Good News for Some of You: Werewolf Erotica Judged Not Intrinsically Obscene or Unfit for California Prisoners

Werewolf movie with disembodied tiny pringle head

What malign spirit is behind the werewolf’s curse? Well, who’s behind EVERYTHING?

Yes, yes, we will getting back to local, state, and national politics soon enough — just gotta finish a filing for tomorrow — but in the meantime this really interesting court decision has come down that I think that some of you, and you know who you are, will really enjoy.  From the Atlantic: “California Prisoners Are Free to Read as Much Werewolf Erotica as They Want“:

Andres Martinez, serving time for attempted murder and robbery at the Secured Housing Unit at Pelican Bay State Prison in California, is free to read his werewolf-human erotica novel, according to a decision handed down by the First District Court of Appeal. And guess what? The ruling, which itself is an amazing piece of writing, actually breaks new ground on stepping back obscenity law.

The book itself?  Perhaps The Silver Crown by Mathilde Madden is not such an amazing piece of writing, but this is one book you can judge it by its (back) cover.

“Every full moon, Iris kills werewolves. It’s what she’s good at; it’s what she’s trained for. She’s never imagined doing anything else . . . until she falls in love with one. And being a professional werewolf hunter and dating a werewolf poses a serious conflict of interest. To add to her problems, a group of witches decides she is the chosen one—destined to save humanity from the wolves at the door—while her boss, Blake, who just happens to be her ex-husband, is hell-bent on sabotaging her new relationship. All Iris wants is to snuggle up with her alpha wolf and be left alone. He might turn into a monster once a month, but in a lot of ways, Iris does, too.”

You get the picture, I’m sure — and some of you have already pulled out your credit cards.  Finish the article first.  There’s a lesson here.

[P]rison officials confiscated the book, calling it obscene, because it contains sexually explicit passages and “advocates violence.” Martinez appealed, which is how Justice James Richman eventually ended up delving into the Werewolf erotica genre (yes, it is a genre) to determine whether The Silver Crown met obscenity standards.

There are two kinds of questions in a penal (stop laughing, you never know when this sort of information may be useful to you) civil rights case: (1) “Can anyone do this?” and, if so, (2) “Can prisoners do this, even if their wardens don’t want them to?”  Prisoners, you see, aren’t simply confined in violation of what otherwise be their civil liberties, but they are stripped of some of their civil rights as well, if the warden decides that it’s necessary to maintain order.  So this case not only dealt with the question “is the book obscene?”, but also “can the warden prevent prisoners from reading it even if it isn’t?”  The Judge’s writings are in bold:

“There are also a great number of graphic sexual encounters, one per chapter through most of the book, including detailed descriptions of intercourse, sodomy, oral-genital contact, oral-anal contact, voyeurism, exhibitionism, and ménage à trois. Semen is mentioned. Crude slang is used to describe various body parts and the sex act itself. The sex is sometimes rough but always consensual. Women are portrayed as frequently aggressive, always willing, and seemingly insatiable. Men are portrayed as frequently demanding, always ready, and seemingly inexhaustible. The sex occurs between humans and werewolves, as well as intra-species. On the other hand, the sex appears to be between consenting adults. No minors are involved. No bestiality is portrayed (unless werewolves count). And there is no sadomasochism.”

So, it’s got a lot of sex.  It’s just — such being in the eye of the beholder — erotic.   But is it obscene?  That will depend on its “serious literary value” — i.e., can it serve purposes other than just helping those who have limited imaginations arouse themselves.  The warden did not even bother to decide.  The court employs a creative writing professor to opine on that:

“The characters are developed to a degree, with distinctive personalities, though deep introspection is lacking…And though perhaps less than Shakespearean, a ghost of Iris‟s dead brother appears in various scenes, especially to provide guidance to Iris in times of strife.” 

So — not obscene.  But  — and this is important, as it implicates our country’s treatment of prisoners — can it be banned anyway, despite its serious literary value.  Here the court says that there’s no good argument that, being non-violent itself, it is likely to promote violence in prison.  (In fact, I’d add, keeping prisoners away from their werewolf erotica might be more likely to have that effect.  So, prisoners do have a right to read it.  (Authors of erotic werewolf novels take heed; your work can make it into the prison market if you avoid violent sex scenes.  Just at least consider that.)

The degradation of prisoners and derogation of their rights thus has its limits — and one of them is that if you have a non-violent erotic werewolf novel (and I would not be surprised if the ruling would cover vampires, zombies, homunculi, and mummies as well — plus non-monstrous subjects), the prisoners get to read it.  Who knows, maybe it will instill in them a lifelong love of reading that has heretofore eluded them.  Or they might become zoologists.  Let’s not think about that.

Seriously, like the author of the Atlantic article, I’m glad to see this decision.  Congratulations to the court.  We need some pushback in this country and state both on obscenity law and on prisoners’ rights.  Most cases on those topics are less amusing and prurient than this one, so this case is the spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine some legal learning go down.

“The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering the prisons,” said Fyodor Dostoyevsky, in a quote many others have rephrased along the lines of “the measure of a society is how it treats its prisoners” (or “weakest members.”)  That’s largely true — even if what they want to be treated to is non-violent werewolf erotica.  After all, it’s just part of being human — at least when the moon is not full.

It’s my devout hope that this case is not eventually appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, because we have got to keep it out of the hands of Justice Thomas.

About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-retired due to disability, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally runs for office against bad people who would otherwise go unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Corrupt party hacks hate him. He's OK with that too. He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)