Yea-Sayers and Nay-Sayers


Well-Known Member
Aug 21, 2010
As far as I have found it was in its Dec. 1974 issue that Esquire asked two noted authors their response to a big question, whose formulation I don’t remember, regarding (let’s say) “life.” However it was put, Eugene Ionesco said “No,” and Isaac Bashevis Singer said “yes.” (One of my professors passed around the Singer article in an American literature course I was taking.)

Anyway, it might be interesting to list authors whose works suggest that they are primarily yea-sayers or nay-sayers, and to discuss things that come up accordingly. (It will be seen that these temperaments, if that’s the word, may both be found among the religious, the irreligious, and the anti-religious.)

A nay-sayer writes works that might be “depressing” or might not be, but that suggest a final absence, or withholding, of grace or goodness from the order of things. A nay-sayer may “enjoy life” but you get the sense that he or she thinks it might have been better if nothing had come to be. A nay-sayer’s implied narrator might affect a stance of detachment, and a nay-sayer is likely to write works pervaded by irony. A nay-sayer might, as a rule, convey scorn or disdain for human beings, or might convey pity or compassion for them. A yea-sayer may suspect that nay-sayers often haven’t really earned their angst.

Works by a yea-sayer gravitate towards affirmation of things even if passion, crime, foolishness, etc. are in the foreground. A yea-sayer may have been disillusioned at some point, but if so, has passed through the experience to affirmation. A yea-sayer’s works probably suggest that the order of things justifies love. A nay-sayer may feel that the yea-sayer “doesn’t get it.”

In short: some authors suggest that the answer is No, other that it is Yes.

Request: in the first dozen or more postings on this topic, could you all offer authors whom you do feel are one or the other, and could we hold off a little on discussion of cases where you yourself feel it’s kind of hard to say? I have a well-known sf author in mind as being really debatable, but I’m holding off on naming him. Likewise could we hold off at first on agreeing or disagreeing with others’ nominations? THANK YOU.

Naturally the focus will probably be on genre authors, but it’s fine to mention non-genre authors also.

Here’s a list I’ve roughed out that seems to me to fit the dichotomy I’ve suggested just now.



Ray Bradbury


Arthur C. Clarke



Ursula Le Guin



Colin Wilson





Harlan Ellison


Robert E. Howard

Stephen King

David Lindsay



Clark Ashton Smith



Jack Vance

Evelyn Waugh
Nay sayers.

Mark Lawrence

Joe Abercrombie

George R R Martin

Thomas Hardy

Stephen Erikson

Chris Wooding

Yea Sayers.

Seanan Mcguire

Elizabeth Haydon

Laini Taylor

Iain M. Banks
Alan Dean Foster
Lois McMaster Bujold
Terry Pratchett
P. G. Wodehouse


Frank Herbert
Philip K. Dick
William Gibson
Alistair Reynolds
Neal Asher
James Joyce

Hunter S Thompson

Mervyn Peake

Angela Carter

H.G. Wells

H. Rider Haggard

Mark Twain

Robert Louis Stevenson

George Orwell

John Wyndham

Most of the 1980s epic fantasy writers


Margaret Atwood

Raymond Chandler

John le Carre

John Steinbeck

T.H. White

P.J. O'Rourke

Kingsley Amis

Terry Goodkind

I have included writers in "yea" who aren't obvious optimists but still seem to have an idea that things are in some way essentially good. I have put into "nay" authors who, even though they have written happy endings, have a world view that is ultimately melancholy or vengeful.

David Gemmell
Anne McCaffrey
JK Rowling
Harper Lee


JD Salinger
Orson Scott Card
Peter Watts
Toby, for what it's worth, I'm grinning to see several authors I didn't mention but thought of, placed as I'd have placed them. Vince W., I won't say who it is, because, again, I don't want to get into discussing "debatable" ones now! -- but you have identified as a nay-sayer the author who came to my mind (for what my opinion's worth!!) as one for whom you can make the case either way. I expect we'll get to this author in due course.

In the meantime, my thanks to everyone who's contributed so far to this thread.

Richard Adams
Edgar Rice Burroughs
George MacDonald
Connie Willis


Shirley Jackson
Fritz Leiber
Kurt Vonnegut
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So far as I'm concerned, it's an open-ended discussion, a way of thinking, which we might not have tried before, about our reading. I have favorites in both categories and I suspect nearly everyone at Chrons will too. Certainly it would be interesting, when the time comes, to hear from people who discover that they like only one category of authors, or like only authors that are hard or impossible to place in either. (I'm asking us to hold off for a bit on discussing authors who seem problematic to us, though I've got one in mind even as I type this.) There may be some interesting debates between people who differ about where to place a given author, etc.




V. S. Naipaul
Honestly, I suspect this should be a spectrum rather than a yes/no question.


Arthur C. Clarke
Peter Beagle
Edgar Pangborn
Zenna Henderson
Agatha Christie
Dorothy L. Sayers
Michael Chabon
Ray Bradbury
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Stephen King
Anthony Boucher
G. K. Chesterton
C. S. Lewis
Ursula K. Le Guin
M. R. James

William Faulkner
Flannery O'Connor
Phillip K. Dick
Jonathan Carroll
Robert Aickman
Thomas Ligotti
Laird Barron
Arthur Machen

I can think of several authors whose younger selves might be one and whose older selves might shade to the other.

Randy M.
Aha! Our first, I think, disagreement about where to place an author. I placed King among the Nay-sayers. This might be something to discuss eventually. But I'm hoping to see several more lists before discussion gets going. Also for later discussion would be the question of a spectrum. For now I hope people will stick with authors whom they feel certainly belong to one or the other of these categories. There could be interesting discussion later on more ambiguous ones, and even on how useful the idea of two firm categories is.

Incidentally I'm trying to get that Esquire feature that I mentioned in the first posting. If I succeed, maybe I can bring in something from it.

Incidentally, this line of thought got started, I guess, when I was reading Wordsworth's Prelude again and thinking about how he is one of literature's great Yea-sayers, which is (I believe) likely to be a problem for people deeply marked by the current popular literary theories -- all of which are Nay-saying, it seems to me. That too could be a matter for later discussion. We might have a bunch of interesting discussions here.
I would say King often writes about the resilience of us and The Human Condition, and thus find him more yea than nay. Thomas Hardy also writes of THC but in a nihilist way so he'd end up in the Nays. Same for Samuel Beckett.

In an interesting experiment, I went through my own stories and am surprised to find they are largely yays despite my predilection for writing only horror.

Incidentally, this line of thought got started, I guess, when I was reading Wordsworth's Prelude again and thinking about how he is one of literature's great Yea-sayers, which is (I believe) likely to be a problem for people deeply marked by the current popular literary theories -- all of which are Nay-saying, it seems to me. That too could be a matter for later discussion. We might have a bunch of interesting discussions here.

Probably why I prefer Coleridge. (That and Wordsworth just goes on and on and on ...)

Since you don't want to start discussion now -- which is why I didn't bring up a couple listed above that I disagree with -- I'll just agree with Phyrebrat about King. :sneaky:

Randy M.

Joseph Conrad
Graham Greene


John Buchan
Sir Walter Scott

I would welcome more lists, especially from people who have sf and fantasy writers to mention whom they feel -- having reviewed message #1 above -- are definitely one or the other, either a Yea-sayer or a Nay-sayer.

But otherwise, well, we do have quite a few names posted now -- thanks, all -- and so if you're itching to start commenting, let's go ahead.

Since I'm afraid the discussion could get bogged down if we go in for discussing iffy ones, though, could I ask that, for a while at least, discussion stick with comments on authors whom you feel surely should be categorized as one or as the other? Once we've got some good discussion on that matter, we might then proceed to discuss the interesting issues that arise when we think about authors whom we were unsure about categorizing.

So, as you look at the names already posted, do you strongly agree or disagree with some of the views evident so far?

And so on.
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I would be interested (although it might be outside the remit of this thread) as to how deep and how sincere the yea or nay quality seems to go in some authors. Hardy always feels sincerely miserable in a very fundamental way. On the other hand, the "grimdark" SFF writers seem less convincing to me, and their worldview feels more like a pose.

I don't know Greene terribly well, but I would disagree about him from what I can tell. While he seems to believe in Heaven and a righteous afterlife, all the books of his I've read give the feeling that the world is a vale of sorrow and life something to be endured.

I'd definitely put Ballard in the nay camp, partly from the sense of entropy in his books, and partly because his lead characters are all pretty passive. It seems that the more "literary" writing becomes, the more helpless and ineffectual the protagonists have to be. Dynamism is only for villains.
Toby, I put Greene in the Nay category.

From what I know of his work, yes, Ballard would be an excellent example of a Nay-sayer.
I was influenced, in coming up with this thread, not only by my sense, as I spend a lot of time with The Prelude right now, of Wordsworth as a great Yea-sayer, but by having read a bit by Colin Wilson within the past couple of months or so. Wilson's not one of my favorite authors, but I've read him from time to time since high school days in the 1970s, and I find him a lot more pleasant to read than the literary theory guys. And this Yea/Nay thing seems to matter to him. But he'd read many authors I haven't read, or not much. I think he puts Hesse in the Nay category, but I've done little with Hesse's writings since the 1970s. Likewise, Wilson would put Shaw in the Yea-sayer category, but this is an author I've read even less than Hesse.
Probably why I prefer Coleridge. QUOTE]

I've thought of him as my favorite Romantic too, but Wordsworth is so great -- !

I think Coleridge is definitely a Yea-sayer, and that's a good example of how someone can be a Yea-sayer although his life was a mess and often miserable
Got a legible copy of the Dec. 1974 Esquire magazine feature alluded to above. "If you could ask one question about life, what would the answer be?" Isaac Bashevis Singer said "Yes," and Eugène Ionesco said "No." I attach here the first two pages of Esquire's layout.


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