Although anti-porn crusaders may howl with indignity, inmates in California prisons will be allowed to read their werewolf erotica—at least, the well-written stuff.
The California First District Court of Appeal unanimously ruled (pdf) last week that Andres Martinez, serving a 20-year sentence at Pelican Bay State Prison for multiple crimes including attempted murder, can get his copy of “The Silver Crown” by Mathilde Madden back from prison authorities. They confiscated the book from Martinez, claiming it was obscene and likely to incite violence.
But after a careful reading, Justice James Richman found the book’s explicit sex and violence—and its depiction of a love affair between a werewolf and a female werewolf hunter—did not mean it lacked serious literary value and was, therefore, protected by the First Amendment.
Richman did acknowledge, on the one hand, that there were “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, “No minors are involved. No bestiality is portrayed (unless werewolves count). And there is no sadomasochism.”
Scott Graham, writing for the legal publication The Recorder, thinks the court’s decision broke new ground in defining obscenity and could contradict another court’s findings. “The decision sets up a conflict with the Fifth District [Court of Appeal] by holding that prison officials can't expand the definition of obscenity for inmate reading materials,” Graham wrote. He said the decision also sets a stricter standard for banning written pornography by requiring that the text as a whole be considered and cites Justice Richman’s analysis.
“We find it harder to dismiss a novel-length work of fiction as lacking in literary value than we might find it to so dismiss a magazine containing obscene photographs,” Richman wrote.
While Richman devoted a good deal of space in his opinion to reviewing the 262-page book—and liberally cites a complimentary assessment by Peter Orner, a creative writing instructor at San Francisco State University—he questioned the analysis and intentions of prison authorities and the state.
“Instead of presenting expert literary opinion, as discussed above, the Attorney General submitted the declaration of correctional officer Graves that he considered the ‘serious literary value’ factor in determining “The Silver Crown” was contraband. But we have no clue what criteria or reasoning he used in reaching any such decision, and his own description of his process leads us to doubt that he applied any such test at all.”