Letter about the latest book I read and wondering if there is room for disagreeing with people

17th of January 2020

Dear no one, someone, or whoever is reading this.

So this week’s book was “The Book of Dust II: The Secret Commonwealth” by Philip Pullman. And I love being back in this world. As I wrote last week I first visited this world when I was 14. And to go back and discover more things, more questions and maybe if I’m lucky more answers after so many years is amazing. Sometimes I forget how amazing reading a new book is. Not knowing what is on the next page, but longing to find out. And Pullmans writing is amazing. I love re-reading because I love to slip back to a familiar world with familiar characters and knowing where I am going just means I know the journey is worth taking again. This book offered something else. It allowed me to go back to a world and characters I know so well, and then join them on a whole new journey. I guess this might be why so many love fan-fiction these days. I was entertained from start to finish and every character was worth reading about, so I was never disappointed when the point of view shifted.

It’s somehow a rare feeling for me to not know what happens next in a story. I rarely see a movie or TV-show without having figured every twist and turn out in advance. It often bores me. On few lucky occasions I feel clever, when the plot twist took a little effort to work out. I like stories, and all forms of storytelling fascinates me. I am fascinated by the way different mediums tell different stories and uses different tools to tell them. And that is part of why I so often know where stories are going. I don’t watch or read a crime story trying to play detective and figure the clues out. I play the author and try to see where and how the answer is hidden. I am disappointed when the answer wasn’t hidden at all or wasn’t foreshadowed, and bad writing sticks out to me. I marvel not at the answer, but at the cleverness used to hide it in plain sight. If I think there’ll be a plot twist my mind jumps at the chance to solve the puzzle.

Pullman writes stories that doesn’t feel like they are full of plot twists. They are just great journeys and the reader isn’t just reading about it, we are along for the ride and thought we might have a direction (in this one the direction was East) we don’t know much else. And I think I felt all the feelings reading this one. It’s not that I never feel anything reading or following a story. Sometimes I just think I either feel so much in my own life that I don’t know how to have any feelings left for fictional stuff, or my mind gets so caught up in solving the puzzle that I forget to let the feelings dive in to the story and feel what the story feels like.

My favourite Philip Pullman quote is

“There are some themes, some subjects, too large for adult fiction; they can only be dealt with adequately in a children’s book.”

That feels so true to me. That is what he does. These books, in this universe, about Lyra are so dark and painful. Sometimes it is hard to even consider them children’s books at all. I think I have always been drawn to that darkness and the truth that is to be found there. These stories aren’t dark for the sake of being dark. They are dark because they are telling children and adults about the darkness of the world we live in.

And I think that is why I found it hard to look up what other fans of these books write about “The Book of Dust”. Because both books contain scenes of sexual assault and I found those scenes very important. But other readers was very displeased with it. I respect that opinion a lot. I understand why a lot of people are tired of rape and assault scenes. I am to an extent very tired of them myself. But mostly I am tired of a certain kind of scenes. The ones that are sexualised and shown from the perspective of the perpetrator, the ones written, filmed, acted, directed and edited by people who have no idea of what consent is and who doesn’t treat the scenes and especially the victims with the respect they deserve. The kind of scenes that exists to make some male hero character take action and rise to the occasion and that neglects everything the victim feels and goes through. The kinds of scenes that are only included to disturb the audience, to be sensational and dramatic. I find that kind of use of sexual assault to be very problematic, overused and disrespectful. But I don’t want to get to a point where these things cannot be shown or written about. I understand why some people don’t want to see it, hear about it or read about it. I understand why some victims feel the need to stay away from these subjects. But as a victim myself I find great comfort in people who are willing and able to talk about it, to not shy away from these ugly things, who want to shine a light on this and help make the world aware of the fact that these things happen, every day to real people. But is has to be done by people who are capable of doing it with respect and who are standing firmly on the side of the of victims, telling the world that these things are never ever okay. And it has to have a place in the story. And the way I personally see the scenes on these book they have a place, they are not sexualised, they have no sympathy for any of the perpetrators and they show us something real about the world we live in. I read them feeling thankful, that my experiences weren’t too taboo, too dark, too ugly to look at. And that helps me feel like my experiences might not have turned me into something too dark and too ugly to look at.

I think a lot of people will disagree with this. But I felt a need to write it. Because as much as I understand the reasons some people do not want to read another rape scene, I still need them. And I don’t want to force those scenes on anyone. It’s okay to disagree. I just needed to tell someone, that I needed those scenes. And I might not be the only one. I don’t feel like I was eloquent enough to write this, I don’t necessarily have the right arguments at this moment in time. And I know that the internet is unkind to that kind of thing. But maybe someone else need what I need and maybe they need to see that they are not alone in finding comfort in knowing that conversations about assault can be had and that our experiences can be respectfully represented in the media. I don’t think Pullman succeeded 100% in making these scenes unproblematic. But I would respectfully ask to be allowed to disagree with some of the hard criticism of these scenes.

Somehow that was hard to write. I don’t want to hurt anyone. But I had a lot of feelings about the criticism I read. Writing something like this is new and not something I hope to do again in the future.

I wanted to write more. I wanted to write about trying to overcome loneliness by investing in people who actually have something to give back, even if what they have to give back isn’t the things I feel like I need. By trying to spend time with people I like, but do not feel connected to. And by forcing myself out the door to participate in new things. But I am not sure what to say about it. And honestly writing what I just wrote and deciding that it has to go on the internet is surprisingly scary. Even when I post this anonymously on a blog that has no comment section. So I think that’ll be all for this week. I’ll try to write something sensible and less scary next week. I might actually get the hang of this blog thing and of writing every week.

To anyone reading, thank you for being there. Thank you for your time. I hope there is space enough for us to disagree and I believe that there is room enough for all the voices and that many other voices than mine deserve to be heard. Thank you for listening to mine and giving it space. I needed it, and now, knowing I have spoken my mind, I find myself with much more room to listen again.
Whoever you are out there, on the other side of my screen, I wish you all the best and please take good care of yourself whatever that means for you.