At a Sisters in Crime mystery symposium this past Saturday, author Shobhan Bantwal called on writers to accomplish "the three Es" with all their work. "Enlighten, educate, and entertain."

Shoban told me she writes women's fiction with lots of suspense, not really crime novels. But what about us? Are we just here to entertain our readers, or do we have an obligation to educate and enlighten?

Excuse me while I go look up the difference...

EDUCATE: give intellectual, moral, and social instruction
ENLIGHTEN: give greater knowledge or understanding

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But isn't that premise a cliché at least as old as Frankenstein (or maybe the tower of Babel)? And I'm not sure it had much to do with cutting edge biotech--more like a fantasy of what biotech might do in the future.
I think there is a lot of reaffirmation in the messages of novels, old wine in new bottles, or new wine in old bottles. To bring an old issue into relief again is a good thing IMO or to demonstrate that an old fear can be applied in a new context--as with Crichton and biotech--is also a good thing.
I think the uncritical recycling of clichés is kind of a cardinal sin for a writer, although God knows we (and Hollywood) do it all the time. I know audiences, agents and editors tend to like what's familiar, so dragging out the usual tropes can be rewarding--and it saves us from having to work too hard--but it's kind of a stretch to suggest that we'd be enlightened about the excesses of technology if only someone would retell Godzilla again. I'm a lot more worried about cloned cows in the food supply than I am about cloned dinosaurs taking over Fantasy Island.
Yeah, we have enough novels about cloning and its ramifications. What we really need is another mystery series about a detective who solves crimes.
Jurassic Park was published in 1990, so it's subject matter wasn't so normal then. But even if you want discount biotech, there's still chaos theory that is discussed.
I'm not saying the premise wasn't clever, but it's still kind if a one-dimensional updating of Frankenstein, with the same basic instructional value for the casual reader. Mrs. Shelley also had a deeper agenda, which was mostly about the gender politics of the day and making fun of the romantic movement--her husband included. If I was looking to be enlightened, I'd pick Frankenstein over Jurassic Park any day.
All right, but no one is arguing that Jurassic Park is the pinnacle of the three Es. Eric merely gave it as an example of a novel that has all three elements.
Fine. And what I'm wondering is whether we can claim all three Es for a book if one or more are as well-traveled as the "don't fuck with mother nature" thing.
Okay. The book would have to present its themes in a way that isn't so well-traveled. Saying the same thing over again is not really enlightening, and if you've seen it before, it's not all that educational.

I don't get your comparison of Jurassic Park to Frankenstein though. They really don't have that much in common. You've already explained above how Frankenstein is more than "don't fuck with mother nature". Jurassic Park is too.

Actually, Jurassic Park is not about "don't fuck with mother nature" at all. Natural phenomena do not lead to Jurassic Park's problems. It isn't the tropical storm heading for the island that cuts off power to the fences, but Dennis Nedry, the computer expert, who intentionally shuts down the power so he can get through the gates and deliver the DNA samples to a rival biotech company. If it wasn't for Dennis Nedry, nothing bad would have happened.

Chaos theory is used to explain how seemingly random events lead to predictable outcomes, there is the subplot of underhanded business tactics amongst rival biotech companies, and the explanations of cloning, which granted, is a bit fantastical. But Jurassic Park is science fiction, and the premise is not outside the realm of possibility for the future. Plus the descriptions of dinosaurs and their behaviors, though there are some inaccuracies there.

So yeah, not really like Frankenstein at all. Maybe Jurassic Park doesn't meet the three Es, but to say it is just a one-dimensional updating of Frankenstein makes me think that you either didn't read Jurassic Park, or you didn't pay much attention to what you were reading.
That brings to mind the fact that readers will flock to titles that seem to offer educational and cultural value so that they can discuss them unashamedly with others. I got rejections on a novel because it isn't isn't Georgian, Regency, Victorian, or Scottish (It's 18th century German). The editors point out that readers want to know only about those times and not about any others. The secret here is to choose a cultural background that is shared by the largest number of people. Take note that novels featuring famous historical characters (The Da Vinci Code, The Girl with the Pearl Earring, etc) sell very well indeed. There is bragging value in having bought and read one of those. Many of the novels of the Communist regime also sell well because readers like to read and talk about those horrors. In other words, the educational subject must fit the fashion of the times and also be somewhat familiar already. Frankly, that doesn't speak very highly for the average reader's thirst for knowledge.
Well said, Eric.
I'm not sure it's possible to write without putting some of yourself into it. That includes what you know and what you believe, as well as what you find entertaining. Entertainment is our goal, but the other stuff gets towed along. Might as well pay attention to it and try to be sure you are communicating what you mean to communicate. Just think about the many forms of stereotyping--by gender, race, age, etc. That's only one example where paying attention to "enlightenment" might produce a far better, more "entertaining" book. We are storytellers for a species that learns from stories. It's a responsibility, whether you choose to acknowledge that or not.


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