I discovered only recently that the late Marion Zimmer Bradley had been accused of child molestation by her own daughter, Moira. It’s a horrific story that you can read here, in Moira’s account of her childhood.
Marion Zimmer Bradley is a name well known in the fantasy and sci-fi community, and I’ve had The Mists of Avalon (one of her most well known and critically acclaimed novels) sitting on my kindle for a couple of years now. I never got around to reading it, despite seeing it ranked highly on lists of ‘best historical fantasy’ and ‘best feminist fantasy’ on a few occasions.
Now, I really don’t know how I feel about reading it. It’s a novel I’d been looking forward to sinking my teeth into for a long time and seems to have all the elements I tend to enjoy in a historical fantasy – but knowing now that Bradley allegedly committed some atrocious acts, it feels tainted, to say the least.
I had a similar issue when I wanted to read Ender’s Game. It’s a classic sci-fi, and I wanted to read the book a few years ago before the film adaptation was released. In the end, I chose not to see the film upon learning that Orson Scott Card, the author of the novel, strongly opposes same sex marriage and homosexuality. He was even a member of The National Organisation for Marriage – a group which campaigns against same sex marriage and gay adoption, amongst other things.
I had no interest in helping someone who I so strongly disagree with – I knew that going to the cinema to see this film would be but a grain of sand in the industry and that my money would barely make a difference, but it made me feel better to know that my money was not supporting someone whose views made me so sad and so furious.
However, I still read the book. I just didn’t pay for it. I found it second hand in a charity shop, read it, and guess what – I didn’t hate it.
There were certainly moments I did not enjoy, such as a passing comment on why there aren’t many women in the battle school Ender’s Game is set in (“Too many centuries of evolution are working against them”), but overall I didn’t mind it. So it stands to reason that a person who I could meet and possibly despise, and who could do pretty morally questionable if not reprehensible things, can still write a book that is enjoyable and thought provoking and able to bring joy to many. I just don’t want that person to benefit financially from me.
When it comes to The Mists of Avalon, Zimmer Bradley can no longer benefit from my reading of her novel. She’s deceased, and cannot enjoy any royalties. In fact, buying her books can actually help victims now, since royalties from e-book sales are donated to Save the Children. But it still leaves a sour taste in the mouth. I feel like despite knowing that Zimmer Bradley will not benefit in any way, reading the work of someone who reputedly committed terrible crimes will cause me to be a very biased reader. Is there any way I could truly enjoy this book now?
I’m reminded also of Roman Polanski, whose film Rosemary’s Baby was one I studied for my degree in film a few years ago. I loved the film, and soon after watched more of his work. Now I know of the rape case he was involved in and I haven’t seen any of his most recent works. He fled the US before he could be sentenced for his alleged crimes, and yet can still work and direct new films – something that I cannot support and find ultimately wrong, almost baffling. Yet – I think The Pianist is an excellent film, and an important film.
So here is my question – should we read books written by people we strongly dislike or disagree with, even if we take financial gain from the equation? What if the writer is morally questionable, but the content of their work is not? Where would you draw the line when choosing what not to read? Have you read The Mists of Avalon – if so, when, and what did you think? Are there any circumstances in which you have chosen not to read someone’s work?
Just to be clear – no judgement here! If this is an issue you have no qualms about then that’s ok! No case is black or white, and everyone is entitled to their own opinion.