchy or ‘adult’ themes out of school courses. I went to a dialogue at a writer’s festival with Justine Larbalestier, Libba Bray and her husband the literary agent, all of whom agreed that the term ‘adult themes’ was a product from the back end of a bull. They asked, what are adult themes? Taxes? Politics? Supposedly dark and mature elements like sexuality, violence, drugs, mental health and emotional development are all just human themes, products of life on the earth we have. Continue reading