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.
Untitled-1.jpgSo 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.

 

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One thought on “

  1. This is an interesting question that I haven’t thought of. I’ve read a couple of books by Zimmer-Bradley that she co-wrote (from the Saga of the Trillium) and I guess it leaves a sour taste in my mouth. Now I know that every human being is not 100% good or 100% bad, so I guess I’m able to appreciate something that was good about her (her writing) while disapproving other aspects.

    We all read books by people we wouldn’t like, I think. We don’t know every detail in the life of every author we read. I bet we would think twice before reading half the books we read if we knew all the opinions and past actions of every author.

    I don’t feel guilty about having read, and liked what she wrote, as I didn’t know about the allegations(I learned it right here). I don’t know if I’d still read a book from her. Maybe… as I think this author had good things to offer despite the horrible allegations. I don’t think I would buy the book, though.

    I don’t know it’s very complicated. Nothing is systematic about this matter, I think. It really has to do with the nature of the wrongs that were made, versus your own personal experiences and judgment. There is no simple answer to “Should we read books by bad people?”. I’m still ambivalent as to “should I have strong principles and just not read a book by someone who did something I judge repulsive?” or should I just go with my gut feeling and still read the book if I feel I can benefit from it?

    I really think it’s not only personal to every one of us but each book/author is also a case by case thing based on your principles AND your gut feelings.

    That was the first time I gave this matter some thought… maybe my view will change in the future. I don’t know.

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