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Should writers foresee grounds for misconstrued glorification?

A. E. Lowan

Forum Mom
But if the details were inspiring malicious intentions, couldn't it be likened to incitement?

That's a very good question. The answer is, probably not. Barring actually exhorting the reader to follow the writer's detailed instructions, if a reader uses our work to commit violence, it's on them. People have free will, and they use it for good or for ill. Now, my team writes a lot of pretty horrific violence, but we tend to avoid the details. Here are a couple of examples. First is the munchy-crunchy scene I mentioned earlier.

The demon ran a finger through the blood on Lizzie’s chest and licked at it like it was honey. “You’re strong, little Lizzie. You might not be the ideal sacrifice, but I think you’ll do.”

Magnus stepped closer, but not too close. “Shall I use her to feed the Demon Gate, then?”

The demon bent and licked blood directly from her skin. “Yes. And then… we play.”

Lizzie did not die from the bleeding and the pain. She did not die when their Gate opened on a blighted, red hellscape, its structure fueled by her stolen life force, black smoke undulating from its depths like grasping hands.

So, she was alive when the demon began to eat her.

And much later we have someone who also gets sacrificed to the demon, only in a different way.

Magnus put his foot on Bastian’s chest. “No. You’ve failed me for the last time.” He looked to Arariel. “My lord, let me call a Legion Commander. We’ll find this girl before your deadline.”

Arariel raised an eyebrow. “You’ll need quite a sacrifice to bring them here and you seem to be a victim short.”

The look Magnus cast on Bastian was devoid of pity. “I see one that should suffice.”

Bastian paled and struggled to get away. “Magnus, no! I’ve done everything you’ve ever asked of me. I’ve been your partner in this. I killed my first Mulcahy when I was twelve! You can’t!”

Magnus ground his heel into Bastian’s sternum, causing a small pain noise. “I have given everything to this geas. I gave my daughter to Arariel. My son betrayed me and will be dead soon enough. I have nothing left. What makes you think I won’t use you?”

Bastian’s eyes filled with tears. “Magnus… Master… please! I love you.”

Magnus turned to Arariel. “My lord, may I present your sacrifice?”

Arariel’s grin was a thing of menace and teeth and laughter. “Sure. Why not?”

Magnus swung his cane. “Goodbye, Bastian.”

Bastian screamed as the steel head of the cane struck his face.

Arariel was a demon of blood and pain, and so while a simple offering of a soul would technically suffice, he gained more power—and more pleasure—from offerings that ended with bloody, agonizing, death. The more violent the death, the more power generated, and Magnus had a particular Legion Commander in mind.

One that required quite a bit of power to summon, indeed.

By the time Bastian was finally dead the Demon Gate fairly hummed with power, and Magnus could again see the blasted hellscape that was the native realm of both demons and angels. He paused for a moment to contemplate what they had done to their own home in their unending war and was grateful that they could not pass so easily to the Mortal Realm. It was enough that the strongest of them chose to come here and use mortal souls as some sort of point system in their conflict. The demons wanted to collect them for their personal power, and angels sought to set them free.

Do either of these scenes exhort the reader to go out and find a demon to sacrifice to or even to eat someone? I don't think so. That would be both demented and silly. But that being said, there are examples of works that do attempt to incite readers to follow the writer's will, with detailed instructions as to how. I haven't read any of them, personally, but I know they're out there. They're outliers, but they do exist, and those authors may indeed be responsible for what their readers do in their names.


No. How can we possibly predict these things? How could the Beatles know Charles Manson would fixate on Helter Skelter? Are we to produce no art for fear of someone committing an atrocity? Madmen will always do mad things, regardless of what we do.


Troglodytic Trouvère
Article Team
I think I've changed my mind on this topic ever so slightly. While I continue to believe that content warnings are a good practice and consider it to be commendable (though not required) if an author chooses to implement guard rails into their fiction in terms of disavowing the actions (either through POV or narratively as consequence of the harmful actions taken), I'm less confident that these considerations would have real effect. If a disturbed reader wants to read something in a given piece of fiction, they'll likely be able to do so regardless of authorial intent. And that's not even considering the selection bias that such a reader may have.

In practice, content warnings and guard rails may simply be a way to shield the author from unfair blame resultant from unintended consequences. Still enough reason to implement them in my opinion, as I don't believe an author should be blamed for the actions of readers to begin with, but not truly helpful in addressing any issues.

To return to Rage, King himself spoke of it not as a book that caused its copycats to break, but as a possible accelerant for their actions, which is an apt way of putting it, but a disturbed mind can fashion otherwise fine fiction into an accelerant if they wish to, so then prevention becomes a fool's errand.
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