Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Do you know who you're reading?

On September 25, 1999 I had just moved to Hudson, Ohio when a friend called and told me Marion Zimmer Bradley had just died. Marion was a good friend and a mentor, one of many writers who have given me so much of their time and talent and believed in me.

Marion had been ill for several years and had battled diabetes for a very long time. Her body couldn't take any more and she slipped into a coma and died. It was a loss to her family but also a loss to her friends and to the reading public who had been so ensnared by her stories and characters from so many of her worlds and times.

At the time I was reading a new novel, a continuation of her Avalon series. Something was off with the book and I thought it was Marion's illness. The book was good, but it didn't have Marion's signature style. I soon found out that most of the books in the previous few years were not written by Marion, but by one of her proteges. I had no idea such things happened. I knew James Michener had a staff of researchers and writers who churned out his books on an assembly line. He couldn't have written so much in a short time otherwise. But to find out Marion's books were penned by someone else seemed wrong to me.

It's not uncommon, however. Marion had the name and the writer authoring her books didn't, but s/he knew Marion and could mimic Marion's style.

To anyone who reads an author and gets to know them, any change in the nuances of characterization, plot, and mythology are as obvious as a 6 mm pimple on your nose. So many "lost" novels published after Marion's death are more of the same. Case in point, Witch Hill is the latest book published in the wake of Marion's death. It is purportedly a book that wasn't published prior to her death and part of the LIGHT series.

I finished the book Monday night and was immediately struck by the inconsistencies to Marion's style and her literary sensibilities. There is a brief connection to the characters of Frodo and Emily from The Inheritor, which features two sisters, Emily and Leslie Barnes, who are caught up with a musician who plans to use Emily's musical gifts to bolster his own. Colin McClaren and Claire Moffat, who also briefly appear in Witch Hill to help Sara Latimer free herself from the clutches of a coven of dark witches, one of whom will possess Sara and take over her body and her future.

Despite the recurrence of characters from The Inheritor, Witch Hill does not show Marion's fine hand and sensibilities. Devil worship and graphic sexuality were never part of Marion's writing style. It is immediately obvious that Marion contributed little to this book outside of plot and direction. The gossamer thread that binds Marion's characters is frayed and broken throughout and characters who she likely intended to play a more integral part in the story are shuffled to the sidelines and given little more to do than lend their names and shadowy presence at the end.

That is not to say the book is not good. It does have its moments and I am not opposed to graphic sexual content. However, I am appalled that Marion's name is on this book because she would not have written this book. It's sad to see her name used in this manner and her stories darkened with mythologies that she would have opposed--and did oppose--during her lifetime.

Marion belongs to a generation of writers who believed that although sex sold books, it wouldn't be the central theme in any book she wrote. There is a time and place for graphic sexual content and I have enjoyed and written it many times. However, I also enjoy reading books that focus on other things and still offer readers an alternative rich in history, mythology, and characters that don't follow the graphic sexual pack.

If you want to feast at Marion's table read The Fall of Atlantis, which begins the story of Emily and Leslie and provides the background to Mists of Avalon and the story of sisters and the men who loved them reincarnated again and again to learn and grow. You will notice the difference in writing and style.

Marion invited many writers to play in her worlds and created anthologies for new writers to test their wings and grow. Marion also borrowed from history, mythology, and other writers, just as Witch Hill borrows from H. P. Lovecraft's settings of Arkham and the dark backward communities of the eastern seaboard to create his Cthulu mythos, but paying homage to another writer is not taking their name and their audience to turn a fast buck and lie to the public.

Ultimately, it is about the bottom line--money--and not about honesty or faithfulness to an author's creations. The question is how readers and writers feel about this issue. I will not deny a good story, but I prefer honesty. How do you feel? Does it really matter if an author writes their books or not?

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