Problems I have With Moralising Books

If you remember my book review yesterday, you will know I wasn’t too enamoured with A Long Way To A Small, Angry Planet. And one of the reasons I hated it was cos it was very moralising. I have often stated that I *hate* overt message books- but have never really gone into the whys and wherefores of what makes me feel like face palming so hard that I knock all memory of the book from my head…


Now not all books that have messages will do this and not all books that do this will drive me mad- but here are my reasons why I can’t stand moralising books:

  1. Superbly stupid-non arguments. I’m not in primary school. You can’t just say “war is bad” and “don’t be mean”- I won’t just nod along robotically. I want nuance. I want to be treated like an adult and not patronised by what I just read. Heck- I want the complex arguments and analysis of Tolstoy (ok I don’t expect this from everything I read- especially not YA- just don’t make halfwit statements- ok??)
  2. If you’re going to debate something, put up a fight. No truism back and forths. If two characters are discussing, say, the existence of god- try not to make one of the characters a moron. It doesn’t make the mouthpiece for your agenda look good. It makes it look like you don’t have the confidence to thrash it out properly and it doesn’t sound believable. Unless you *want* your characters going on long tirades and probably getting quite heated, *leave this out of your book*!
  3. once-upon-a-time-finale-recap-featured-image-05102015-970x545The argument is just plain wrong. Sometimes views espoused in books are so objectionable or misleading that I just cannot get on board with them and it completely spoils my enjoyment of the book. For example, Once Upon A Time has put murder on a par with killing for self-defence before- not cool! A writer is entitled to present their views of course- but here’s the kicker- the reader is entitled to disagree and if your views are so flimsy they can be debunked in five seconds, you might want to rethink putting it in.
  4. Also, you might want to make sure the argument doesn’t undermine itself! Watch out if you accidentally undermine your feminist arguments with horrible characters too (I’m looking at you 99 Days). NB: Before anyone in the comments yells “99 daysthere are no objective truths”- just know that’s a subjective opinion, so as a moral relativist, you have to accept that other people are not moral relativists and that they are right in their own way (yeah that’s right, I just used moral relativism against the moral relativists…)
  5. When it’s invasive and gets in the way of the actual story. This often goes for any character giving a political speech and basically being used as a mouthpiece to preach- is this a religious text??? Keep it subtle!
  6. Similarly, try to keep on point. Honestly, if you’re writing a contemporary, why would you want to go off on some rant? Not gonna lie- this always makes me wince. Think very hard about whether this actually improves the story.
  7. If every single one of the messages is pessimistic– aka “people are shit, everyone’s evil, what’s the point of living”. And this is coming from a Hardy fan. Pessimism is best put into symbols and plot- not preachy characters or narrators.

So agree or disagree? What do you think about moralising books? Let me know in the comments!


33 thoughts on “Problems I have With Moralising Books

  1. I think a lot of what you’re saying makes a great deal of sense. There’s a huge difference between having a message and showing it subtly through characters’ actions or views, and being so obvious that it feels more like a political lecture/religious sermon/philosophical rant. In fact, it’s brilliant that you used moral relativism against moral relativism – that’s one of my major grievances with that view – because if you claim there are no absolutes and that this is an absolutely true statement – THEN YOU JUST MADE YOUR OWN ARGUMENT INVALID, YOU KNUCKLEHEADS.

    Yeah, it’s one thing to come from a certain religious/social/moral point of view – and another to try to make anyone else’s wrong or “stupid”, etc. Most of the people who are trying to force their opinion to be the only one are also often the ones screaming about intolerance. When did this PC attitude have to enter every aspect of our lives, including books we just want to read for entertainment?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes absolutely!! I have no problem with symbols or allegory, but preaching is one thing I just can’t tolerate. A lot of my favourite authors of classics might philosophise, but even they never went into the realms of telling people what to think. Yeah it’s surprisingly easy to debunk, for something that’s so widespread (particularly among academics).
      Absolutely. Yes it’s funny how intolerant they can be- and yet they’re very tolerant of specific brands of intolerance… funny that. Yeah, I find it hard to cope with it, especially when they cite something silly that has been widely debunked everywhere or when it’s one of those cop-out soundbites :/ Like you said- when did this invade even the things we read for entertainment?!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. First, I agree with your sentiments here.
    Second, there are so many snarky things I want to type in jest, but I won’t, yet, because I don’t know you well enough and you don’t know me well enough
    Finally, I plan to rectify number 2 by sticking around!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This morning I watched an episode of Daria in which her English class is assigned to choose a book from a list and look at the moral message in it. The episode begins with Daria reading a textbook in which the author argues that books without morals are bad, and of course Daria hates it. (Hooray!). Just last night I finished a book for book club that had some horrible, dangerous morals. Here’s an example I wrote about:

    “Then, there are the families that are surprised with Christmas Jars full of a year’s worth of change. One woman, sitting in her home with her infant, freezing because the heat has been turned off, receives a Christmas Jar and is able to pay her bills. She and her husband, a long-haul trucker, learn that they simply need to budget better. You don’t get your heat shut off in winter because you’re poor at budgeting, your heat gets shut off because you’re living on the brink of freaking poverty.”


  4. Yes to all of this! I hate being treated like an idiot or a kid by books. I want strong arguments on both sides, not a stupid make-believe fight where you can point who’s right and who’s wrong. I want meaning behind messages, and I don’t want to finish a book that depressed me with negative messages every 5 page!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Yes I completely agree, you don’t have to beat me over the head with it we get it. I don’t think I need to read about the characters telling me what is good and what is bad in the world. By all means throw it in there but readers aren’t dumb we can infer like nobodies business. Good post I really enjoyed it.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. After reading your last post I thought to myself ‘Moral relativism and “war is bad” in one binder?’ I’d find that unbearable reading, really frustrating. About the above topic though, a friend of mine, long before her coming to Christ, was given a gift by her boyfriend, they’d been gifted “His dark materials,” the complete set, if I’m not mistaken. Now, she was in ideological neutral, they weren’t really aware of politics or faith or anything of the sort, although, their boyfriend was extremely political, even anti religious.

    She’d read the books in part, but found them just uninteresting, maybe they are, maybe not, I’ve only read about the series in overview, anyhow, they’d gathered dust upon a shelf long after their relationship had ended, until this young lady started speaking with me. Obviously I spoke, maybe to her annoyance, about the kinds of thing I always speak about, about life, contentment, popular culture, fulfilment in Christ, and they realized there was this ideology called atheism, having spoken to me they’d found out there was this collection of people who actually want to expel Christian viewpoints from the public space.

    So, they went back to their bookshelf, back to His dark materials, read what their other half was trying to initiate them into, and just said wow, “I had no idea what they were doing.” Unbelief being so common within our culture just means outright hatred, or material effectively composed against religious beliefs, continues unnoticed, so much so that untrained people are totally defenceless against these very insidious book ideologies.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ahh yes it was very frustrating to read- chockablock with lazy soundbites and half bakes ideas.
      That’s interesting- I’m actually familiar with that book series and it happens to be something I love- I never found it especially egregious. I know it’s a retelling of Paradise Lost and that it focuses on examining the idea of original sin- personally without the background in Christian theology I found it puzzling rather than controversial- but as I said I am not a theologian and I was very young when I read it.
      I do find, however, there is a desire to erase or ignore Judaeo-Christian values in literature- which does end up being very silly- as it means analysis of the subject matter will be very poor. As far as I’m concerned, Christian thought is at the heart of our culture and valuable in many ways- it is not wise to scoff at ideas or dismiss them out of hand- every idea should be judged according to its own merit.
      From my (admittedly biased) viewpoint, unbelief should in no way be an ideology in its own right- and for lots of people, it isn’t. I have started to notice a trend in the arguments of radical atheists, especially after reading a couple of books on atheism, which makes me wonder how much the new atheism has to do with belief. In my opinion, a lot of their arguments are actually cultural marxism in disguise and anti-religious rhetoric is actually being used to promote this rather insidious ideology. Now that may just be conjecture, but if my instincts are right, it’s awful that people’s individual right to choose what they do or do not believe in is being used in this political game.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It was actually Richard Dawkins, of all people, who has given the most robust defence of the importance of the Bible to the world of literature that I’ve read. They’d went so far as to list common sayings or idioms which are in common use today, yet they find their origins in the Bible, in many cases in the king James translation, I believe. Dawkins went into a laundry list of ways in which the Bible has influenced our common speech and literature, listing common sayings like “The apple of my eye”, “Can a leopard change his spots?” and so on. Obviously this was done in an attempt to later dismiss the Bible as only being merely an influential historic relic, as opposed to God’s word superintended to humankind. Still, their praise was well taken. 🙂

        Unbelief, you’re right in pointing out, shouldn’t be considered an ideology in it’s own right, that’s why, I’d write, atheists often parasite off of science as if to say they’re somehow inextricably linked. Where that leaves these great men of science and religious convictions is anybody’s guess….

        Newton, Blaise Pascal, Gottfried Leibniz, Francis Bacon, Kepler, Francis Collins, Galileo Galilei, Clerk Maxwell (the list couldn’t be exhausted by a single person).

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Definitely agree with you on all your points. I do hate being treated like a kid. Give me complexity! Show me all your colours! Dive deep and make me want to fight for fresh air! 😛

    – Lashaan

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  8. I know you just said that you have read some Tamora Pierce books, so I’m curious which ones they are as a few of them are close to toeing that line from ‘a book with a good theme/message’ to being too much. Personally, I don’t think she has crossed that line because she does manage to have a least a little bit of nuance in her books, but there have been one or two that were close and everyone is different in what their views of too much are.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sure- I read the Immortals Quartet, the Song of the Lioness Quartet and Trickster’s Choice. That’s an interesting point- I’d definitely agree with you there- I don’t think she’s crossed the line at all. She may have views that translate into her story, but she embeds her views into the text in a symbolic way and definitely doesn’t come across as preachy. Obviously every book is underpinned by the author’s views- my problem comes when the author tries to force their views onto the readership. There’s a distinct line between books based on a specific set of moral values (which arguably every book is) and moralising ones that dictate human thought. For me, it’s too much when the author is radically incorrect with their world view or they’re being too authoritarian about what people should think. Obviously these rules don’t apply to parables or symbolism in books, because they leave it up to the reader to interpret lessons from them- and are therefore not in the bracket of moralising. (There are exceptions to this rule of course- but if an author is going to break the forth wall and start moralising/philosophising, they better be damn sure they’re correct- they’ve got to be nothing short of a Steinbeck or a Dostoevsky)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The books of hers that stand out to be the most for almost crossing the line are the Beka Cooper books and then Battle Magic, though with Battle Magic that whole book was kinda a mess in my opinion so….
        I always liked TP’s balance in her books, but then I fully admit you have to get into the, what I call ‘preachy English Class Literature’ books before I really start having an issue with it (unless its religious stuff which I’m hyper sensitive to dislike if it goes anywhere close to the why don’t you believe? question, if that makes sense). Think the John Green type books that feel the need to smack you over the head with their message to make sure you got it while also being pretentious about it.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Ah I haven’t read those, but I’ll take your word for it!
          Yeah that makes sense
          Ahh yes pretentious books are a whole other level of things I hate in books- I’ve never had an exception to that rule- if a book is try hard then it will show and I won’t like it.

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