In the comments on the earlier post about dueling reviews, `h wrote:
Speaking of the good stick. There's something I'd like you to measure -- heavy handed instruction -- when an author sticks something into the text that clearly doesn't fit in order to model some lesson-- girls are just as smart as boys, or racism = bad, or it's okay to be yourself. Heavy handed moralizing is the best reason to return a book to the library unfinished, I think. What I really like is insidious invisible moralizing that is going to creep unreflected into the reader's head and take root!
Wait. No! Bad moralizing! Down you insidious lesson, you!
When you review a book, how do you judge the didacticism? Subtle is okay? Heavy handed, not? Or is the divide between didacticism that is currently accepted vs. didacticism you think is misguided?
Is subtle didacticism better or worse than the heavy handed? is insidious didacticism okay if it's on the side of the angels?
I mean the deliberate kind. I don't mean the unreflected reinforcement of cultural norms like Enid Blyton -- those things that stick out like sore thumbs when the culture changes.
I've moved the comment to here, because it's really a different topic, plus, this was the week of my return to the musical stage (it went fine, thank you) and I haven't had time to prowl around for something new. Although I think you can discern very different editorial styles among the seven of us who have been editors of the Horn Book, one thing we will agree upon when eventually gathered together in reviewer heaven is that we all hated didacticism, even while we might have had different definitions of the word and varying degrees of tolerance for it. But here I will only speak for myself. I think one could make a case that all literature is insidiously didactic, attempting to pull you into an author's view of the world. I have no problem with that.
And the problem I do have with overt didacticism is less with its frequent technical clumsiness, where swatches of sermons or lessons are just slapped into the story, then it is with the way it reminds readers Who Is In Charge. Having someone in charge is good for a lot of things--to return for a second to my singing class this spring, I loved the fact that the teacher, Pam Murray, knew more about singing than I did and could thus tell me, clearly and effectively (and diplomatically!), how to become a better singer. That's what I want in a teacher. But I don't want to hear it from a writer, especially when I think of myself as a child reader, being reminded, once again, that grownups are the ones in charge. Books are a great place for kids to escape from being told what to do. They are not a place where a reader wants to hear, "I know better, so listen up." As a reader, I want to feel that a book is a place I can explore, or even a place where the author and I are exploring together. Didacticism shuts that right down.
Didacticism can also bite the author right in the ass. Think of Go Ask Alice. It was clearly intended to be a moral instruction about the dangers of drugs; instead, it was a wild ride through a crazy, exciting world. (I'm now remembering a comment years ago by a librarian colleague, Pamela, who said "these stupid anti-drug books with all their blather about 'peer pressure' and 'self-esteem' aren't going to mean a thing until they acknowledge something else: drugs are fun.")