Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

A Change of Policy

with 18 comments

So, a couple of days ago I published a post on the relative liberty of persons in the modern age of stridently defended rights and other ages with less in the way of rights talk and more in the way of personal liberty…

In the process of doing that, I tried to defend myself from the possible charge of sentimentalizing the past by saying that I wasn’t doing it, that I wasn’t engaging in the kind of thing too many fantasy novels engaged in, and that even Tolkein engaged in.

Note that paragraph up there.

It does NOT say that sentimentalizing the Middle Ages is a bad thing, nor does it say that a book that does so is a bad book.

It does NOT compare the writers and/and or readers to anybody or anything.

It is not, in fact, about fantasy or Tolkein at all–it’s about me.

And what it says about both fantasy and Tolkein is something that my two sons, who read fantasy nearly nonstop and in huge quantities, thought was self-evident.

I know, because I did ask them about it. 

And I asked them about it because I was beginning to think I was crazy. 

A few months ago, I published another post here outlining the fact that I get sick and tired of getting jumped on for imagined–note that IMAGINED–slights to science fiction and fantasy, and asking for that behavior to stop.

In response to the post of a couple of days ago, I once again got jumped on for my supposed–note the SUPPOSED–put-down of Tolkein.  I got told I was a snob.  I got told I was having “an Edmund Wilson moment.”

And I wasn’t hit with that by any one person.

I’ll repeat part of what I said here in my last post about this subject:  the same people who jump on me and call be names whenever I mention fantasy or science fiction in anything but terms so laudatory they’re practically hagiography have no compunction whatsoever in trashing books I love and that they  have never read, on the apparent assumption that anybody who reads anything that sounds like that must be a stupid jerk because those books are obviously worthless.

I have never mentioned any work of sf or fantasy in terms like those, and I have never referred to the genres of sf and fantasy in terms like those–but apparently the general consensus is that I must modify my tone whenever speaking of either, and be sure to throw in a lot of praise if I’m going to say anything that’s even just neutral about the genres.

I said last time I wasn’t going to.

Now I’m going to go farther than that.

I don’t think a lot of people read this blog, and certainly very few people comment here.

And sometimes I write blog posts off the top of my head without thinking about them too much.

But that last thing I posted I worked on quite a bit, and I was actually interested in finding out if anybody had anything to say about the point.

I never got a chance. The discussion was highjacked right off the bat by people yelling and screaming at me about what they imagined–note the IMAGINED–I’d said about Tolkein,

So,  here’s what I do now.

The  next time I publish a blog post that is met by high dudgeon and accusations because of what I have supposedly–note the SUPPOSEDLY–said about fantasy, science fiction or anything else–

I will immediately delete those comments from the blog. 

One of the things I got for graduating from  high school was a cessation of having to defend myself endlessly because of the books people thought–note the THOUGHT–I loved and the ones they thought–note the THOUGHT–I  hated.

My first response when stuff like this happens is that I should give up writing the blog. 

The more I think about it, though, that isn’t what I want to do.

If you’re incapable of avoding a deluge of paranoid fantasies about how anybody who isn’t shouting unqualified praise of the book you like is being a rotten little snob and looking down on you–

Well, go have them somewhere else.

It’s not a discussion I’m ever going to get into again.


Written by janeh

November 13th, 2012 at 10:19 am

Posted in Uncategorized

18 Responses to 'A Change of Policy'

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  1. It would be appropriate to indicate that a comment has been deleted and whose comment it was, lest silence be understood to betoken consent.


    13 Nov 12 at 11:19 am

  2. No.

    To do that would be to imply that there is merit in the complaint.

    And my entire point here is that there is no such merit.


    13 Nov 12 at 11:25 am

  3. Well, then I shall monitor with interest, but not post. Good luck.


    13 Nov 12 at 1:37 pm

  4. Hmmm…. ever since I posted my opinion several months ago and was referred to as “obtuse” and “Nurse Ratchett” , I have been reading opinions posted here on this blog with amazement.

    The few who post here are quite opinionated and if one dares to differ with the status quo , one is insulted.

    Jane’s ultimatum regarding other’s opinions of fantasy books is rather selfish.

    Intelligent discourse mandates differing views of any subject.

    Intelligence requires graceful acceptance of differing views but often over- inflated egos and personal past hurts erupt and erase any meaningful exchange of ideas and opinions.


    13 Nov 12 at 5:28 pm

  5. Oops … I forgot to add this little gem :

    It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.



    13 Nov 12 at 5:38 pm

  6. I made no ultimatum regarding other people’s views on fantasy books.

    I objected to comments that take a stray line or two from a post about SOMETHING ELSE and then proceed to protest my snobbishness and obtuseness because I SUPPOSEDLY said bad things about some writer.

    The SUPPOSEDLY is there for a reason.

    In this case, I made NO NEGATIVE COMMENT about Tolkein.

    The “responses” were not responses. They had nothing to do with what I actually wrote.

    And differing points of view are certainly necessary to discourse, but personal abuse is not, and neither is hijacking a discussion about personal liberty in order to ride a hobby horse about science fiction, fantasy and the snobbish elitism of anyone who is presumed not to like them.

    You can say anything you want about fantasy and sf.

    What I am not going to put up with is being called names, directly or by implication.


    13 Nov 12 at 5:56 pm

  7. Getting back to the original topic, it is difficult to have a strong central government when travel is by horseback at 20 miles a day and there is almost no travel in winter.


    13 Nov 12 at 7:27 pm

  8. Your blog. Your rules. Things evolve, but not always as we expect.

    I also have read all the Brother Cadfael stories set in the Middle Ages. Those are talked about as being true to the period.

    It seemed to me that in daily life, everyone lived in very small towns, even cities being small towns compared to today. And everyone either devoutly believed in God or the Church, or they faked it well. As a result of both of those, lives were so circumscribed by everyone knowing your business, and by the strict rules of the Church.

    Sure, you theoretically could raise your children as you pleased, but just try raising them as atheists. There certainly was no nanny state, you were free to freeze, starve, or expose your infants, but don’t bad-mouth God or be seen out in the fields just before your neighbor’s goats took ill.

    Most of the population wasn’t free to leave where they lived, either through serfdom or poverty. To me, the inability to leave an intolerable situation, or to work as one wished, or to seek education, or even to NOT worship obviates all the other very theoretical freedoms from oversight by the state you were talking about.

    About the free-est population I can think of were the American West Mountain men in the late 1800s. No fixed residence, no families, making a living off the land and blowing off steam (and lightening their wallets) at the annual roundups. And oddly, they didn’t try to make everyone else live the way they did.

    Of course, when they died, few knew and fewer cared.

    Wow, wandering afield, I am.


    13 Nov 12 at 10:07 pm

  9. JD and Lymaree reminded me a bit of a remarkable woman named Margery Kempe. She was a medieval woman – not a serf, but not an aristocrat either – whose book is readily available in English. She was devoutly religious – but almost always quarrelling with religious authorities. She was kind of the medieval equivalent of the ‘Cafeteria Catholic’ – she picked and chose which priests and bishops whose teachings she considered worthy. She lived in England, but didn’t let that stop her from going on lengthy pilgrimages. I don’t think I would have liked her too much if I had been able to meet her – her fellow pilgrims kept trying to leave her behind because she was so strong-minded and annoying about such things as Taking Pilgrimage Seriously (and not like a package holiday). And then she wrote (or dictated) a book about her adventures.

    So there was room in the Middle Ages for free action and independance, although your friends and neighbours might try to restrain (or avoid) you. This doesn’t matter really to the idea of freedom as long as they don’t lock you up, prevent you from earning a living or kill you. My freedom to hold certain views or do certain things don’t come with a guarantee that all my friends and relations will approve of me, or even refrain from criticizing me or trying to persuade me of my wrong-headedness.

    The 1950s were like that in my old hometown, a bit. It was assumed that everyone belonged to a religion – actually, to one of a pretty limited number of religions. It didn’t seem to matter (in my childish eyes, anyway) if they actually practiced said religion. My father was an agnostic who set foot in a church only when a family member was being baptised or married. Every family had their members who were officially religious but who didn’t actually “do” religion. They were usually the male members. Soooo – was it a time of rigid conformity, or merely the appearance of rigid conformity, on the matter of religion? I’d say appearance, myself.

    I’ve got an idea I haven’t thought through niggling at the back of my mind. There’s a connection between freedom and duty. For example, in the Middle Ages, you could easily freeze or starve in a bad year (I think infanticide was illegal then as now), but those who had firewood or food had a duty to help those who didn’t. They might not have always recognized this restriction on their freedom, but it existed. We’ve reduced the importance of duty and assigned the job of collecting money to help the poor to the government, and although this method has some advantages – it reaches more people more fairly, perhaps, if the program is well-designed – it also has some obvious disadvantages, starting with the modern conviction some people have that helping others isn’t their job. Let the government do it.


    14 Nov 12 at 7:14 am

  10. Are the things we’ve gained worth the liberties we’ve lost? You don’t think so. Neither do I. However, I think many people do consider the ‘perceived’ gain worth the cost. And I think, for a lot of people the perceived gain is – security. At least the illusion of it.

    I think it’s been happening gradually for a long time and I think it increased exponentially after 9/11. The real effect of 9/11, in my mind, was to reveal to the majority of Americans how their sense of security was an illusion. I think they want that illusion back (hence you can’t take a tube of toothpaste onto an airplane) and are willing to give up most anything to get it. We say we want freedom because it’s what we’ve been taught to say. But freedom is risky – so, having the safety net of a nanny state might just be exactly what any number of people really want.


    14 Nov 12 at 10:36 am

  11. I think the “safety” of post-9/11 society is mostly illusory. I live in Long Beach, one of the largest ports of entry for US/foreign trade. Millions of containers, thousands of trucks, hundreds of ships every year, move through Long Beach and the adjacent Port of Los Angeles. This area is thousands of acres in extent.

    Post 9/11 there was a lot of noise about our vulnerability at the ports to incoming weapons, nuclear & otherwise, foreign nationals, or biological materials. My husband & I, being geeks, had formerly enjoyed poking around the back-roads of the ports, seeing things most people never know exist. We stopped driving around down there after 2001, figuring we didn’t want to encounter the allegedly increased security.

    But just a couple of months ago, we took a drive through the port area. There was absolutely NO change we could detect from former security levels. We drove to within 100 feet of docked Navy vessels, where hatches stood open and no one was visibly on guard. All sorts of truck and container traffic jams the area during the week, and other than Customs, nobody seems to inspect any of it. We’re not objectively safer at the port than before 9/11. But talking about increased security makes people feel better.

    I think Cheryl may have a point about duty and freedom, though I would characterize it more as responsibility. People used to understand government to be an extension of their own will, now government seems to be an uncontrollable entity that does things TO us, not at our behest.

    When government was more personal and seemed to be controllable, people were more willing to shoulder some of the burden, seeing it as a contribution to the common good. Now, people seem to wait for the government to act and abdicate any responsibility for its actions. After all, if you can’t influence government, why should you take or share responsibility for its action or shortcomings? Government has taken so much on itself, even to actively discouraging citizen participation (“no, you can’t contribute food to the homeless, it might be too salty”), people just start to assume that any action they might take properly belongs to government.

    It’s an extraordinary person who sees a lack, and steps up and does something about it.


    14 Nov 12 at 1:24 pm

  12. This is just a thought … since the population of Europe was approx. 50 million during the Middle Ages ( Josiah C. Russell, “Population in Europe:, in Carlo M. Cipolla, ed., The Fontana Economic History of Europe, Vol. I: The Middle Ages, (Glasgow : Collins/Fontana, 1972), 25-71 ) and I couldn’t find any info regarding the population of the rest of the known world …would it be feasible to assume that 21st century governments impose strictures upon citizens because of the increasingly booming population ???


    14 Nov 12 at 6:25 pm

  13. I think a LOT of other factors come into play. Culture, history, disparity within a society and how it’s handled. And technology – especially ease of communication and record-keeping – is very important.

    You can have relatively small countries imposing relatively few strictures controlling much larger groups of people – some empires work this way, for example, the British often ruled through local leaders and didn’t actually try to control every detail of local life and customs. That didn’t last for all that long, actually. And sometimes it just seems that certain cultures – the Germans are often named – value organization and regulation more than others, and are perfectly happy to have more of them from their governments than the populations of some other countries are.


    14 Nov 12 at 7:24 pm

  14. I might be sticking my head out to be chopped off, but even in much of the so-called developed western world life for ordinary people was not all that far removed from that of the Middle Ages until well into the 20th Century, indeed probably until after World War II when technology finally became generally available. The overall reach of centralised government was very limited by relatively poor communications pretty much until late in the 20th century. Which is why auld phartz such as I can remember a time when federal government micromanagement of our lifestyles was impracticable if not impossible.

    Oh, for the good old days.


    14 Nov 12 at 11:20 pm

  15. Happy thanksgiving, Mercuns.


    22 Nov 12 at 6:00 am

  16. I can’t comment on your post but I did enjoy it, as I have enjoyed your books and learn about Americans through them. I love the comments and I’m sorry there are jerks out there who take your remarks out of context, but please don’t stop posting. You are the most interesting one I have found!


    27 Nov 12 at 6:10 pm

  17. I am glad to have stumbled across your blog. I have been reading your Demarkian books for years and always enjoy them. In fact, we corresponded briefly about your use of certain terms which are not consistent with local Philadelphia usage, and which you explained to me, logically, as being more appropriate for a wider audience. I glide over them now when I hit them, but they still are noticeable for someone whose only vernacular is Philadelphian.

    Anyway, allowing for the changes in lifestyle and technology, I do agree that we have either sacrificed or allowed to be taken, much of the personal freedom that marked earlier centuries. And, unless one wishes to view all humankind as evil, surely while things were allowed before that are not acceptable now, it really seems that too much has been taken away. I find that the “nanny state” has perhaps learned too much from the strict Catholic sisters who ran the schools in the 50s and 60s- if one child misbehaves, punish everyone. Once again, our Philadelphia icon, Ben Franklin, said it best: They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.


    30 Nov 12 at 5:27 pm

  18. Let me introduce some topic drift regarding life style changes. Can anyone explain the current fad for apologies?

    For example, I grew up in the 1950s. It was taken for granted that a child of an unmarried woman would be given up for adoption. That was almost a social given. We now have pressure that governors or Bishops who were in grade school in the 50s should “apologize” for the “forced” adoptions. I don’t understand the point of apologizing because social attitudes 50 or more years ago were different from those of the present.


    30 Nov 12 at 11:04 pm

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