I came across this post the other day, and I’ve thought about it several times since then. When Cedar posted about it over on Mad Genius Club this morning, and it raised a very important question: should we support those who we find morally reprehensible?
There seems little doubt that Marion Zimmer Bradley was a reprehensible human being, especially as concerned her daughter. The worst part of the letter that Vox Day quoted was not the horror of what happened, but the frank appraisal of it by the victim. There was no great emotion, just a catalog of facts, and from the outside, it is all the more heart wrenching because of it.
The Mists of Avalon came out my freshman year of high school. I never read it, being past my own personal Arthurian phase (though I seem destined to be dragged into it again), and I never read any of the Darkover novels that I can recall. I did, however, find some of her advice to writers online, and I still have a copy of it stored somewhere on my hard drive. So she did have some slight impact on me, mostly positive, and I read about her personal life wondering if I should find that file and erase it. Just because of the taint of it all.
And then I remembered an essay by another author who has been demonized (though for a different matter entirely). Orson Scott Card has a collection of essays called A Storyteller in Zion (trigger warning: contains writing that is very appreciative of the Mormon community and their religious beliefs). One of the essays (I can’t remember the tittle, and I can’t find my copy) discussed the problem of fiction in general: that a good story could have the “ring” of truth to it, even though you might not accept that truth at all. You might even find it repugnant, and yet a talented writer may make you see the other side of the issue, and challenge your beliefs.
In looking for more information about MZB, I kept coming across accounts of how she encouraged and helped aspiring writers, especially women writers. And she also affected many of her readers, and helped them in their personal struggles. Good writing should do this, even if written by bad people. And it is true that bad people will write good, and maybe even great literature. Certainly much of western culture was shaped by writers who were Christian white men, and we all know how those people are viewed these days. But some of those were genuinely good men, and some of them were genuinely evil. And most probably muddled along in the “decent” category, just like most of the rest of us.
Will I seek out MZB’s fiction, knowing what I do now about her? Probably not. But I don’t think it should be eradicated, either. And I would not judge anyone who bought her work, either, or who was a fan.
In the end, I think this goes back to what Larry Correia has been saying forever: we should tell a good story first and foremost. And we should judge stories by what they say, no matter who did the writing.