Art vs The Artist
So I came across a random Reddit post the other day that kind of shook me a little bit. Apparently noted fantasy author David Eddings and his wife spent a year in jail back in the 70s for child abuse when they lived in South Dakota. His story was that they relocated to Denver and he took a job in a grocery store because he "didn't get a raise" at the small college he was at. Yeah, nope. Not so much. A year in jail and losing custody of the kids you adopted seems to have been the primary motivating factor for the relocation there, Dave. (It does get a mention on his wikipedia page- so it's not like people are actively trying to memory hole this- but still.)
And man, it bummed me out. It still bums me out because growing up, once I had devoured Lord Of The Rings and The Hobbit, Eddings was my jam, man. I've read (and still own) the Belgariad and the Mallorean-- and the two prequels. I didn't love The Tamuli or the Elenium quite so much (his work is very derivitive after awhile) and eventually when The Wheel of Time really got going, I got into that and my tastes kind of moved beyond that. (I actually stopped reading fantasty for a very long time and am just now completing my first full read through of The Wheel of Time and I snagged the first Mistborn book on Audible as well- so I'm finally reading some Sanderson.)
The more I think about it, the more it fundamentally changes the way I view his writing. Not the experience of reading it the first time- I think these books are always going to be in my mind as one of the touchstones of my childhood and for sure I'll keep The Belgariad and the prequels on my shelf-- but suddenly, I'm hestitant to read these books to my kids now. And that makes me a little sad- but also it brings up the interesting question: can you (and should you) separate the art and the artist?
I liked Ender's Game, for instance. Doesn't mean I need to approve of Orson Scott Card and his political beliefs. I've never bothered with The Mists of Avalon, but if someone really liked that book, I could respect that- even if there's a dark rabbit hole indeed to fall down when it comes to Marion Zimmer Bradley. (The internet reputation of Terry Goodkind- rightly or wrongly has also kept me faraway from his books- that and the length of them.)
The question also spirals out to all kinds of aspects of our culture: if you grew up with the Cosby Show, how are you feeling right now? Same deal with Gary Glitter, Woody Allen or R. Kelly? Nobody's going to be hearing 'Rock N'Roll Part 2' any time soon down at the old Stadium- but I don't know. It's all very subjective to me-- people are going to react differently to the notion and I think that's okay? I'm not gonna rush out and buy a Gary Glitter album, but if Gary Glitter was your jam back in the day and you still own some of his stuff, then... okay. I think there's honestly a spectrum with this question of art versus the artist and I think some people are going to be able to totally divorce the two and others are going to move to the opposite end and expunge anything they may have had or like about the artist-- but most people I think are going to be somewhere in the middle of the spectrum.
Horrible, deeply flawed people can create works of art and writing that genuinely moved people. I think you can divorce the art from the artist-- but only to a point. Having found this out, for instance, I'm not in any rush to complete The Belgariad saga by adding The Mallorean to my shelves. (Or grabbing The Elenium or Tamuli for that matter- though I have to admit, I was tickled at the possibility of re-reading those.)
I'll always love The Belgariad and those characters-- but I'll look at them slightly differently now and that does massively bum me out. I guess that's why they tell you to never meet your heroes-- though glancing through the wiki-pages for Brian Jacques and Anne McCaffery, so far it seems like those two are safe. (In the case of the former, I am especially pleased-- as the Eldest Spawn has been read Mossflower, Redwall and is almost through Mariel of Redwall without too much complaint on his part.)