I'm 90 or so pages into Stephen King's 1,000-plus-page Under the Dome, his "finest epic since The Stand" released yesterday. No surprise, it's filled with scenes of terrible violence.
So far there's been a plane crash, followed by a tractor crash followed by a pulp-truck crash, each resulting in fatalities reported in stark detail. Body parts rain from the heavens. A woodchuck splits in two. A man strangles a woman with his bare hands after initially driving her into an epileptic fit. Another woman loses her hand and bleeds to death in her husband's arms because local emergency services are overwhelmed. A news helicopter explodes and drops from the sky. A man's chest tears open when his pacemaker explodes. A woman crawls from the wreckage of one totaled car only to be flung like a missile through the windshield of another.
And that's just the literally violent stuff. Knowing King, who's always been more a humanistic than schlocky horror writer, the sort of figurative violence that occurs in character mannerisms and glares and lethally autocratic dispositions will turn out to be even more disturbing.
The point: We give writers like Stephen King the sort of pass withheld from game designers without thinking, despite the fact that as readers, we're participants in every act of brutality, every grisly murder, every reprehensible action. Reading requires an act of conjuring. The author provides the script, but the reader summons the actors and directs the scenes. Stephen King may be telling us a plane crashed, but it takes our imaginations to put that plane in motion, then to fill in all the necessary visual extras.
Reading may be a different kind of interaction compared with video gaming, but it's no less a two-way street.
If you doubt the power of words to incite violence, consider what some people will do--have done--for the sake of words on paper, words read by ordinary people as much for entertainment value as moral or philosophical import.
Then imagine the reaction if Hicks' column had been titled "Reject violent books" instead.
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