Anodyne: it’s an interesting word. Strictly, it means a medicine that allays pain, as its etymology suggests, being from the Greek for ‘painless’, or ‘without pain’. A good thing, then, you would think; so it is interesting to consider how it has come to have a pejorative sense, particularly as applied to literature.
Pain and suffering are at the heart of human existence, an inescapable part of life, a puzzle and a mystery: we do not like to suffer pain ourselves, and still less can we bear the thought of pain inflicted on those we love – so how can ‘anodyne’ be a disparagement when applied to literature (or indeed to any art)?
I think I have stated the reason already: pain and suffering are not only part of life, they are bound up with the central mystery of existence – what is Man that is born to die? Why must people suffer? when Midas (he of the golden touch) asked the satyr Silenus what was the best a man could wish for, he got the chilling reply ‘not to be born at all – and the next best is to die young.’
You cannot leave pain out of books, suffering out of Art, because you cannot take it out of life, and Art (in its broadest sense) is our response to being alive.
It is of particular interest to me, as a writer of ‘fantasy’ literature, to consider how Art – music, painting, poetry, literature – reconciles us to suffering. It is not by providing an escape or turning away; it does not pretend the pain is not there, it puts it in its wider context, which is Life itself: and Life (though we often forget this and fail to see) is amazing, marvellous, wonderful.