Prompted by reading The Thirteenth Child by Patricia C. Wrede.
Even if I wanted to make a “responsible storytelling”-type argument, I don’t even know what it’d be.
I’ve noticed that stories about rape/abuse/trauma in general fall into two categories: those that downplay or avoid showing the acutal traumatizing thing to focus on how people deal with the aftermath, and those that really drag you through it and try to make you feel as awful as possible. I’ve read and enjoyed both; I have qualms about both.
About the second kind (for me the archetypal example of this is The Way the Crow Flies): The main issue is that I’m not going to re-read any of them in the foreseeable future. I used to be able to handle it; I have enough stress from my own real-life problems that I can’t, now. (And by “handle it” I mean it didn’t significantly decrease my ability to live my life, not that it didn’t affect me. If you totaled up all the time I spent crying because of The Way the Crow Flies, it’d probably be several hours.) And that’s the thing. Some people can’t read a book that drags them down that much. People who have been personally affected by the stuff in the book are probably more likely to have trouble reading it.
The problem with the first kind (I worry, as I read The Thirteenth Child) is that people who don’t know what it’s about may miss the point. Eff doesn’t do anything obvious or dramatic or scary that would show that she’s been traumatized, but: there’s a part of her that really believes that she is bad luck, that her involvement will only ever make things worse, and that she may “go bad” at some point in the future and hurt a lot of people. She has those ideas in her head, as a small child! That’s awful! And the books do show that it affects her. It takes her a long time to get rid of these ideas, even when she knows that no one around her believes them. It takes her a long time to stop being afraid of her own abilities, and to stop expecting to fail at everything related to magic. I’m just not sure if people who don’t have inside information, so to speak, will understand that this is Eff being terribly hurt by how she was treated as a child, even if she’s quiet about it.
I think it does a lot of good for this story to just be out there, whether people figure it out explicitly or not. I just… if I tell people, “This is a story about how you can climb out of the pit of worthlessness people put you in and create your own self-worth from nothing,” or “This is a story about just how vulnerable children are to being hurt by their families,” or “This is a story about how awful it is when children with disabilities are told they’ll never do anything worthwhile,” will anyone not be shocked and confused? Because it IS about that, as well as dragons and magic and exploring the wilderness. I swear it is. But I feel like it would take a long time to explain to the average person how I get from A to B.