This is one of the juiciest oral histories/autobiographies/biography (whatever this is called) that I've ever read. Please do not mix it up with the turdalicious children's novel by James Patterson with a similar title that I could not finish. I was pondering buying this book and borrowed it from someone, and I think I'll have to get my own copy to save, because it's gooooooood.
I should probably say before I get farther into this that this is not a book for the general population--you won't have heard of these folks unless you're a pagan sort and most of the people who read this blog casually (whoever you are) rather than finding this review via search engine will not be into the subject matter. But I found it to be entertaining in the extreme. I was interested in it because I've met a few of the folks interviewed in the book, including the main subjects of it, a few times. However, I assure you they could not identify me in a police lineup, so there's no real personal bias going on here other than "I liked those people, they seemed cool" on my part.
Oberon (a.k.a Tim Zell, Otter Zell, Oberon Zell, Oberon Zell-Ravenheart--dude likes changing his name) is a Big Name Pagan. While I'm generally not into ancient pagan history, this book covers the 1960's, back before paganism became more well known in America. (This review goes into a bit more detail about the situation.) At the time of young Tim's entry into college, it was pretty well out of vogue. But when Tim started reading Heinlein, well...he got inspired to get more involved, and he has been one of the big movers and shakers of neopaganism and polyamory. He founded the Church of All Worlds, has off and on published a pagan magazine called Green Egg, and more recently founded the online Grey School of Wizardry as an American equivalent to Hogwarts (dude's a nerd!). He eventually met his future wife, Morning Glory, and they were together for forty dang years. (She died a few months ago, sigh.) This is amazing given what they've been through AND the fact that according to both of them, they fought a lot! Morning Glory also became a big name in the pagan community, teaching about Goddess history and lore and coming up with the term polyamory. Both of them have been/were polyamorous all of their lives and the book goes into detail about a lot of the folks they dated and partnered with for years. If you're interested in/curious about any of this, this is an excellent book to read about all of what they went through.
This book chronicles pretty much everything. The author did it as an oral history, compiling tons and tons of interviews from a lot of people that were involved in the lives of the Z's, from good friends to ex-boyfriends and girlfriends to the occasional enemy. I'm impressed that Sulak (the book's narrator) got as many folks as he did under the circumstances at times. Because hoo boy, do these folks ever LET IT HANG OUT.
"I did a lot of soul-searching before I made the decision to rake over these old coals in this book; and though I have made my peace with many of the people who disowned me at the time, I felt that there were lessons I learned from these experiences that needed to be shared lest others make the same mistakes."--Morning Glory.
They are not shy about talking about the things they did in life, even the bad stuff. Like for example, the time when after a giant Beltane orgy, twenty-three people came down with an STD and the medication they were all on made them all very irritable and paranoid beyond the usual--and Oberon ended up slapping his girlfriend and breaking her nose when she insulted another lover of his. Not something most of us would mention, though he has been horrified and sad that he did that ever since. There's also plenty of talking about infighting and betrayals throughout the years with the CAW organization, which booted the Zells out at one point entirely. And the Zells tended to befriend a lot of folks, including a few guys who turned out to be skeezy creepers and even one guy who later became a serial killer! Oops.
Other things they've done involved creating unicorn goats (you can move the nodes in their skin right after birth to adjust the horn placement), starting a sculpture company, and creating polyamorous families with their lovers, most notoriously the Ravenheart family in the 1990's. (Which, for the record, is when I heard most of them speaking about their relationships at an event at Harbin Hot Springs. I got up to interesting things in college once in a while.) At the time I was pretty impressed that they were making it work, but the book reveals that there were a lot more dramas--or more specifically certain people not getting along--than I had heard about. Oberon and Morning Glory freely admit their mistakes in handling relationships and raising their kids, but it sounds like they have done their best to make up for it later in life, and as the other review I linked mentioned, it kinda makes you like them for it. They cover the good points and the bad points and the questionable points, all in the name of honesty.
Overall, the book is one long, strange trip of interesting things to read about. You can't say that life was dull with them, I suspect. There's also an afterword by their editor saying that the first draft of this was over a thousand pages long(!), as well as a timeline and helpful cast of characters list in the back, which you may want to consult as you read.
- "They moved to the woods because they thought it was going to be all groovy and harmonious, and all they did was try to kill each other."--Gail Salvador, Morning Glory's daughter, on them living out on farmland.
- "Actually, much to Oberon's disappointment, the world did not change itself instantly on the reappearance of Unicorns. Realism has never been his strong suit, let me put it that way."--Alison Harlow, former friend/landlady.
- "I am not sure what it is about him that inspires women to madness, but if I had to guess, I would say the talent for holding an irrational position unswervingly under any and all circumstances."--Liza Gabriel, Oberon's former partner and a member of the Ravenheart family.
- "He was never happier than when he was running hell-bent-for-leather five feet away from the lynch mob. In short, he was what we call a "Weenie Wagger."--Morning Glory on one of the aforementioned creepers she dated.
- "There were complete genealogies of Oberon and Morning Glory's families and a recounting of every summer job either of them had had. There was a reincarnated cat, a cat who liked to ride on the roof of the car, and at least three sad cat burials.....There were three stories that had to do with people being naked and getting poison ivy. There were pages and pages of drug trips."--Elysia Gallo, senior acquisitions editor at Llewellyn Worldwide, the book's publisher.
In short, this is epic good juicy fun to read. I think I'm gonna give it five stars.