The Dark Side of Fantasy and Science Fiction
Marion Zimmer Bradley, the best-selling fantasy writer responsible for Darkover and The Mists of Avalon, had a daughter. That daughter, Moira Greyland, gave interviews some years back when she released a memoir about her parents, detailing the monstrous figures of her childhood–her parents. Greyland accused Bradley and Bradley’s husband of sexual and other abuse toward her; and tellingly, Walter Breen, Bradley’s husband, was not only a famed defender of pederasty in his circles, but became a convicted child molester.
It is easy to argue that Marion Zimmer Bradley’s authorship of fantasy novels is irrelevant to the horrifying truth of her personal life. Famous artists and writers often get a “pass” on unsavory aspects of their lives, for (some say) such details are not relevant to their “genius.” Their personal behavior and beliefs, like any celebrity’s, are often buried by their accomplishments.
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This is patently not the case in Bradley’s life: her literary works parallel the abuses she and her husband committed. A middle school teacher recommended to me one of Bradley’s books, The Mists of Avalon. Within Bradley’s books I found sexual abuse, including mildly descriptive rapes of underage women, as well as other deviant sexual practices. The book set all these events into other worlds, made-up or romanticized cultures. Many of these encounters were framed as natural results of the culture or world.
The teacher who recommended that book to me was no longer a teacher by the time I was out of high school. That teacher lured a middle school student and sexually abused them. I knew that student; they were still a child, only just about to become a teenager, when this happened.
I did not connect the dots until much later. Now, as an adult, I know the truth. The genres of science fiction and fantasy–still quite dear to me–have been a breeding ground for demonic fantasies that once belonged nowhere else. And these fantasies didn’t simply remain in books. These books reflect real desires–and real actions. Look at the vast swath of popular fiction dating back to the past four or so decades, and you will see a strong correlation between the beliefs, lifestyles, and writings of these authors.
In the earlier part of the 21st century, even from the late 90’s when gay culture was becoming more mainstream, unnatural sexual desires had to be hidden; they had to be concealed within a relatively niche genre of “other worlds” where such experimentation was “culturally” acceptable. Cultural relativism is a must with these books; it’s “another world, not ours.” (Recall Star Trek’s “Prime Directive”: Starfleet members are not to interfere in the development of alien nations, even, if, say, they are committing ritual murders.)
The point is that if one were only to read a popular fantasy or sci-fi book, the chances of running across something entirely against God, or even against any idea of conventional morality, would be very high. I’m not speaking merely of anti-Church sentiments (such as in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials), but of the aforementioned: deeply disturbing sexual behaviors. Furthermore, the authors, characters, or even the readers and fans make excuses for doing or hearing about such things. But there is no excuse.
Bradley, and my middle teacher, showed their true colors long before the public knew about what they had done. They showed it when they promoted literature that glorified such evil. We cannot separate an artist and their works. We cannot excuse books for celebrating alternate moralities. To publish such ideas is to take them out of the darkness, to promote these ideas and spread them.
Of course, science fiction from the early 20th century always had strange things about it; men mating with beautiful alien women is an underlying, if not explicit theme. In H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, the male lead saves the female lead, Weena. She is a beautiful, but childlike alien. They develop a romantic relationship, although Wells does not explore it further, as Weena dies. But it is disturbing that Weena must be childlike at all, as if Wells were anticipating the rise of the idea of the “Lolita,” which occurred decades later.
Many more later and worse examples abound. Robert Heinlein created Lazarus Long, the time-traveler who consummated his desires with his own mother. He wrote The Number of the Beast, where a biological father-daughter pair in a polygamous unit actually hesitate before deciding not to “do the deed.” In the mid-late 1990’s, Anne McCaffrey wrote a series with an alien-human romance, where the two races could not breed together (ah, no need for birth control!). The human female lead, though she takes an alien lover, ends up getting pregnant by another human. This situation is happily embraced by all… just like in real life, right?
Television has brought us even more horrors. Game of Thrones, in both its TV and book versions, loved to shock with scenes of sexual abuse. Partway through the first book I stopped reading when I came across slightly too much description regarding a girl in a forced marriage to an older man. I heard stories of the show’s famous titillating scenes, but I knew by then not to watch it. Amazon’s Wheel of Time series has followed the same vein. The books vaguely allude to a great many things to begin with, making some quite prominent: same-sex relationships, polygamy, BDSM, and so on. An entire race of people has an honor system that results in characters running around naked, in public, as some weird form of debt repayment. The main character enters a polygamous arrangement with three women, all of whom really like each other and have no conflicts about sharing him. (Again, how very “realistic.”)
These are the books I grew up reading. A few decades ago, I don’t believe most people outside the depraved science fiction/fantasy circles knew that such values were so common in easily accessible books (I was a regular at the public library). But the world has been turning, helped along by the authors who spread their demonic fantasies through the innocent guise of literature. Sexual fantasies, explicit and non-explicit, aren’t only confined to “romance” (erotica) novels; they are spread among science fiction, fantasy, realistic fiction, and fiction targeted at teenagers. It is hard to find a recent “young adult” book that does not at least allude to sexual encounters (at best, limiting it to erotic kissing) among underaged participants. It does not matter where we turn–our fictional “escapes” have been plastered over with the devil’s image.
Some of these books are, at least, honest; Game of Thrones is a hellscape of revenge, lust, betrayal, and destruction, an unending spiral into chaos and bloodshed. But by and large, fantasy books love to glorify their depravities, showing them as desirable, good, natural, even, sometimes, “pure.”
These fantasies show how authors who do not have God will write every form of immorality, including sexual abuse of children. Such works, even if not explicit, are like moral pornography: they display evil as if it is a desirable good. We must not go near such works, and even moreso, must not let our children near. Not every author is a pedophile or an abuser, thank God, but every author that promotes such things does the devil’s work—spreading corruption and evil thoughts.
There is however hope, and there is goodness. There are Catholic fiction writers, though few nowadays foray into the fantastic. Within the enduring fantasy classics, many were written by Christians from the Anglican and Catholic traditions: Lord Dunsany’s deep mysticism shows itself in The King of Elfland’s Daughter; we explore innocent and selfishness in the tales of George MacDonald; we admire the Christ-like Aslan of C.S. Lewis; and journey with the somehow ordinary yet heroic characters of Tolkien. Romances in these are gentle, neither charged with sexual energy nor fueled by unholy desires.
And yes, the authors imagine other worlds; but these authors do not let God cease to exist in their worlds. We may never see God mentioned or worshiped. But the main characters, imperfect as they may be, serve as models who struggle with moral decisions and ultimately strive to do what is good in ways that accord with Christian morality. In The Two Towers, Éomer asks:
“How shall a man judge what to do in such times?”
“As he has ever judged,” said Aragorn. “Good and ill have not changed since yesteryear; nor are they one thing among Elves and Dwarves and another among Men. It is a man's part to discern them, as much in the Golden Wood as in his own house.”
As Tolkien knew, to be an author is no excuse to embrace moral relativism. To enjoy fantasy novels is no reason to excuse the propagation of immoral ideas. Let us not accept every form of refuse in our reading just because it is entertaining; let us hold ourselves, and those from whom we seek entertainment and escape, to a higher standard.
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