One time I got this question: “Why does there have to be sex?” I assumed, of course, that the asker was referring to the books and not to nature. My answer: People who are in love have sex. Not all of them, maybe. But enough so that no one should be surprised when characters do it in a book.
On the other hand, I ran across an essay in a recent Entertainment Weekly that had me wondering, “What the fuck?”
EW Editor-at-Large Tina Jordan writes in the July 18 issue about how she adored The Mists of Avalon—until she found out that author Marion Zimmer Bradley and her husband allegedly sexually abused their daughter. Bradley “was never accused, charged or convicted, but she was named in a civil suit by one of her husband’s victims,” Jordan says. “(The daughter) claims her mother was far, far worse…cruel and violent, as well as completely out of her mind sexually.”
The article lists crimes detailed in real-life depositions, which, Jordan says, “raised the question, Should we judge a piece of art by the artist?”
Jordan calls The Mists of Avalon a page-turner set in “the clamoring, knight-filled halls of Camelot” that for twenty-five years swept her into magical realms. Learning of the author’s alleged depravity, though, changed everything. “Passages I’d read hundreds of times before leaped out at me in entirely new ways, freighted with revulsion.”
I understand how knowing about an artist might change your point of view. I, for example, used to despise Adam Sandler, referring to him as the most unfunny person alive. Then I found out—from people who know people who know him—that he’s a decent guy who’s loyal to friends. I still don’t like any of his Saturday Night Live sketches or movies, but I no longer despise him as a person, and even root for him to do well in business.
In Jordan’s case, the passages that now bring revulsion include “brother-and-sister sex, child brides sexually assaulted and beaten by their husbands, a little girl violently raped by an old man during an ancient Druid rite, a maiden ‘fresh and young, not fourteen’ raped after a spring planting and fertility ritual.”
She “felt sick,” she says, and “betrayed by the author I had admired for more than a quarter century.”
I guess all of the things mentioned, not unlike sex between loving couples, do happen in real life. So I won’t judge the book. But “Clay eased Lara back onto the ledge, then eased himself into her with slow, deliberate strokes” is a far cry from “child brides sexually assaulted and beaten by their husbands.”
I’m also not going to say that the latter couldn’t be found in a book that Jordan says she still considers a masterpiece. Still, these acts weren’t “freighted with revulsion” until Jordan discovered that the author may have molested children? Context matters, though, and the idea that an author's view of horrific behavior may be morally opposed to your own could make a huge difference.
Well, I’m a pretty nice guy, and all sex in my books involves adults who participate willingly—even eagerly. That, in my humble opinion, should not elicit scoldings and revulsion, but joy. Icky abounds in this world; we should celebrate the tender stuff.