For those of you who haven’t heard about it yet, Orson Scott Card (Author of Ender’s Game and Ender’s Shadow, which are both pretty great books) recently came under fire for an adaptation of Hamlet. The novella is called “Hamlet’s Father,” and it depicts the deceased king as a homosexual pedophile who molested Hamlet’s entire male friend circle (thereby turning them all gay), was murdered by Horatio in an attempt to stop his madness, and then came back as a ghost to orchestrate the utter destruction of Denmark. I’m going to state right here that I haven’t actually read the book yet, and I probably won’t unless I find it somewhere second-hand, as I’m pretty much set against funding this kind of literature. But I have read just about every review I can find on the book, and I have a lot to say about it.
Obviously, there is a lot of meat in this issue. Anything that promotes the idea that “gay” is a social disease, and that all gay people are somehow unfulfilled and forced to seek happiness through debauchery and pedophilia, is pretty much disgusting propaganda in my book. It saddens me that Card falls into this category, and makes me feel slighting guilty for owning the entire Shadow series, but then I always knew that he was a bit of a religious nut job. Plus, he’s never been particularly insightful or open-minded when it comes to sex, even the heterosexual variety (really, Petra? You’re a strong, independent female who commanded squadrons and saved the universe, but you’re happy to give it all up to play Stay-At-Home-Mom with a powerful asshat? Okay then…). As disgusted as I am by his position and some of the truly misguided things he’s written, it’s really not that surprising. And it’s not what I want to talk about.
As the ever-insightful Emily stated so eloquent in the lengthy Facebook conversation we had about this topic, “I think I am most irritated by stories being repurposed into moral lectures, whatever the context.” And that’s the truly rotten thing about this story–the way that Card has appropriated a beautifully complex and multi-faceted story, reduced it to black-and-white morality and imposed his own wordview upon it, despite the fact that the original story doesn’t even touch on the themes he’s interested in.
Now a few points to take note of: I’m not saying that people shouldn’t adapt stories. Anyone who’s been around this blog long enough knows that I’m a huge fan of re-tellings of myths and fairy tales, and I’ve even had a go at it myself. I think putting a unique spin on an old story is a great way to keep the mythos alive for a younger generation, and adapt old ideas to an ever-changing social environment.
I’m also not saying that authors should limit themselves to the literal material of the text. I don’t even think that film adaptations should stick to the story as originally laid out in the book–the mediums are different, the audience is different, and therefore the story should change accordingly. There is always room for artistic interpretation and reinvention, no matter how beloved the original version.
And, most importantly, I’m not saying that authors should keep their political and religious views out of their work. That would be an impossible demand, because every story is inherently colored by the viewpoint of the person telling it. Card is a devout Mormon, and he has some pretty specific ideas about the role of women and the immorality of homosexuality and all that jazz. I don’t agree with him, but he has a right to express his thoughts on the issue, and I wouldn’t dream of condemning him for exercising that right.
The thing I do have a problem with is his appropriation of a story that has nothing to do with the topic he’s exploring. Hamlet is a play about betrayal, the futility of revenge, and the dangers of playing mind-games and jumping to conclusions–not homosexuality, pedophilia or even sex in general (although you could make an argument for incest; there’s an adaptation I’d like to see). If you’re going to write a novella exploring the evils of homosexuality, fine–you have that right. But Hamlet? Really? Where’s the argument for that?
The fact is, there isn’t one. Card is imposing his pre-existing agenda on the story without regard for the original material, which is a cardinal sin in my mind. It’s not about the story anymore. It’s about the Evil!Gays, and he’s just using Hamlet as a flimsy backdrop. That, to me, is an insult to Shakespeare and literature in general.
Storytelling is not intended as a soap box, and to use it as such is an abuse of the form. There are lots of other texts that he could have chosen for which a homophobic message would have been more in keeping with the original themes–Naked Lunch by William S. Boroughs, Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx, any number of books by Oscar Wilde (like a Portrait of Dorian Gray: there’s tons of implicit homosexuality and discontent going on there)–and his argument would have grown organically from the themes already present. Just so long as he picked something that actually spoke to what he wanted to write about.
But he didn’t. He chose Hamlet, and he disrespected it. And I, for one, can’t imagine I’ll ever forgive him.
“A countenance more in sorrow than in anger.” -Horatio, Hamlet, Act I scene ii.
P.S. One good thing to come out of this debacle: this “adaptation” is hilarious.