One of the reasons I write the books I do, against the backdrop of environmental and social issues, is a faint hope my novels might make a difference in a world beset by problems. Did Falling From Grace open someone’s eyes to the difficulties of living life as a person of short stature, or raise awareness about rainforest canopy ecosystems and the problems with commercial logging? Will High Clear Bell of Morning spur the government to remove toxins from the environment or increase protection for killer whales, or will families be accepted by the mental health system as part of the team dealing with the mental illness of their family member?
A quick survey on Google of novels that changed the world brings up many old favourites like Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Catch 22, The Grapes of Wrath, Ulysses, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Brave New World, 1984. It would be nice to think my work might have such an impact but I suspect this is a naïve notion. I’m not well enough known. Only a small percentage of the population reads fiction, and most readers of them want entertainment, not a spur to action. These are all books published long ago. Perhaps recognition of impact can only be made after the author is gone from this world. Only time will tell.
Last month I came across an example of art that is making a measureable change in the world. The recently released movie, Blackfish, is about the performing killer whale Tilikum, who has been involved in the death of more than one trainer while in captivity, including Keltie Byrne at the now-defunct Sealand of the Pacific in Victoria in 1991. Keltie was a student of biology in several classes with me at UVic at the time of her shocking death. While killer whales have never been known to kill humans in the wild, in captivity this is another matter. Some people, including former trainers and whale experts, believe the conditions the whales are kept in are driving them crazy. This graphic and disturbing documentary criticises the captive killer whale industry and in particular, SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida where a trainer died. Since the movie was released and screened in theatres and on CNN, attendance at SeaWorld and the price of their stock have plummeted. Maybe I should start writing film scripts instead of novels.