Playpen

Welcome to the Playpen, our space for ferrety banter and whimsical snippets of things that aren't quite long enough for articles (although they might be) but that caught your eye anyway.

at 02:32 on 20-06-2014, Arthur B
On the subject of Arthurian Myth-themed books written by women, I really liked The Idylls of the Queen by Phyllis Ann Karr. It's essentially a murder mystery in which Queen Guenevere is implicated

Aaaaand sold.

@Chris A: I might just have to give Mists another try at some point. If I can set aside the latest Bradley revelations.
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at 23:24 on 19-06-2014, Chris A
I realise this is me saying "Hm, I'd have been happier with this fantasy novel if there had been more rape in it", but the thing which often bugs me about rape in fantasy is how often people fail to acknowledge that rape is rape, and by erasing it here Bradley is kind of sidling close to doing that.

While the last thing I want to do is stake out a position in defense of The Mists of Avalon, my best recollection (of a book I read as a teenager) is that this is unfair to Bradley, who is doing something rather more complex with Uther and Ygraine than just "redeeming" a rape story by making the sex consensual.

As Alula points out, magic and prophecy collide with consent, and while I don't recall whether the word "rape" comes into it, Ygraine is troubled by that collision - and a lot of misery comes from it. Think Leda and Zeus. At the very least, this prompts the reader to consider the events of the novel critically, perhaps even to ask whether the vanishing world of the Goddess and her pagan devotees is really any kinder or wiser than the patriarchy of the White Christ.
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at 21:55 on 19-06-2014, Axiomatic
I feel vaguely guilty about not liking either the Mists of Avalon or anything Ursula K Leguin has ever written.

I feel like I should probably just start wearing a fedora at this point.
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at 21:36 on 19-06-2014, James D
On the subject of Arthurian Myth-themed books written by women, I really liked The Idylls of the Queen by Phyllis Ann Karr. It's essentially a murder mystery in which Queen Guenevere is implicated, with various characters working to clear her name. What the book is really good at is showing another side to all the well-known stories; it's very deeply rooted in the source material, especially Thomas Malory's, but it cleverly twists the perspective without making too much up.

The protagonist is Sir Kay, who usually gets belittled in the classic tales, but is shown in this book to be much more sympathetic and practical. Lancelot comes across as a selfish, bloodthirsty glory hound who is more interested in running around fighting dudes in single combat than actually doing his job. Morgan le Fay on the other hand is made to seem very reasonable; her motivations are basically the same as everyone else's, wanting revenge for various (legitimate) grievances and such, except instead of murdering people in single combat she uses tricky witchy methods that God supposedly doesn't approve of. Unless they're being used by the Lady of the Lake, in which case magic is AOK.

Anyway, it's a really good book.
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at 21:36 on 19-06-2014, Arthur B
I find transhumanism tedious at best and Diaz' take on it as expressed through Dresden Codak even worse. In addition, the combination of absolutely glacially paced storytelling and relentless nerdboy gaze on the main protagonist is incredibly off-putting.
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at 21:22 on 19-06-2014, Adrienne
Arthur B: Out of sheer curiosity, what's your issue(s) with Aaron Diaz?
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at 17:39 on 19-06-2014, Alula
I read The Mists of Avalon when I was. . .eight? in a big King Arthur phase, and I think my mom figured most of it would go over my head and/or bore me. (My mom didn't know in a few short years I would storm my way through an unabridged Les Miserables and then decide perhaps to let musicals have less influence on my reading choices.) I generally recall feeling a little bit icked by various parts, not so much the sex (well, not only the sex) but the sort of tone about them, in a way I obviously could not articulate at age eight. I tried rereading it a few years ago out of curiousity and didn't get past the first few chapters. I did also read her take on the Iliad a few years later, and again was vaguely icked in ways I couldn't pin down. (Having read the summary of Stormqueen, I'm more glad than ever I decided Darkover looked like way too big a commitment.)

So I don't remember it too well, but I seem to vaguely think Ygraine was also enchanted/compelled by Vivianne in her attraction to Uther, which doesn't really undercut the rape element so much, but it's possible I misremembered. But there's so much prophecy/compulsion tied up in it that it's hard for me to see it as Ygraine being truly active and does seem more like being evasive about the rapiness. Whether that's to do with the fact that if Ygraine is given some kind of fake Wicca magical date rape drug, it is by Vivianne and not Uther, is too much for me to tangle with this morning, especially in terms of her daughter's statements. (I was made aware of the Goldin page a few years ago and was horrified and very much unimpressed with MZB's responses, but this is still a new level of awful.)

Somewhat tangentially, and not directed at anyone here but at the world in general, it grates on me when people say we "shouldn't" let things like this affect how we feel about an artist's work. Partly because it never defines "we," except in an intentionally (IMO) ambiguous sense. An academic may well be obligated to read certain texts, but I don't think the private/casual reader is, and "should" has a nasty moral imperative to it. (It also gets elided waaaaay too easily into book banning slippery slope arguments.)
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at 16:02 on 19-06-2014, Arthur B
Actually no - the way she confronts it is to turn it completely on its head, to where Ygraine despises her husband and is quite enthusiastic about sleeping with Uther, and his magical disguise is to fool her husband's servants and guards, not Ygraine herself.

Eh, I think that's kind of the same thing I was looking at though. On the one hand, it's nice to give Ygraine an actual motivation and have her do stuff rather than being entirely passive. On the other hand, taking an incident which is generally recognised as being a rape and turning it around and going "Nope, no rape here" seems to erase the difficult and troubling elements of the original myth as opposed to actually engaging with them, which feels like kind of a cheat when you are setting yourself the task of writing an examination of an existing body of myth rather than an entirely original story.

I realise this is me saying "Hm, I'd have been happier with this fantasy novel if there had been more rape in it", but the thing which often bugs me about rape in fantasy is how often people fail to acknowledge that rape is rape, and by erasing it here Bradley is kind of sidling close to doing that.
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at 15:30 on 19-06-2014, Robinson L
Arthur: Wait, so the way Bradley confronts Uther's rape-by-deception of Ygraine in Malory, which you'd expect to be a lightning rod for any feminist treatment of the myth, is to flim-flam about in order to make it Not Really Rape?

Actually no - the way she confronts it is to turn it completely on its head, to where Ygraine despises her husband and is quite enthusiastic about sleeping with Uther, and his magical disguise is to fool her husband's servants and guards, not Ygraine herself.

@Daniel F: Yeah, I have a lot of issues with Establishment Christianity, but I did find the utopian paganism versus dystopian Roman-Christianity angle simplistic and preachy.
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at 14:09 on 19-06-2014, Arthur B
I mean, the prologue promised me Morgan La Fey being AWESOME, and what I GOT was Morgan's mom being a desperate housewife who feels trapped in her privileged noble estate, and who is told out of nowhere by a druid that she is destined to bonk some random guy and she's like, "Ok."

Wait, so the way Bradley confronts Uther's rape-by-deception of Ygraine in Malory, which you'd expect to be a lightning rod for any feminist treatment of the myth, is to flim-flam about in order to make it Not Really Rape? That seems both ew and the most boring possible way to approach it.
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at 13:41 on 19-06-2014, Daniel F
I must confess that I never tried to read it, and this was in large part due to my impatience with Robert Graves, the White Goddess, and the Goddess hypothesis in general. I'm glad that lots of twentieth century women were able to explore spirituality in ways that speak to their femininity, but that's no excuse for pseudohistory. I just never liked the 'utopian ancient pagan matriarchy versus dystopian Romano-Christian patriarchy' story, and what I came across suggested to me that The Mists of Avalon was going to be... well, that.

Though I guess it's also possible that I'm very particular in how I like my Arthurian mythology. *shrug* I find that happens when you get invested in something.
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at 13:29 on 19-06-2014, Axiomatic
I tried reading Mists of Avalon and only found the prologue interesting. The rest of the book, not so much.

I mean, the prologue promised me Morgan La Fey being AWESOME, and what I GOT was Morgan's mom being a desperate housewife who feels trapped in her privileged noble estate, and who is told out of nowhere by a druid that she is destined to bonk some random guy and she's like, "Ok."
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at 10:57 on 19-06-2014, Arthur B
I tried reading The Mists of Avalon, but embarrassingly gave up during the prologue because I found the narrative voice annoying.

(It doesn't help that I find it very, very hard to take seriously depictions of historical paganism which draw on Gardnerian Wicca, of all things; I know just a little too much about the history of both to be able to overlook the anachronism. Which is silly of me, because every telling of the Arthurian stories from Malory to my Pendragon campaign is stuffed to the gills with anachronisms, but there you go.)
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at 03:30 on 19-06-2014, Robinson L
Re: Marion Zimmer Bradley's child abuse

... Once again late to the party because I had a busy weekend and have taken a while to get my thoughts in order.

I listened to "Mists of Avalon" on audio several years ago and while I liked it well enough, had no particular interest in rereading it. I also listened to a story called "The Colors of Space," a science fiction story that feels very 60s - I really liked the concept, was invested in the characters, and found the conclusion surprising in a pleasant way ... I've recommended the story once already, but I'll be a lot more careful to recommend it to anyone again in future. I also realized the other day that I had a book of hers checked out from the library to read at some later point - I returned it on Monday, because as much as I was positively disposed to her writing before, it's far from a must-read for me; there are too many books in the world and not enough time as it is, I don't need the extra cognitive dissonance involved in knowing that the stuff I'm reading is the product of a child molester.

I don't think I'll miss Marion Zimmer Bradley's works all that much, but I also remembered a couple of days after Michal's initial post that my mother and grandmother were pretty big fans of "Mists of Avalon." My grandmother, sadly, is no longer with us, so this is all moot where she is concerned, but I'm wondering whether I should break the news to my mother and tarnish what I suspect are some cherished memories, or leave her in blissful ignorance.

On the other hand, apropos to the discussion of Lackey, in that second Deidre Moen article, Ms. Greyland responds to one A. E. Roberts who - in offering sympathy - also mentions that their first story sale was to Marion Zimmer Bradley, saying she's glad about the sale, and that for her mother "to have benefited writers takes some of the curse off the rest."

In her responses on the blog, Ms. Greyland comes across as a strong, warm, and generous person who has survived horribly traumatic experiences and managed to thrive despite the lingering effects of that trauma. While I think it's entirely reasonable to consider all the implications of this revelation upon Marion Zimmer Bradley's literary legacy, I also think it's important to point out that there does appear to be a more hopeful side to this story as well. (And shifting from the abstract level to the personal, I'm happy for Ms. Greyland and her loved ones that she seems to be doing well with her life.)
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at 21:33 on 18-06-2014, Tamara
the ideal that embracing diversity will lead to acceptance, empathy, and ultimately equality

Really? I've a tendency to romanticize the power of a good book myself, but really?
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at 21:07 on 18-06-2014, Daniel F
Diaz is very much acting like a twit, I would say, but the basic point about canon is not wrong. I'm also pretty darn keen on Zelda, but the series has never really had a continuity. Its 'canon' is not about facts or histories, but about themes, images, and motifs.

The desire to alter Link as a protagonist does strike me as a trifle misguided, but that's just a personal preference. I like having that bit of continuity in the series; I like that the Hero/Princess/Evil King trinity is gendered. It's not a canon fact or anything, but it is the way I like Zelda to be. Far better, to think, to just say "This is the way I like the series" than to waste time making disingenuous arguments about canon.
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at 15:22 on 18-06-2014, Fin
Yeah, speaking as somebody who spent an embarrassingly large part of their life debating Zelda canon on the internet (I'm not proud of it!), that is bullshit. The games have always violated major pieces of canon if it didn't suit the current story.
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at 13:57 on 18-06-2014, Arthur B
I don't usually have much time for Aaron "Dresden Codak" Diaz but he's laying down a lot of truth on Twitter lately (STFU Moffatt has a summary here which I find more tolerable than actual Twitter).
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at 14:27 on 17-06-2014, Alice
See, I actually don't mind not having heard of all the "if you liked X" books, because they give you a "Z elements that X and Y have in common" bit to explain why "you'll love Y". And that's enough for me to go on, at least to make a "shall I look this one up online to see if it sounds like something I'd want to put on my library loan list?" decision.

Plus, they're going to be recommending a book a day all summer, so odds are they'll mention at least one or two Xes I've heard of in that time. ;)
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at 10:37 on 17-06-2014, Axiomatic
The only problem with the "if you liked X, you'll love Y" model is that, well, I find it helps me if you list X's that I've actually heard of. That entire list is basically stuff I've never heard of, plus Harry Potter...whic I didn't like.
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at 23:48 on 16-06-2014, Alice
I thought this might be of interest to Ferretbrain readers:

We Need Diverse Books is "a grassroots organization created to address the lack of diverse, non-majority narratives in children’s literature. We Need Diverse Books is committed to the ideal that embracing diversity will lead to acceptance, empathy, and ultimately equality. We recognize many kinds of diversity, including (but not limited to) LGBTQIA, people of color, those impacted by their gender, those with disabilities, ethnic/cultural/religious minorities, etc. Our mission is to promote or amplify diversification efforts and increase visibility for diverse books and authors, with a goal of empowering a wide range of readers in the process."

I'm particularly enjoying their summer reading series, which recommends diverse books based on the "if you liked that, try this" principle (e.g. "if you liked Harry Potter, try Akata Witch").
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at 19:40 on 16-06-2014, Adrienne
Dan H. -- You aren't the same guy who posts as Dan H at Charles Stross' blog, are you?
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at 18:01 on 14-06-2014, Sunnyskywalker
I knew about her brushing off her husband's actions because (she said) they were big strong boys who could have said no if they really wanted and she was in love with the guy, which is horrible enough. I'm not sure why it still surprises me that there's more horrible parts to the story. Desperate hope that it's so bad that at least it can't get worse, I guess?

I never read much of her work, but one I did read in high school was Stormqueen! Which, as I fuzzily recall, involved an 11-year-old girl who every guy agreed totally looked older and really hot and they kept trying to rape her, so she blasted them with lightning. And at the end she "has to" be kept forever in a drugged coma because she's "too dangerous" and so it's for the best, honest. In retrospect, it's hard for me not to see real life influence in this story... Especially given that her daughter says she was finally "able to walk away" and end the molestation at age 12. Now I'm looking at dates and wondering just how much real life influenced fiction. I can't find the daughter's birthdate, but MZB married Walter in 1964, and Stormqueen! was published in 1978. Did she write the book just as her daughter started trying to stop it? No words.

Also, her 1965 scholarly article Feminine equivalents of Greek love in modern fiction" looks a whole lot less like academic interest in an under-examined element in fiction now.

Yeah, very difficult to separate the art from the artist in this kind of case. Some things can't be un-known.
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at 08:15 on 13-06-2014, Adrienne
Arthur B: it's not exactly news, but the little bit from Ms. Waters in the depositions lends itself to multiple interpretations (is she misremembering what the daughter told her, etc. -- remember that the depositions happened a longish time after the events.) To the best of my fairly certain knowledge (I have followed disclosures about this particular rat's nest for awhile) this is the first time Ms. Greyland has ever spoken about this publicly, or as an adult, about this.
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