I am not a squeamish person when it comes to the books I read. It sort of comes with the territory as an avid science fiction and fantasy fan. There’s quite a bit of blood, gore and general shock. Both sexual and cultural taboos are frequently used in these genres as plot devices or as ways to separate the good guys from the bad guys. Even the historical and realistic fiction I read sometimes presents terrible stuff.
Hell, sometimes the protagonist has to engage in a couple of these unsavory activities to save the universe.
I’ve seen beloved central characters torture and kill. I’ve read one story where one female protagonist allows herself to, essentially, be raped in order to save her compatriots. I’ve seen a couple of characters maroon people without any sort of help.
I have written a scene where one of my lovelies, one of my beautiful heroes, watches a former friend bleed out and orders his head cut off and brought home as a trophy.
Traditional Greek heroes, like Hercules, were assholes. They killed and maimed and fornicated and were hailed as the greatest people in mythology, because they did the impossible (retrieved golden fleece, killed Medusa, etc). What I’m saying, my doves, is that I understand the necessity of using taboo issue as plot devices. I get it. I really do.
However, there are some uses of the taboo in literature that stop me in my tracks.
I am just under 100 pages into reading “Thomas Convanent the Unbeliever: Lord Foul’s Bane.” I have not finished it yet. I’ve barely started. Let me repeat that.
I haven’t finished it.
I have NOT FINISHED it.
Now, that said, the reason why I haven’t finished this book is that the protagonist, Thomas, did something utterly shocking. I’m not going to issue a spoiler alert, because this is pretty earlier on in the story, but if you haven’t read the book and would like to, now is the time to turn away. Go. Come back on Friday, my feelings won’t be hurt.
The author spends 86 pages building sympathy for Thomas. He’s a leper, an outcast. His illness prevents him from feeling anything physical. He has this insatiable lust because his flag won’t rise, if you take my meaning. His wife took their baby and left him. He’s a little bitter, but generally you feel for the guy. Then, he is transported into a magical land and rescued by a pretty “fifteen or sixteen year old” girl. She takes him home to her family, feeds him, allows him to interact with her people.
During this time, his illness is healing. He’s getting sensation back, and it is very apparent that he’s attracted to this girl. At one point he gets angry with her, and in the space of a paragraph couched in cliché, he rapes her.
The PROTAGONIST straight up rapes this poor girl.
I put the book down and have not returned to it. Honestly, this is the first time I can remember actively hating someone I just spent 86 pages sympathizing with. Is this instance a plot device? Of course. But I’m pissed off because the author broke an unspoken treaty with me: that the protagonist will remain basically good.
Angry rape scene? That immediately puts him in antagonist mode.
If I was an agent, I wouldn’t have bought the book. The author lost me in that instance. I am trying extremely hard to convince myself to keep reading, to see if Thomas somehow redeems himself, because I hear this series is worth a read. But it’s hard.
Have you all ever encountered something in a book that shocked you enough you didn’t want to read it anymore? Were you able to get past that? How?
When have authors completely lost you? Tell me in the comments. Let me know I’m not alone.