"The Book That Made Me a Feminist Was Written by an Abuser"
December 15, 2017 1:44 PM   Subscribe

So, what to do with this once-beloved book? I’ve read it once since Greyland spoke out, and I don’t know if I will read it again. Probably not, I’m guessing. Discovering that powerful men are predators is disturbing, but not surprising. Learning that the author who introduced me to feminine spirituality and the hidden side of history abused children — girls and boys, her own daughter — was horrifying in an existential kind of way. I’m a writer and an editor and I know that characters can exceed their creators. I would go so far as to say that that’s the goal.
So I can keep Morgaine — what she has meant to me, what she has become in my personal mythology — while I reject Bradley.
posted by MartinWisse (67 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
 
(in case it isn't clear, everything in the post is a quote by the original writer, not me.)
posted by MartinWisse at 1:45 PM on December 15, 2017


I hear this. When I read Mists, I was old enough that I was already a feminist. I thought it was schlocky and super-faerie compared to the crisp, learned British elegance of The Once and Future King, despite the misogyny in that work. So I didn't mind leaving it be.

I was, as I say, already a feminist, thanks in part to the guidance of an old collection of ... Wonder Woman. Talk about problematic. I was heartbroken to learn that Wonder Woman was inspired by a man's kink as much as his good will. Eventually, I realized that the character itself was flexible enough to claim and reclaim. But with the actual evil in Bradley -- which certainly wasn't present in Marston -- I don't know if that's worth trying.

I've been reassessing my relationship to a certain beloved long-running comic series due to rumors that one of the main writers creeps on underage fans at cons. It had a huge impact on me as a teenager, and it's coming into a new series that I had wanted to see for years, but ... I dunno, man, I dunno.
posted by Countess Elena at 1:59 PM on December 15, 2017 [6 favorites]


Oh man, this is really interesting and not something I was aware of at all. I'm glad you shared it. I have a complicated history with the book myself. I took a Feminist Fantasy Literature course during my undergrad and this was one of the assigned texts.

It was not well received by the majority of the class and during our seminar discussions, there was a heated debate about the type of feminism/femininity that was portrayed by various characters in the novel. In that sense, it worked and that is what the course's focus was on. I do also think many people were a bit exhausted by its length as if I recall its near that 1000 page mark.

I was not a fan of the story and there were certain points of view I could have done without (it just felt like the story went on and on and on), but I appreciated what the novel did for the fantasy genre and women writers, it's significance in the publishing industry and its popularity were all good things.

Things seem to be a lot better now with regards to the number of female fantasy authors and the types of characters that are written into these genre stories. But I recall our class talking a lot about how groundbreaking this book was for the ways in which it changed/challenged the focus of the Arthurian legend/myth.

This news about her abuse obviously complicates things quite a bit. It's disturbing but I'm glad you posted it.
posted by Fizz at 2:00 PM on December 15, 2017 [2 favorites]


I'm surprised at how many people weren't aware of this, it was a big deal!

(I know about the xkcd cartoon, yes)
posted by Chrysostom at 2:03 PM on December 15, 2017 [10 favorites]


I guess complicated isn't the right word. Nothing too complicated about it. I wasn't a fan of the fiction but I enjoyed the course and the discussion that followed. We also read The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold and I found that to be a much more interesting and engaging read, just better written in general.
posted by Fizz at 2:03 PM on December 15, 2017 [3 favorites]


I'm surprised at how many people weren't aware of this, it was a big deal!

I took this course back in 2002-3? I think and there was no mention of this in any way. And this is the first I've ever heard of it. I feel really ignorant and uninformed.
posted by Fizz at 2:07 PM on December 15, 2017


Previously.
posted by rtha at 2:12 PM on December 15, 2017 [5 favorites]


wow. I did not know about this either!

I also did not know that MZB helped found and name the Society for Creative Anachronism [cite] (metafilter's own John Scalzi also mentioned in the Wikipedia article!)

so weird...
posted by supermedusa at 2:26 PM on December 15, 2017 [1 favorite]


Yeah, as rtha notes this really only became super hugely public and widely known in 2014, after Bradley died. And even then only if you were fairly plugged into discussion of SFF novels on the Internet.
posted by sciatrix at 2:27 PM on December 15, 2017 [6 favorites]


Her reaction to Bradley is how I felt for a long while with Orson Scott Card. Ender's Game was one of those foundational SF texts for me, it lead me on the path to so many other SF authors (Peter F. Hamilton, Richard K. Morgan, William Gibson, Connie Willis, C.J. Cherryh, etc).

And then I found out about Card's odious views on homosexuality and it felt this huge betrayal. I have lost count of the number of Ender's Game books I placed in the hands of young people when I worked at a bookstore many years later. It was one of those, “Oh, you'll love this, it has some really interesting ideas.”

It's troubling to think that I supported a person who was harbouring such ugly views. And I'm not naive. I realize that not every work of art that I enjoy is created from a place of perfection/goodness, it's complicated and feels ugly to think about how people are flawed and how they can let you down in this way. The art we support is personal and it means a lot to us. The only thing I can do is to take the knowledge I have about Card and use it to inform people of the concerns I hold, so that they can make a personal choice about whether they want to continue to support the author/creator.
posted by Fizz at 2:29 PM on December 15, 2017 [30 favorites]


I've written before about how important this book is to me. I was 13, bored with YA Lit and on the verge of losing my interest in reading altogether. Then a librarian asked me if I liked King Arthur and, when I said yes, gave me The Mists of Avalon. My world was shattered, my mind was blown, I became a voracious reader once again, I became a librarian and blah blah blah...all because a kind librarian put this book into my hands. (My parents thought the book was WAY too adult and were pissed.)

I remember the scene she mentions in the article, but, like her, that's the only one that really stands out to me in that way. I mean, 14-year-olds were being married off to grown men in the book, but that was life in 5th century Britain. I don't recall her being particularly gross about it.

Anyway, I found out about what MZB had done when it all came to light in 2014, 2015. God, it HURT. I felt betrayed. How could a book I loved THAT MUCH come from such a horrible person? I haven't ever really resolved my feelings about it.

I re-read The Mists of Avalon every year from the age of 14 until three years ago. It's sat on the shelf since then. I don't think I've recommended it to anyone in my work since then. I don't know if I ever will again. It's such a shame.
posted by Elly Vortex at 2:32 PM on December 15, 2017 [15 favorites]


This resonated a lot with me--I'm a bit younger but only about ten years, and I came to Mists of Avalon in such a similar place and time and lack of understanding. Resonated to the point of "oh yes I remember that Waldenbooks", which was a bit unnerving.

I haven't reread it since I found out. It's not hard to think about because I'm at all tempted to disbelieve it, but it's hard to think about for other reasons. What I went through because of reading Moira Greyland's mother's works were a huge part of what turned me into the person I am now, even if I now turn my back on them. What she went through because of her mother is probably also a huge part of who she is now. But what she went through led her to a place where she believes, as far as I know even now, that homosexuality is a matter of what she calls "imprinting" by early experiences, and that homosexuals are inherently sexual abusers of children.

And I'm queer, not because of those books, but those books helped me organize and cope with those feelings in a time and place where I didn't have people to talk to about it, amid my own damaged family. I'd call it poetic if it were less horrible. I think about Moira a lot. I don't think I'm ever picking those books up again, no matter what they meant to me, before.
posted by Sequence at 2:34 PM on December 15, 2017 [4 favorites]


I have very much the same relationship to Morgaine that Jessica does. She, as a character, broke through the narrative wall of how women were written about in fantasy, science fiction, classical fiction, ok, pretty much all fiction that I'd been exposed to. Before Mists, the most self aware women I had read in genre fiction were Heinlien's women. Mists was revolutionary for me. It had been a touchstone book for decades, even as I passed it over for re-reading, it always had a reverential spot in my shelves.

And then Moira Greyland told her story. And my heart broke. I threw away every MZB I owned, even Mists. But reconciling Greyland's lived truth with my love of her mother's work was problematic and is still problematic for me. (By which I mean, it disturbs me, not that Greyland's story is problematic. Me still loving Mists is the thing I find problematic.)
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 2:38 PM on December 15, 2017 [1 favorite]


Some of the links in the previously no longer work. Here is a Guardian article on the same issue when the news broke in 2014.
posted by Fizz at 2:49 PM on December 15, 2017 [1 favorite]


Haven't re-read the Darkover books since I found out, haven't re-read the Ender books since I realized, stopped watching Woody Allen or Roman Polanski movies, have given up Kevin Spacey movies; found out that Isaac Asimov was a groper and retired the Foundation Trilogy and Pebble in the Sky . . .

It's not a conscious decision. I'm not really as principled as that, honestly. It's just that knowing about the author/performer/director put a bad taste in my mouth and affected my ability to appreciate their work.
posted by Peach at 2:53 PM on December 15, 2017 [21 favorites]


I remain a fan of Orson Scott Card, HP Lovecraft, and Eric Gil.

In my personal life I've been friends with murderers and abusers. (and victims, FWIW)

Of course their sins color the nature of my fandom and friendship.

Most people aren't defined by the worst things they have done. Few are defined by the best, either.

Of course, I don't find anyone else's reaction to these things unacceptable or trivial, I just don't end up reacting in the same way.
posted by poe at 2:57 PM on December 15, 2017 [4 favorites]


Greyland has a new book out.
posted by chavenet at 2:57 PM on December 15, 2017 [1 favorite]


I forgot that link I posted also deserves some content warning for anti-trans language, but it's Moira Greyland talking in her own words about her own experiences and her own relationship with her gender identity, it's just... very uncomfortable.
posted by Sequence at 2:59 PM on December 15, 2017 [2 favorites]


i'm beginning to think that we'd all be a lot better off if we didn't know anything about the people who do our art
posted by pyramid termite at 3:04 PM on December 15, 2017 [13 favorites]


It's hard because so many of my sci-fi heroes are shitheads. I loved MZB and she shaped a lot of who I was as a teen, but so did Card, Harlan Ellison, and Heinlein. Stranger in a Strange Land set a fire in my teenage brain that hasn't yet gone out and while the starter of that fire was a misogynist turd, the person I turned into as a result is much more enlightened than I would have been without his influences. I picked up on the ickiness of Card with the third Ender book and realized he had more problems than good things to say. But unfortunately, it took longer to see the flaws in Ellison and Heinlein.

As I've gotten older, I have started to look more deeply at the art I love and I've started to hold myself accountable for some questionable tastes. So the writers and artists I loved as a teen are less likely to be recommended now and I avoid re-reads where I can. I can't gloss over some of the gross stuff that I once thought was beautiful, but I can still listen to NWA for the rage at oppression and acknowledge the misogyny and homophobia as deeply problematic. It really depends on the artists. Writers are harder to forgive because they are so deeply entwined in their work. Actors are deeply problematic because once you see someone as a monster it's hard to unsee. Musicians, I'm more forgiving of for some reason.

But truly, it does suck that so many of the creators I admired have turned out to be horrible human beings. If something comes out about Terry Pratchett or Jim Henson, y'all might as well just shoot me and be done with it.
posted by teleri025 at 3:04 PM on December 15, 2017 [16 favorites]


MZB was hugely important to my early adolescence, and my process of coming out as bisexual -- the Darkover books in particular. (You know how many books with bisexual characters there were in the 1980's? Not a whole hell of a lot, at least among the ones I had access to.) Learning about what she had done was one of the first times I felt really shattered by such a thing. I'm still processing it and trying to figure out how much art and artist can and should be separated.
posted by kyrademon at 3:14 PM on December 15, 2017 [5 favorites]


If something comes out about Terry Pratchett or Jim Henson, y'all might as well just shoot me and be done with it.

I can't imagine that either of them would have any skeletons left in their posthumous closets, but I guess it always seems like that's the case until suddenly there's these embarrassing bones all over the floor. I imagine, though, that at least we'll always have Mr. Rogers and Bob Ross.

I found Woody Allen films icky right from the start, and not especially good to boot, so I feel like I was ahead of the curve there. There are some transgressions that I can look past to enjoy art (infidelity, for instance), but if you're molesting children, I'm out. Take your art, turn it sideways, shove it up your abusing ass.

I did love Heinlein, though. I very much enjoyed Stranger in a Strange Land and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. Then I tried to read "To Sail Beyond the Sunset", and it was so very wrong in so very many ways that I re-read the other two and saw how problematic they were, too.

Ender's Game and Stranger in a Strange Land seem to me now like two cases where the authors succeeded in producing something good in spite of themselves.
posted by curiousgene at 3:16 PM on December 15, 2017 [12 favorites]


I no longer recommend The Mists of Avalon to other readers, and I can’t imagine burdening a child with it. There are other stories.

For me, it's Darkover, especially The Shattered Chain and, ah, the Renunciates...

I don't recommend them anymore, because there's so much more SF on the market written by women and treating non-male characters like real human beings.
posted by BrashTech at 3:40 PM on December 15, 2017 [8 favorites]


This is an interesting discussion, particularly since it seems to me that we're in an era, right now, where the sociopolitical consensus seems to be that authorial intentions don't matter. For example, I've watched several protests (aimed at particular books) develop on social media in which people of X demographic felt that Y book was misrepresenting X demographic, despite author's stated claims that book was not in fact about X demographic at all / that the author was actually a member of X demographic / that the author has research to back up their claims about X demographic, and so on. Again and again, in such discussions, I see it reiterated by those protesting the text: intention doesn't matter. Impact is all that matters. This formulation insists, when evaluating a work, on a fundamental separation between the creator and the text.

On the other hand, I've seen many discussions in recent months (not only about Mists of Avalon, but about, e.g., films produced by rapist predators) of this kind as well -- discussions that insist that while the text itself was revolutionary/enlightening/transformative for the audience, the text should nevertheless be abandoned because of crimes and transgressions committed by the creator (crimes and trangressions, I should add, which are not necessarily visible in the work).

There's something that seems very contradictory about these two approaches, although they often occur (at different times) in the same virtual spaces. I can't square them in terms of a unifying principle.

Anyway, I adored Mists of Avalon as a troubled tween. And I watched in horror as the revelations unfolded in 2014. And I would feel uneasy recommending it now, for various reasons.
posted by mylittlepoppet at 3:49 PM on December 15, 2017 [19 favorites]


I haven't, like, set my copy of Mists on fire or anything, but I find myself drifting away from artists who are revealed to be terrible people over time. That book was a yearly reread for me until I read about MZB's horrifying behavior after her death. I read it once more, to look for evidence of her crimes in her writing, and never felt the compulsion to return to that world again.

I think you can actually make a valid case for "death of the author" when evaluating what to do with such works, but I'd rather just read, promote, and share works by people who aren't rapists instead. It's a lot easier than appending a disclaimer to my recommendations.
posted by xyzzy at 3:56 PM on December 15, 2017 [11 favorites]


Here is a Guardian article on the same issue when the news broke in 2014.

...which links to How far can culture heroes' work stand apart from their lives?, an essay which reads like a preview of late 2017.

the xkcd cartoon

...which reads like a preview in inverse. We're all so lucky to be milkshake ducked week after week. :sideeye:

the text should nevertheless be abandoned because of crimes and transgressions committed by the creator

One valid rationale for this is to prevent the celebration of the work from being profitable for the execrable creator, and/or to keep them out of the professional or public communities where they are directly involved and celebrated. It's a form of punishment/exile -- a literal excommunication. I'm not sure how committed people may be to continuing this past the creator's death, though. Like, I feel fairly sure I won't be able to find any enjoyment in a Woody Allen film ever again, but may not feel so repelled by watching one after his death. (For analogy see the significant contributions to film grammar made by D.W. Griffith, some of them actually by means of Birth of a Nation itself.)

On preview: same ground covered as xyzzy.
posted by dhartung at 3:59 PM on December 15, 2017 [1 favorite]


I don't have any problem thinking that harmful intentions, criminal or abusive behavior, and unintentional harmful impact can all increase harms in the world and can be subject to decrease the use of a given work.

It all matter and it all has an impact therefore it's perfectly fine for people to think all of the above matter without any contradiction whatsoever, in my personal opinion. I liked Mists of Avalon but I'm done with it. I don't begrudge people their indulgences, however I more dislike the attempts to defend continuing to use such works than I do that people have a few things here and there they can't part with (yet). I think tolerating the pervasive slow pummeling of tolerance for abuse by humans in our daily life is part of the culture that permits these things. Yes it's complicated, of course there is nuance, and yet still, we have enough women who aren't child abusers creating feminist fantasy and empowering spirituality to make it unnecessary to continue to use these materials. The survivors are still alive and have to hear all the defenses and that alone makes me feel nauseous.
posted by xarnop at 4:39 PM on December 15, 2017 [13 favorites]


And then I found out about Card's odious views on homosexuality and it felt this huge betrayal.

This isn't intended to be a one-up in any way, because I'm queer and was also horrified by Card's homophobia, but I've always been disappointed at how much greater the reaction to his homophobia was than to the overt sexism and misogyny in his books. I read Ender's Game and found a lot of the ideas interesting, but the whole "oh girls just aren't aggressive and aren't good at strategy and aren't good at...." in it was incredibly disappointing and pretty much no one ever even acknowledges his sexism.
posted by bile and syntax at 5:15 PM on December 15, 2017 [39 favorites]



Another reason to never buy MZB related books, is that Elisabeth Waters, MZB's longtime lover, who testified against Greyland and her brother as Waters was trying to protect a man who forcibly raped an 11 year old boy, is the Sole Beneficiary of MZBs estate. Neither of MZBs living children, or the descendants of her dead son receive any money from the sale of MZB branded merchandise like the ongoing S&S, etc. It all goes to Lisa Waters.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 5:20 PM on December 15, 2017 [27 favorites]


There's something that seems very contradictory about these two approaches, although they often occur (at different times) in the same virtual spaces. I can't square them in terms of a unifying principle.

I'd say it's because they're about different things: the former is about the art, the latter is about denying income and a privileged professional position to odious artists. Or: we should celebrate neither misogynists, nor texts that are in effect misogynistic (substitute your choice of bigotry for misogyny, of course).
posted by Dysk at 5:20 PM on December 15, 2017 [7 favorites]


I believe Moira Greyland. Her life matters more than any fiction.

The last line of the article is a keynote for me in deciding how to deal with works created by abusers. The victims of an abuser should be given first consideration. So, no defending abusers or turning a blind eye to what they've done, no lauding their work online or in print, and no adding to their net worth. If I can enjoy a thrift shop copy of their work in private, I might continue to do that. I probably can't though. I find that once I become aware of the misogyny or racism of a work, my discomfort builds and builds until I simply can't stomach the work anymore, and out it goes.

I also think that if we want to keep abusers from becoming wealthy, powerful people, we need to be less accepting of red flags in creative work, to set the bar higher on depictions of casual abuse. If, back during the sixties, Bill Cosby's fans and employees and business associates had said, "Holy shit, that guy is joking about drugging women so he can rape them," instead of thinking it funny and harmless, mightn't the resulting backlash have changed the course of life and therefore his opportunities and latitude for criminal behaviour? If people had stopped buying tickets to his shows, his albums, his books, if comedy clubs had refused to hire him, if TV networks had refused to work with him, he would not have become "America's Dad", who used his celebrity and his wealth to rape women and then silence them afterwards, and although he would still have been a rapist regardless of what happened with his career, he would not have gotten away with it for 50 years, and he would have gone to prison long ago.
posted by orange swan at 5:22 PM on December 15, 2017 [13 favorites]


Wow, I was literally just thinking about this subject yesterday, at a used book store, where there was a whole shelf of Marion Zimmer Bradley books, which I passed up because after a brief inner monologue I decided that at even a $1 each, they weren't worth the ickyness.
posted by jenjenc at 5:24 PM on December 15, 2017 [1 favorite]


As a reader with an astonishingly small personal collection, can somebody please reassure me that no alarming personal revelations have come to light about Samuel R. Delany? I don't want to profess my respect if it turns out that the one writer I chose to read wound up being just as villainous as so many others.
posted by jsnlxndrlv at 5:32 PM on December 15, 2017


I am REALLY glad you posted this, MartinWisse, since this has been at top of mind as I witness, and am heartened by, the #metoo movement. As a lifelong lover of King Arthur stories, Mists was the first time I'd heard the tale told in a way that saw women, and women's lives, as real, human, worthy, and powerful. When I read Mists, I felt like I was actually living the story. I'll never forget where I was when I read it, or how I felt.

This Amanda Hess essay, How the Myth of the Artistic Genius Excuses the Abuse of Women, has a passage that helped me articulate my thoughts about MZB:

"Men like Louis C.K. may be creators of art, but they are also destroyers of it. ...Our assessments of men’s contributions to an art form ought to be informed by the avenues they have closed off for other artists."

You could substitute "MZB" for "Men" and get the same truth: The beauty and power of her art came at the cost of others' art, and others' safety and well-being. So just as I loved Mists for the gift it gave to women who wanted to see themselves in literature, who knows what other gifts it removed, and the geniuses it silenced. And those losses are something I am thinking about a LOT these days.
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 5:33 PM on December 15, 2017 [19 favorites]


I had always loved this book, but when I learned she was an abuser, like many others, I couldn't bring myself to read it again. I had the book with me while waiting for an oil change. I set it on the counter when they called me that the car was done. And I forgot the book. Not conciously. When I got home I thought, oh, I left it at the car shop... and the car shop was five minutes from where I lived. I thought to myself, I should go get it. But I didn't. Normally I would never ever leave a book I loved if I had forgotten it somewhere, I would try and get it back. But not that one. Nor have I ever bought another copy. Or recommended it to anyone, even when I worked in a bookstore. It was such an influence on my life... and now I can't think of it without feeling deeply disappointed.
posted by Armed Only With Hubris at 5:44 PM on December 15, 2017 [3 favorites]


Whoa, that Moira Greyland blog post is... weird. It's not that I don't believe her, I do, and at least her father's abuse activities were well documented, but it's just so odd in so many ways. The pervasive homophobia is maybe understandable given her experiences, but still pretty horrendous, the writing is disjointed, and I'm struck by the way she details her father's abuse, but her mother's is kind of mentioned in passing once in the beginning, and then there's some mention of what sounds like maybe physical, but not sexual abuse by her.

I still don't get why she's decided to be against gay marriage, though. The ending of the text seems to suggest that she thinks the only/real/main reason gay people want to get married is so they can adopt children to abuse? Which, if that's what she really thinks, is pretty fucked up.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 5:56 PM on December 15, 2017 [2 favorites]


As a reader with an astonishingly small personal collection, can somebody please reassure me that no alarming personal revelations have come to light about Samuel R. Delany?

Have you read any of Delany's memoirs? I especially recommend Times Square Red, Times Square Blue, which is about, among other things, sexual relationships among men in Times Square's porn theaters back in the day, and also The Motion of Light in Water, which is about his early days as a sci fi writer. I think Delany is so radically honest about his sexuality and his sexual relationships that it would be surprising if something alarming came to light. *knocks wood* I hope not to be proved wrong because I am a great admirer of Delany's, more for his memoirs than for his science fiction.
posted by Orlop at 5:57 PM on December 15, 2017 [14 favorites]


but I've always been disappointed at how much greater the reaction to his homophobia was than to the overt sexism and misogyny in his books.

Not to get too bogged down in a derail about Card. But you're right. I fully admit I didn't notice this when I read his book the first few times in my late teens. Likely because I internalized a lot of this type of cultural misogyny and sexism.

After his views on homophobia had come out, I had tried a re-read and it was very apparent to my more adult eyes/mind. I hate that I didn't catch it the first few times around, but I'm glad that my mind matured and that I grew up and am now more aware of the ways writers depict their characters.
posted by Fizz at 6:00 PM on December 15, 2017 [2 favorites]


i'm beginning to think that we'd all be a lot better off if we didn't know anything about the people who do our art

Maybe this makes me a really mean person, but I like that with #metoo society is forced to confront (DAILY) the fact that charming, talented, or normal-seeming people can be truly horrible. Generally, people try to cover-up evil acts and shush the victims in order to preserve their own sense of safety and comfort. Well, that's not working now! Take a big fucking gulp of the truth that survivors have to live with. We didn't get to have a choice, and now you don't either.
posted by Stonkle at 6:05 PM on December 15, 2017 [25 favorites]


Twitter thread about the so-called Breendoggle, the attempt to deal with abuse committed by Walter Breen, who was Bradley’s husband and Greyland’s father.
posted by larrybob at 6:14 PM on December 15, 2017 [5 favorites]


"We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are."

We often miss the obvious -- the pathetically obvious -- when we forget how much of ourselves we see in characters -- we impose ourselves, and misinterpret -- or just re-interpret -- things.

Many con games, for instance, hinge on a pigeon seeing things that are just not there, but assumes they hear it, like when a grifter tells them how wonderful and cunning they are. No such thing was actually said, but the mark imposed the narrative on to another narrative.

It's like you see news programs about someone whose husband/wife fleeced them of their fortune, and then when they get interviewed, they keep going on how charming and loving the grifter was -- and then they run a clip of the couple during the swindle phase, and it's like, "When is this loving and charming part coming? Because that grifter is looking bored and repulsed by their mark."

I used to call it literary mirages, and it is almost as if we are looking for an excuse to unleash a certain part of ourselves, and there comes a character that seems to fit the bill. To me, Wonder Woman could not be a more anti-feminist character, but once upon a time, she seemed like one, but then all the subtext comes out, and I realized there was nothing remotely feminist about her -- but there sure was hell everything feminist about me and radically so.

Some authors do not mean to exploit literary mirages, but others do deliberately do it to justify some darkness in their own soul -- so you present something that seems one way, but when you take off the rose-coloured glasses, it is completely the opposite.

Just like the grifter who promises love and security, but actually brings hate and uncertainty.

It's easier when you can admit your perceptions were faulty, and that it was your ideals -- not the creator's character -- who was the real the inspiration and character you were reading or viewing.

I have said elsewhere that as someone who is an author, I agonize over things, and take characters very seriously. I understand what functions characters serve -- they are guides, inspirations, and a safe place to think about what makes the stuff of people's souls.

But as 2017 proved, the communications industries are rife with predators and con artists who pretend to present one thing, but it is bait and switch. For people who can admit they were fooled, they learn, grow, and move on.

Yet there are others who will justify works that were willful poison.

Thank you for the link.
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 6:22 PM on December 15, 2017 [16 favorites]


I'm not sure how to count it, but in The Motion of Light in Water, Delaney describes having a lover who raped women.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 6:29 PM on December 15, 2017


I'm not sure how to count it, but in The Motion of Light in Water, Delaney describes having a lover who raped women.

Ah, crud. A thing I didn't bother to remember. I think I'd have to read it again in context to know quite how to react to it.
posted by Orlop at 6:32 PM on December 15, 2017


Which, if that's what she really thinks, is pretty fucked up

It is, but it's also incredibly sad because you can practically chart how it got that fucked up . You can't condone the viewpoint but how hard must it be not to pin the blame on what seems like a common element, when your initial exposure to that element was your abuser.

I'm not a psychologist or anything, but it seems like a whole chain of awful.
posted by Sparx at 7:40 PM on December 15, 2017 [4 favorites]


Maybe this makes me a really mean person, but I like that with #metoo society is forced to confront (DAILY) the fact that charming, talented, or normal-seeming people can be truly horrible. Generally, people try to cover-up evil acts and shush the victims in order to preserve their own sense of safety and comfort. Well, that's not working now! Take a big fucking gulp of the truth that survivors have to live with. We didn't get to have a choice, and now you don't either.

uh-huh - i knew about that when i was in junior high school

but thanks for assuming i didn't

now at this late point in civilization, i could ask if we have to know what kind of person homer really was to appreciate the iliad and the odyssey - do we dare read him or like him without knowing what kind of person he was? - without there being any chance of our finding out?

isn't that something worth thinking about?
posted by pyramid termite at 7:47 PM on December 15, 2017 [1 favorite]


To me, Wonder Woman could not be a more anti-feminist character, but once upon a time, she seemed like one ...

You're right -- we see things as we are. And I was eight. I wanted to be able to beat up the boys who were mean to me. Everybody told me boys were mean because I was smarter and more mature, but Wonder Woman was smarter and more mature and she could kick their ass. And if she didn't feel like kicking ass, she could go live on an island with temples and libraries and completely without boys of any kind. This was all I knew about Wonder Woman, and at age eight, it was all I wanted from life.

pyramid termite: there wasn't one Homer, that's all we know. There probably was one Homer once, but we don't know. So we think of the voice of a Greek man, a man of a certain training and background in the Bronze Age -- and yes, that's worth thinking about, at length. We don't have to write odes to "deep-browed Homer" anymore, or carve anachronistic heads in unpainted alabaster. We aren't blinded by anything when we ask these questions.
posted by Countess Elena at 7:53 PM on December 15, 2017 [12 favorites]


My greatest concern is about providing financial support to odious people. Otherwise, though, I tend not to let this kind of thing retroactively revise my opinion of a work or, especially, what it has meant to me (if it was formative, for example).

I read MoA in 1984 at the age of 20, recommended to me by the close friend who first introduced me to feminism. My friend was in her first year at Bryn Mawr, and very fired-up in her feminism, and so this book's importance to me is mixed together with all of these new, life-changing ideas I encountered during that time. Morgaine is easily one of the most important and beloved literary characters to me for these reasons, and I'm not going to give that up.

But that's not to say that I am ignoring what's so problematic about MZB. I wouldn't ever discuss or recommend the book to anyone without discussing all of this -- I think that for a multitude of reasons a new, prospective reader should be aware of this. These days there are many better works to choose from that could serve the same purposes to a new reader and which lack this horrifying baggage.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 7:53 PM on December 15, 2017 [3 favorites]


This is a painful question I've been thinking over since the MZB stuff came out.

Starting to think 'when the works enter the public domain' is a reasonable timeline for when I'm willing to reread.
posted by xiw at 7:57 PM on December 15, 2017


for me it was Thendara House - it helped me come out.
posted by jb at 9:07 PM on December 15, 2017 [5 favorites]


Thank you for posting this. Mists of Avalon was tremendously important to me as a teenage girl, and I haven't reread it since the news came out in 2014 and likely never will again. It seems to have been a foundational text for so many women when they were younger, and while I am briefly sorry for our loss, Moira's pain and trauma is a horrific tragedy that just makes me furiously sick to think about.
posted by skycrashesdown at 9:23 PM on December 15, 2017 [4 favorites]


(And for those who haven't read them, I highly recommend two of the books mentioned in the article, Wise Child and Juniper by Monica Furlong.)
posted by skycrashesdown at 9:44 PM on December 15, 2017 [4 favorites]


it makes me sick to my stomach to remember reading MZB's depictions of pederasty - and at the time I read it as a depiction of a bad thing, but if I reread it maybe I would see it otherwise - and at the same time, those same books were some of the only queer literature I had and were so important to understanding myself. But I can't bring myself to reread them.

and I know that I don't have anything to complain about compared to the actual kids who were abused.
posted by jb at 9:53 PM on December 15, 2017 [2 favorites]


I have to bite my tongue hard whenever Mists of Avalon comes up at the library where I work. It usually pops up whenever we do a Staff Picks display.
posted by sarcasticah at 10:04 PM on December 15, 2017 [1 favorite]


I still don't get why she's decided to be against gay marriage, though.

She doesn't make much of it directly in that post, but I'm given to understand that she's now an evangelical Christian, and I think a lot of her experiences are stuff she now sees in the light of that world view.

I was thinking about how the proceeds aren't going to the kids, and I think... if someone wants to read this, particularly if they're doing so not just out of ignorance but wanting to understand how Mists of Avalon or her other works reflect the kind of person MZB was? I would consider this an ethical time to engage in piracy, although it's probably better if you can find it at a used bookstore where it will a) not fall into the hands of someone who doesn't know and b) clear up shelf space for something else.
posted by Sequence at 10:58 PM on December 15, 2017 [3 favorites]


I read MoA in the early noughties and the second wave feminism it seemed to portray hadn't worn particularly well (but I think the second wave is making a comeback). But anyway when I think of feminist fantasy literature of that period I always turn to Robin McKinley, who is great and who IMVHO hasn't dated much at all. Also as a person she seems a little eccentric but otherwise pretty lovable and ordinary.
posted by low_horrible_immoral at 4:11 AM on December 16, 2017 [2 favorites]


I read Mists in the late nineties, when I was thick in discovering paganism and feminism and how utterly exciting the world could be outside of my own life. I loved it well enough, but it was Darkover that really grabbed ahold of me. I wasn't quite ready to come out, yet, but I remember reading The Shattered Chain and Thendara House and just...not knowing what to do with the feelings inside of me. (I also re-read The Dark Tower so many times I could recite passages from it, and not coincidentally was in a poly relationship in my very early twenties.) Bradley's stories opened up so many things for me; fantasy kept me a reader as I transitioned from kid's books to more adult writing, and her work and legacy were a huge part of that. (Also Mercedes Lackey, who is turns out was just run-of-the-mill pretty bad and a more-or-less harmless wackadoo.)

I miss the feelings I had around those books, because I don't know if I could read them again. Part of me wants to see what the used bookstore up the street has of hers, to see if I even still like it, but...I don't know. We'll see. Nostalgia should remain nostalgia.
posted by kalimac at 6:24 AM on December 16, 2017 [7 favorites]


Whoops -- of course, I mean The Forbidden Tower.
posted by kalimac at 8:26 AM on December 16, 2017


I've thought a lot about MZB this year, too. I loved MZB when I was a kid. She seemed to sit at the center of all my middle school interests: paganism, feminism, classicist fantasy, female-focused sci-fi, writing. Remember how many anthologies she edited? She ran a fantasy magazine of short stories and artwork for yeeears after similar publications died off. And I still remember being about 13 years old and feeling SO MUCH about her retelling of the Illiad that I had to take a break from reading just to stop trembling.

Hearing that MZB had been enabling (and participating) in child abuse was such a gut punch. It made me re-evaluate all of my memories of her books. Plenty of her stories involved sexual assault of some kind, as well as the sort of unequal power dynamics that made those events even more stomach-churning. The screwed up sex/incest/assault elements in her work are portrayed as bad things, but now I wonder about them the way I think about movie rape scenes. What was the purpose of that? Was it gratuitous? Could it have been done in a different way? etc. And...I can't answer that, because I can't revisit MZB. If I'd never heard of her until the sexual abuse story broke and for some VERY strange reason I decided to pick up one of her books, it might be different. I can usually "forgive" dead artists long enough to evaluate their work without dwelling on their wretched, awful lives. But not MZB -- and I suspect that has at least as much to do with my own absurd sense of betrayal than MZB's sins.

On a happier note, I'd like to echo the recommendations for Robin McKinley and Monica Furlong. They're great!
posted by grandiloquiet at 2:50 PM on December 16, 2017 [7 favorites]


On a happier note, I'd like to echo the recommendations for Robin McKinley and Monica Furlong. They're great!

Throw Jane Yolen and Lois McMaster Bujold on that list as well. All of them brilliant authors.
posted by Fizz at 4:18 PM on December 16, 2017 [1 favorite]


I still don't get why she's decided to be against gay marriage, though.

It sounds like she's absorbed the right-wing view that we're all child abusers.

It also sounds like she doesn't believe bisexuality is real.
posted by bile and syntax at 4:22 PM on December 16, 2017 [1 favorite]


It sounds like she's absorbed the right-wing view that we're all child abusers.

Evil begets evil.
posted by Dysk at 2:30 AM on December 17, 2017 [3 favorites]


Man is it weird to read people discuss this in the abstract, as a moral and philosophical problem you have options on how to deal with, when you personally have an abuser who is well-known and beloved within their career field who you will never be able to name. Just, very very weird. Thanks, Stonkle.
posted by colorblock sock at 12:31 PM on December 17, 2017 [7 favorites]


I'm sorry, colorblock sock. I feel for you.
posted by Countess Elena at 12:34 PM on December 17, 2017 [2 favorites]


Here's a link to the full text of the Great Breen Boondoggle zine, transcribed with the names of the children redacted. Warning, it has fairly graphic descriptions of child sexual abuse. This at least gives some context to the background of what some people knew and how they reacted, some trying to protect children as best they knew how, others disagreeing there was any harm done, and some more focused on the basic idea of whether it was ever ok to exclude people from a community.
posted by geeklizzard at 1:12 PM on December 17, 2017 [3 favorites]


This sort of evil is a poison. It warps and destroys. It poisoned Moira Greyland's understanding of humanity and sexuality. It poisoned art that had the power to be revelatory and made it into a source of pain and sadness. It poisoned the SF community, that could have been a safe, open place turned into another haven for rapists. This sort of evil stains the world long after the hands that wrought it are dead.
posted by pattern juggler at 11:38 PM on December 17, 2017 [4 favorites]


I’m eagerly awaiting the sequel to Nicola Griffith’s Hild.

If you haven't read it, Hild is very good.
posted by Chrysostom at 6:56 AM on December 18, 2017


Just posted an Ask question for book recommendations.
posted by Sophie1 at 9:16 AM on December 18, 2017 [2 favorites]


« Older Your Favorite Restaurant Sucks   |   Your Reality Is Driven By Marketing Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments