Why it’s okay to fall in love with the story and not the message.
It’s no surprise that many book communities host plenty of animosity towards those who “ship” (desire together) a pairing that is considered by the majority an unhealthy match. I’ve seen friendships torn apart, books debased, and authors brought to confrontation all because of the provocation of romance and whether you’re invested in the “correct” duo (or trio, for that matter). Whatever it is about romance in books, they always seem more seductive than the real thing. That’s probably because it’s all planned out from the prologue onward, and the characters, albeit being generally complex, are designed like individual desserts— they might be unique, but they stay within a certain character chart of ingredients.
If someone were to go outside this chart more than once, then the character wouldn’t seem real. I’ve only ever seen this happen in psychological thrillers, where the character often doesn’t understand their motives anymore. Anywhere else would call for a lack of judgment, and this is a huge motif behind the “ship” wars.
I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve read/ seen/ heard the excuse that a character isn’t good for another because “he/she is abusive” or something along the lines of that. Foremost, I’d just like to put in my extra two cents about that so called example. Most of the time we are using the term wrongfully, and nearly all of the time it is taken way too far. Abuse isn’t something to be cast aside lightly, as though it’s an average justification behind a bad character. I feel that the word is used far too repeatedly. It’s insulting to those who actually suffered from abuse, and it desensitizes the phrase from being as vicious as it truly is.
That being said, I’m tired of all the blame and punishment when someone confesses to enjoying a certain pairing…only to get bashed by the majority of those who don’t share the same opinion. I believe everyone realizes that we are entitled to our many opinions, however I don’t think people understand that those who may like something that seems wrong to another fan understands that it’s wrong and simply enjoys it because of the thrilling story it tells. I didn’t realize that I had to read books seclusively teaching life lessons and good morals? I think I get the gist of things. Why can’t I enjoy a book with wicked characters, incredibly complex backgrounds, and dark themes like the commonly beloved mythology aesthetic?
Speaking of mythology, here is where I’d like to draw in the parallels of hypocrisy.
Much like it’s nearly impossible not to find a feud on Tumblr regarding “ships”, it’s also fairly average to come across a blog with mythological themes—such as those aesthetic posts describing certain myths, fan art, playlist, fan-fiction, or the common quotes used in bios for the sake of sounding poetic. Don’t get me wrong, I actually love all those things. Hence why I’m writing this exasperated blog post.
If we can love mythology, for all it’s cynical characters, misguidance, and corruption, then we can also accept the fact that some people adore current books for the same reason—regardless of whether you may think it immoral. Some of us aren’t in it for the little noble reminders. We just want the debauchery that brings about an entertaining and sorrowful story.
It’s quite funny when you really think about it. Once, I’ve mentioned this argument in passing, and the girl’s response was to refute everything I’d said and state “Well, the more people who view it that way, the easier it will be for them to start thinking that way also.” Uh-oh. Oh, no. Someone get the crucifix, I just read a popular YA book and I think I’m about to siege a small village of farmers and nuns.
*flicks holy water at haters*
One of my favorite examples for this controversy also happens to be one of my favorite “ships” (no surprise there). In Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha Trilogy, our main heroine Alina Starkov subtly harbors feelings for the Darkling, our main antagonist with one of the best character build-ups I’ve ever read. A few tragedies later, and a lot of repent angst, and suddenly I’d rather stake myself than give us obsessing about these two being a team together. Alarkling, as they’re often called, is beautiful in it’s awfulness— kind of like a folkloric tale. I understand completely that the Darkling is incredibly corrupt and immoral, but does that make me “ship” these two any less? Are you kidding?? They’re literally the Sun and Moon. Of course, I can’t indulge one without the other.
If one would take the time to investigate Bardugo’s method behind the pairing, they’d see that she crafted them to be correspondent to the notorious Russian folklore tale of Koschei the Deathless and Marya Morevna (also a retelling by Catherynne M. Valente titled Deathless). I mean come on, it’s literally derived from myths! No one cared for the bigger meaning when it came to seductive story telling! If you still need guidance about morals after, assuming, you’ve read so many books that drag out ethics like it’s a kindergarten class…Maybe this post isn’t for you?
I could go on a tyrant with the many other examples of improper shipping, specifically where YA novels are concerned, but you get the gist.
So the next time you see anyone being called out for loving something a little twisted, don’t just remain in the dark. Ask the prosecutor if he/she realizes that the other fan understands how immoral her/his opinion is, and simply doesn’t care.
How we enjoy stories is different for every single person. Don’t ruin that experience for someone else by shoving your ethical nonsense down our throats!