Words of Honour
A freedom of information request has revealed the list of people who rejected an honour from the Queen between 1951 and 1999. Literary names were prominent amongst those to have said no to CBEs, OBEs and knighthoods in the annual New Year or Birthday Honours list. I find this list very interesting. What particularly grabbed my attention was the number of speculative fiction luminaries on the list.
This is not to say that I find authors who have accepted Honours objectionable. Far from it. There are many deserving science fiction and fantasy authors who already have my respect, admiration and love of their literary works, regardless of whether or not they have accepted such royal recognition. A good example of this is JB Priestley, whose play An Inspector Calls is a masterpiece and often interpreted to hinge on fantastical or science fiction elements. Priestley - whose work often examines issues of class difference – was awarded an Order of Merit after refusing both a knighthood and peerage.
I do, however, reserve a special respect for those writers who have explored the problematic relationship between the ruling classes (or pseudo-ruling classes as the current Royal family might be considered) and those they consider below them in the social order – and translated these insights into action. Science fiction and fantasy texts often dramatise the concerns of the here and now. They remind us of important truths, deliver forgotten warnings and give fictional form to harsh realities that readers sometimes find difficult to appreciate and differentiate in their own worlds. One example of this might be the fact that human beings should long have learned that we are all equal citizens of this planet and the parts we choose to call individual ‘countries’. There should be no chosen or special peoples. One person’s blood is worth no more than another person’s. There are no names (especially made up ones – like Windsor) that make you more deserving of a spectacularly wealthy, influential and carefree existence, while everyone else has to work hard for their success. Science Fiction and fantasy texts are replete with examples of the parasitically powerful, who live off the ignorance of people they consider less than themselves and prosper from their underlings' lack of will to do act against such unfairness and inequality. Some authors have not forgotten the examples of their heroes and when offered knighthoods and Honours from such institutions have felt compelled to respectfully decline. They should, in turn, be ‘honoured’ by their readership for standing by the beliefs they communicated to us through their literary works. Five deserving science fiction and fantasy writers on the list cited above are:
Roald Dahl (From The BFG to Tales of the Unexpected)
CS Lewis (The Chronicles of Narnia)
Aldous Huxley (Brave New World)
JG Ballard (The Crystal World and many science fiction short stories)
Robert Graves (The Greek Myths)