On March 31, 1750, Samuel Johnson published what has become one of the most famous statements in regards to the potential of fiction. In “Rambler No. 4,” one of Johnson’s claims is that responsible authors should exercise a form of self-censorship. While I don’t agree with his arguments against imaginative invention of the fantastic (I write fantasy, after all), this passage intrigues me:
“if the power of example is so great as to take possession of the memory by a kind of violence, and produce effects almost without the intervention of the will, care ought to be taken that, when the choice is unrestrained, the best examples only should be exhibited; and that which is likely to operate so strongly should not be mischievous or uncertain in its effects.”
I think what Johnson is saying is that authors have a responsibility not to use the power they weld to influence their readers negatively. In the words of Uncle Ben, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Writing can be enormously influential, and authors should be conscious of the fact that what they are writing has the potential to fill their readers’ minds.
While I don’t think authors must (or even should) shy away from dealing with uncomfortable or controversial themes and issues, I do try to exercise a kind of responsible self-censorship in my young adult fantasy. I’m not sure this is a topic that often comes up when writers talk about writing, but perhaps it should be.