Like many writer friends of mine, I try to tell myself that reviews don’t matter, that I never read them. Of course, I do, and when I get good ones, it makes my day. But, oh, the bad ones ruin not just my day, but the entire week. Especially if I think they are unfair, or I detect some kind of bias against me.
A few years ago I wrote a collection of Christmas folk tales for Frances Lincoln called JOY TO THE WORLD. The idea came to me while taking part in a Christmas festival at the Commonwealth Institute. There were storytellers from different parts of the world and I thought, wouldn’t it be lovely to have a collection of Christmas stories with a multicultural aspect to them?
There were editions in the US and Holland, and the UK version is still in print. Critics were rather sniffy about it, because as one of them put it ‘beware: these stories have a Christian message.‘ The stories, like all folk tales, do have a message, of course, but I wouldn’t say it was especially Christian. Promoting kindness, sharing and rewarding hard work are not exclusively Christian ideas; they form the basis of most schools of spiritual thought.
I toyed with the idea of writing an answer to the magazine but in the end I decided against it, and looking back I am glad I did. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, I suppose. Recently I was made aware of another negative review, and this time the problem is not that I am too Christian but that I am anti. This is what a punter from the US posted on amazon.com about my book AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 TALES:
I purchased this book to go along with our elementary geography & cultures study we are doing in our homeschool. It took about 5 minutes upon receipt for me to decide this is not a book that I am comfortable reading to my children. I was expecting imaginative fairy tales and adventures. It is that. However, it also has lots of mysticism and anti-Christian themes intertwined. To make this review completely honest, I want to make it known I’ve only read two stories out of the book and skimmed the rest. Yet, I saw enough to know that I didn’t want to read anymore to my children. The first story I read spoke of a witch casting a spell and the second story I read was about a false god and other gods. The first two stories I wanted to read were from Mexico and Brazil ~ the two countries we have studied so far. I was disappointed that the stories could not leave out the anti-Christian sentiment. We are a Christian family, and I know I can find better material to fill our children’s minds with that have Christ-honoring stories. I’m disappointed. This book looked wonderful, and I was highly anticipating its arrival. I guess you can’t judge a book by its cover.
Thankfully, there are loads more reviews of the book that give it five stars, and a couple of readers took issue with this particular piece. The two stories this parent read that turned her off the book come from Mexico and Brazil, both countries with strong Christian cultures, although not perhaps the brand of Christianity this reader subscribes to. Myths about false gods and witches casting spells don’t seem to have done their collective spiritual wellbeing any harm.
I could go on and on at this lady about how folk tales are not really about gods and witches and talking animals. They’re about us. They’re about people trying to make sense of the wondrous yet chaotic universe around them. Not just the material universe around them, but the one inside their hearts and minds too, the universe of thought and feeling. The witches are just special effects to give the story sparkle, they’re verbal cgi.
To be honest, I think I could be talking till the flying cows come home. So I’m going to pretend that negative reviews don’t matter. I’m gonna run a bath, I’m going to work on my next book and I’m going to break some personal bests dead lift squatting later on this afternoon. Sometimes you to have to admit you just can’t win.