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Does every book have to have a moral?
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100% it absolutely does not. A moral need not apply here. Regardless, your readers are going to find something in the work that resonates with them and teaches them something (usually about themselves). Every reading is deeply personal, and we cannot anticipate the results. Certainly, we can try to steer the ship, but a heavy hand makes for a dogmatic read.
If you want to create a dogmatic read, you’re more than welcome to do so and likely have your reasons. That said, fiction errs on the side of fun. It exists to entertain, first and foremost. The fact that we have literary study is merely a sidebar to the experience of books. Even a literary theorist would admit to that.
Books are art. Art is an experience. The things we put into them are just as deeply personal as what the audience gets out of them. However, that does not have to be so ethereal. For instance, I rather enjoy the Fast and Furious film franchise. I make no excuses about that. The cars, the actors, and the scenery are all fun! It doesn’t have a real deep meaning. That said, Vin Diesel did bring in a thread about the importance of family. That thread builds a binding and beautiful tapestry over the series, especially after the untimely loss of Paul Walker. I miss him, but not at all at the level his friends do. So, the films take on a meaning for its contributors that my enjoyment as na audience member does not. Although I enjoy them, there merely a little cloud cover now.
The moral of Fast and the Furious could be to love, and love hard, those who are in your life, because you never know when they won’t be there anymore. It could also be, don’t steal, don’t be a dick, or even that perseverance wins the race. Maybe it is that hard asses can always been redeemed–even a piggy cop type. For me, there’s not really a moral here. I see a celebration of hot cars, great vistas, fun actors, and found family.
Yes, the film is really a text. After all, it has to be a script first. Books can serve this same purpose for readers: just being fun. I don’t think a lot of people read the Star Wars books with any moral learning in mind. As an example, I read a Star Trek Book back in the day, and it wasn’t for any teachings. At that time, I was just a fan, and it had Mister Crusher on the cover, so I thought it might be a great starting point for me, being so familiar.
Admittedly, I read Tolkien’s works for the fun of it. In fact, everything I have ever picked up was for the fun of reading. Whether or not there exists a moral is something to suss out later. Lord of the Rings clearly has a moral, as does his friend’s Narnia series. Many pieces of great literature come with baggage, such as theory which speaks on the morality play within the pages. That’s because they have been studied for generations and picked to death. They left great impressions on their readers. Don’t forget that there have been studies into the effects of reading on empathy, which is deeply tied to morality.
Newer books are mass produced and therefore numerous. It is hard for there to be a large following for each that leads to in-depth study. The pulp fiction of the 20th century is the hub of that outcome. Unless your book reaches so many readers that it is held on high, scrutinized by academics, it will never matter if there is a moral or not–except to you.
In the end, write your story as you see fit, moral or not. Write it for the reasons you personally have. If readers like it, one day, you may be surprised to find the lessons they took from the pages you created. Our job, however, is merely to entertain. The rest is bonus. Don’t stress, as your moral compass will surely show through no matter what you do.
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