I often hear movie-goers gripe about the amount of gratuitous violence saturating the films nowadays. There's gore, there's explicitly rendered scenes with people being riddled with bullets or sliced right open, and society does not always approve.
Though a different medium, I have often wondered how many lobby against violence in fiction. Should it not, in its imaginative realm, fixate the mind with more gruesome images when conjured in your own way?
My love for Harry Potter is only waylaid slightly by the amount of violence in it ( especially in the Goblet of Fire ) , people are murdered, Harry and Voldemort confront each other in a less than tame way, and children are shivering in their beds at night, unable to sleep. Could Rowling not evoke the same dark magical realm without the needless and long-drawn battle scenes that momentarily eclipse anything innocent or light in her stories?
While watching the crux of Goblet of Fire, Harry stalwartly brandishing Voldemort, wand in hand like sword, my cousin was so overwrought with fright she was almost incontrollable. She loves the books and the movies, but somehow that dismal part and the death of Harry's comrade that follows it, shake her to the bone. Should she then dismiss her love for Harry Potter merely because she is so frightened by, what I feel to be, overtly horrific scenes? Should we expect our younger readers to get over it merely because it is the trend in YA fantasy today? Should my cousin change and slip on a thicker skin, or should Rowling cater to her proven audience? She knows how young children are when they start her books (the peer pressure so taut, they open them younger and younger now, or parents read Philosopher's Stone aloud to their toddlers ), as the film producers know the demographic of their audience.
Children's Lit like Harry Potter is not the only problematic genre. My recent reading of Bryce Courtenay's excellently atmospheric novel, Tommo and Hawk, forced me to contempate the need of such explicitly graphic sequences. The brutal rape and beating of a six year old child ( while still in chapter one of the novel, I might add ), made me momentarily slam the book shut and close my eyes. How much is too much? Especially since readers are known to have such vivid imaginations? Courtenay's novel was soaked in graphic imagery. So much so, it often broke the narrative to the part of redundancy. I became immune, the shock value wore off.
CC Humphreys' Anne Boleyn-esque legend, The French Executioner, is no different. There are scenes in that book that haunt me still though it has been years since I read it. The violence did not enhance the plot. The author would probably argue that it was necessary for capturing the essence of the time, the injustice, the conflict, the brink of war.
I argue differently, as I shove Bryce Courtenay near Fr. Executioner on the shelves that contain my mass market books. Violence does not have to be necessary. It is as gratuitous in fiction as it can be in film. Images splashed ---whether across the eyes or the brain-- are equally potent to the imagination and the capsule of memory.
Consider an author such as Bernard Cornwell. His Sharpe series, though occasionally graphic, is one I often recommend to younger readers. Though possibly not as talented a writer as the two aforementioned, he certainly can capture his audience, AND ( most importantly ) Sharpe's rank-rising amidst the Peninsular wars, without the overly-described bloodshed I have found in other novels of late.