On incest in other people’s fiction, and similar things

I was thinking this morning about “wrongness” in stories I read.

I don’t mind reading sibling-sibling incest (Arthur and Morgan le Fae comes to mind), and cousin-cousin incest like in The Enchantment Emporium doesn’t even faze me.

But situations where a man ends up romantically involved with a non-relative girl for whom he’s stood in loco parentis? (Afra/Damian in Anne McCaffrey’s Roawn, Narl/Rosie in Robin McKinley’s Spindle’s End)…(Unrelated: should I change my name to McAlder?)… That creeps me right out. These men have known these girls since they were infants. Ew.

0 thoughts on “On incest in other people’s fiction, and similar things

  1. I found Afra/Damia adorable, but McCaffrey tends to write relationships that are creepy if you think about them too hard. Sebell/Menoly in Dragonsong etc, not that I can spell their names, the couple in her very first books in Pern which are flat out rape-turns-into-snuggles. It’s more about the power dynamics? Older sibling / younger sibling would creep me, just as parent / child does.

    • Hrrm. Not quite power, for me, I think. But trust and that parental bond thing, which should stay there as parental and not go sexual, thankyouverymuch. Hunh. I once ran a Cali in which a freed-slave noble ended up happy-drugged into an orgy with his three adult children, and that didn’t bother me. But I have to ignore the fact that VanderLinden sleeps with its child (Ty).

      • The thing that bothers me about Vanderlinden/Ty and such things is mostly that the kid doesn’t get the choice to go ‘no incest, thank you,’ because of information withholding. That bugs me. The kid(s) don’t know who their relatives are, so they can’t avoid sleeping with them.

    • I don’t think of that couple as rape because doesn’t he say, near the end, that he knew about the aphrodisiac? He could have chosen not to eat it but he did anyway. I don’t know if it’s explicitly stated or not, but I always had the feeling that he loved her too, even before that, he just needed that excuse to admit his feelings. Unless you’re thinking of some other couple that I don’t remember.

      • I was thinking of F’Lar and Lessa, because he tended to treat her as a tool/underling until she called him on it about a zillion times, and how the mating flight tends to be a questionable-consent thing.

          • It took a while for him to trust her enough to let her in on his plans – he thought she was a child to be taken care of, not a partner to be trusted. And then she sorta transitioned from one to the other in his head, but it took a while and they were sleeping together through the latter half of it? And it’s weird to think about in retrospect.

          • I found the mating flight thing believable, even as a kid when I first read the books. Animal mating isn’t sentimental, and I thought that you should have to pay a price for something as cool as having a dragon companion all your life. Actually, all the crud that happened to you as a result of Impressing a dragon seemed pretty important to me. It kept it from feeling like wish fulfillment. “I GOT A DRAGON! Oh crud, now I die if he dies, I have to have sex with someone of my dragon’s choosing, not mine, and I can never be alone again.” Sometimes that’s what I think is missing from some modern stories about cool animal companions. The dark sides don’t feel quite as… animal? Something. It’s like the writers these days thing more ‘how can I make this dark and deep and angsty’ rather than ‘how do animals behave, and how would that suck for a human who has to live with them?’

            • Hmm. I think I see your point, but the dragons never felt very “animal” to me. If it was mammals maybe it would make more sense… or maybe if it was just animals that felt more animalistic as characters. The dragons felt more like humans–perhaps human children–to me. But then, it has been a long time since I read the books. Now I totally want to write something with animal companions and with your questions in mind. They’re good ones. Hmm…

              • Maybe it was that the mating flights were very animal that made the dragons feel like animals to me? I wonder now. And yes, you should totally write something about animal companions! I’d read it. I love animal companions. >.> Well, except talking cats. I’m kind of over quota on “cats are awesome” stories. 😛

                  • Cats are fine in moderation, I’m just tired of them being used as characterization shortcuts, particularly in urban fantasy. “Oh, my heroine is a cool loner, independent, discriminating and a little soft. She’s got a pet cat.” I’m over that. Not all cool, independent loners with taste have the exact same pet. Give her a fish, for Pete’s sake. Or a parrot. 😛 Bunnies would be awesome.

                    • The young woman in my story that could wander into Urban Fantasy if I ever get the plot sorted out has pet rats. I win?

                    • And they are so cool! I’ve researched them a lot, because I’ve considered having hem as pets. I ended up getting a hamster a few years ago because I was (as I am now) renting and landlords are more forgiving or hamsters than rats. It’s all in the name, I think.

                    • *laughs, amused* There go my cat-people! I know what you’re saying; as much as I liked cats, Lackey’s telepathic cats were a shark-jump for me. I don’t like writing pets, in general they seem to muddle the scene. Side note: domestic bunnies are really, really fragile compared to domestic cats and non-purebred domestic dogs. That’s an interesting direction to take if writing a bunny companion (My DayJob boss keeps rescue bunnies).

                    • I have nothing against cat-folk. What bothers me is the assumption that all cool, independent women are cat-pet-people. Not true! Boring! Overdone!

                    • Sorry, that might have come off a little defensive. :-/ I know what you were talking about, though I’ve not encountered it in my reading.

  2. It is interesting that Amazon has deleted incest romances from their store and off peoples Kindles but leaves up some of McCaffrey’s stuff Which does hit creepy – Arfa/Damian was creepy, as was Menolly’s huge crush on Robinton which she never gets over. The worst for me was in the later books about Damia’s kids, her oldest falls for a guy who is gay. Their aliens mess up the hormones of the humans, and they have kids, and get into this weird relationship which makes no sense to me because dude, he’s gay. If McCaffrey wanted to go that route, she could have made the character bi. Yeesh.

    • I tend to trail off a few books into any McCaffrey series (like with Anne Rice, amusingly enough); I got about 4 books into Rowan so never read the gay-with-kids things. They deleted incest romances off people’s Kindles? Yet another reason I never want to own a Kindle or work with Amazon..

    • Unless I’m remembering wrongly, McCaffrey doesn’t have a very good history with alternate sexualities. Do you know of a book where she treats gay characters well?

      • There are gay characters in the Dragonrider books. They just are not main characters. But there is an entire gay subculture in the blue and green dragon riders. She says she did that deliberately, so that gays would be represented. At least, I recall that in an interview a while ago. Otherwise… well rape-to-cuddles is an alternate sexuality, right?

        • I draw a line between ‘gay people exist and are not evil in stories by this author’ and ‘gay people are treated well by this author,’ I suppose. And, otherwise, true, though I’m not quite sure McCaffrey meant it to read as rape.

          • I am sure she didn’t intend it to be read as rape. Her early work suffers from the time it was written, I think. In the 70s, most romances were of the rape-then-he-loves-her type, because “good girls” did not want sex. So a good girl would have to be forced to have se to remain “good”. Romance moved out of that in the 80s. And for books written in the 70s and 80s, having gay characters at all was actually rather cutting edge. Having an accepted place in a society for gay characters was groundbreaking. But McCaffrey kept on writing. The mess in the later Rowan-Damia books with the gay character? Written in the 2000s. Not cool. I think her writing and views of the world my have gotten formed in the 70s and stayed there. Not sure. I keep reading the Pern books because I like the dragons…

            • Agreed on all points. I tend to remark on it because when I first read the books through when I was ten or so I didn’t catch any of the more questionable parts of the subtext. I’m reminded of the Powers That Be series by McCaffrey – I reread them recently and found the teenage boy defending his father’s partner to prejudices, and it seemed a very period piece for something supposedly set in the far future – I found myself thinking ‘wait, the parents aren’t married? the boy is defending his parents for daring to be gay?’ It reminded me of the saying that all science fiction is about the present.

              • Indeed. It is all about the present. Although the planet in Powers That Be was relatively primitive, as societies go. There may have been more of an impetus to procreate and produce the next generation than there would be on a more wealthy planet. *grins* I read the Dragonrider books in middle school, and it took me a couple of reads to realize what was going on with the blue and green dragonriders, and then blink and decide I was OK with that.

                • You might well be right, but the couple in question were offworlder scientists so it doesn’t quite apply to them. I recall there was a nice older lesbian couple in that series, Aunt something and Aunt something else, as well, and they were on-planet types.

                  • Oh, see I was remembering the Aunt couple. But I only read the first two in that series, and it was a while ago. *sigh* No excuse with off-worlders.

    • Wow, it wouldn’t have occurred to me to find the Menolly/Robinton crush creepy since I remember having crushes on teachers when I was a kid… it made complete sense to me. Of course, I didn’t read Robinton as reciprocating her romantic interest, even when I read them originally (I was a kid then): it always felt like… sort of a cross between fatherly affection and an older man’s regret that he’s no longer young when looking at a healthy, attractive young person. Now that I’m older, even, I find myself having that feeling myself about young people: looking at college kids and smiling and thinking, “He’s cute, if I were young me, I’d totally ask him out. Alas, I’m not young me anymore (*pause to reminisce about various good things about being young*). But he’s still cute. I think I’ll look at him some more and enjoy it.” I re-read McCaffrey’s Decision at Doona recently and the portrayal of women in it was quite dated. I think when we evaluate the work of authors, particularly women in this country who lived through the 60’s and 70’s, we can’t separate them from the mentality they grew up with. It’s unfair to demand McCaffrey to write women they way they are now, when that’s not how she grew up. It’s like the debate with re-writing Tom Sawyer. The book exists as a period piece, even though it was written relatively recently.

      • I think the problem for me was that I never had a crush on a teacher when I was a kid, and I read them in middle school. I was very bothered by the idea that Menolly was constantly mooning over Robinton when there were cute guys her own age around, several of whom were interested. I was at that rather awful stage of adolescence where I though boys would never be interested in me, so it could not understand how Menolly could pass up actual teenagers. I haven’t reread them since college, and it may be time to go down memory lane again. I agree that we can’t judge her earlier works by todays standards. But she has continued to write and publish books. SHe has children and grandchildren – I would hope that more modern sensibilities would creep into her modern works. But then maybe I am expecting too much?

  3. I was going to say that bugs me too, because I remember being creeped out by Afra/Damia, but I do not recall being creeped out by Narl/Rosie (and I loved Spindle’s End… maybe I should reread it) or Menolly/Sebell. But I agree with you, it’s a trust thing and a parental bond thing. Ty sleeping with Linden doesn’t bother me more than other people sleeping with Linden because Ty doesn’t know it’s his parent, right? (Oh, boy, pronouns.) So there’s no parental bond there. But I have to say I could never deal with being Cy’Linden or dating someone who was!

    • Hrm, there is a complete lack of parental-role going on there, isn’t there? But yeah, I could never date a cy’Linden, and I’m not sure I’m enough of a team player to be one, either.

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