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 erotica in question is The Silver Crown by Mathilde Madden. The back cover description does a lot of the talking for us on the tone of the novel, which currently has just one lukewarm review on Amazon:
“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.”
Much like Iris, all Andres Martinez wanted to do was snuggle up with Madden's novel, purchased years ago, and be left alone to enjoy the salacious prose. But prison 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. Here's what he found, after reviewing the entire 262-page book (emphasis ours):
"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."
That, Richman explained in his unanimous decision, doesn't meet federal or state standards for obscenity. And what's more, prison officials apparently failed to consider the book's literary merit in considering whether it was protected under the inmate's First Amendment rights. This prompted Richman, along with Peter Orner, a creative writing professor at San Francisco State University, to provide a literary analysis of the novel. Richman writes:
"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."
Finding that "The Silver Crown does not lack serious literary value," The ruling ordered prison officials to return The Silver Crown to Martinez for his reading pleasure. But as the Recorder explains, the case seems bound to return to courts, as it sets up a direct conflict with another court's decision concerning the authority of prison officials to expand obscenity definitions when applied to prison reading materials. The case also pushes back on obscenity standards in its analysis of the value of the overall text, making it more difficult to label a written work as obscene. In short, more justices might have to read, think about, and write opinions on werewolf erotica. In our deepest, darkest, fantasies, this case would go all the way to the Supreme Court.
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