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Dylan Farrow at a park in Bridgewater, Conn., on September 21 Credit - Celeste Sloman for TIME
Dylan Farrow nearly lunges across a table to offer me a “social-distance gamer solidarity hug.” We have been sitting at opposite corners of a park picnic bench in Bridgewater, Conn., for nearly an hour dancing around the themes of her debut novel, a fantasy book called Hush (out Oct. 6), when we realize that we have both recently lost weeks—O.K., months—to the same fantasy video game: Fire Emblem: Three Houses. We both prefer the rare games in which you can play as a female avatar, preferably one who righteously shoots misogynists with arrows.
“Have you seen my author photo?” she asks, scrolling through her phone. In it, she’s wearing a necklace that looks like a crescent moon, but in fact is a family crest from Fire Emblem.
Farrow has been obsessed with fantasy for as long as she can remember, spending hours reading A Wrinkle in Time and The Lord of the Rings. “Maybe that escapism was a form of coping with trauma that I didn’t realize at the time,” she says. Hush—in which the central character, Shae, confronts a cabal of mostly male wizards who can use magic to manipulate her reality and force her to question her truth and her sanity—draws obviously, achingly from Farrow’s life. She’s reticent to talk specifics, but in a bold afterword, Farrow makes a direct connection between Shae’s experience and her own.
“My family was assaulted by a powerful individual dedicated to ruining our lives and our credibility,” she writes. “Using the overwhelming power of a verbal campaign that was supported only by obfuscating legal documentation, an entire generation was led to believe in a false narrative.”
When she was 7 years old, Farrow told her mother, Mia Farrow, that her then-adoptive father Woody Allen had sexually abused her. A few months prior, Mia Farrow had found naked pictures of another one of her daughters, Soon-Yi Previn, in Allen’s possession. Allen has repeatedly denied Dylan Farrow’s allegations and famously told TIME’s Walter Isaacson in a 1992 interview of his affair-turned-marriage to Previn, “The heart wants what it wants.” The two revelations spun out into a very public custody battle and PR war that has plagued Farrow her entire life. In 1993, a judge concluded that “we will probably never know what occurred” on the date of the alleged incident but wrote that credible testimony did “prove that Mr. Allen’s behavior toward Dylan was grossly inappropriate and that measures must be taken to protect her.”
Given Allen’s fame, Farrow has never been able to completely avoid the man she accused of abusing her, and until recently, telling her story had little effect. Allen continued to make films and win awards. “I have been repeating my accusations unaltered for over 20 years and I have been systematically shut down, ignored or discredited,” Dylan Farrow told Gayle King in 2018.
Farrow was a child when her name began appearing in the news, and she’s still wary of the media. When I ask about the feeling of being gaslit, especially on such a public stage, she’s evasive. But readers of her book will glimpse just how disorienting it can be for an authority figure, particularly a paternal one, to suggest to a survivor that she misremembers her own trauma.
You’ve seen the stuff written about me ... It’s invalidating and dehumanizing to have this limited version of yourself blasted across the news
Hush builds a dystopian world where powerful men obfuscate truth not only with magic but by banning reading and writing altogether, claiming that contact with ink can result in a deadly illness called “the Blot.” When Shae claims that her mother was murdered, these men try to convince her that her mother died in an accident. It’s only once she wrests power from them that she can truly begin her journey to discover what happened to her mother and the vast conspiracy of men trying to hang on to their influence by undermining those who might stand against them.
“It can be a delicate line to walk at times, but I think the line is there,” she says. “There is a difference between fiction and reality, and I, turns out, surprise, know the difference.”
Farrow largely exists on the Internet as a person defined by the worst moment of her life. “You’ve seen the stuff written about me,” she says, referencing Twitter attacks from Allen’s defenders. “It sucks. It’s invalidating and dehumanizing to have this limited version of yourself blasted across the news.”
But Farrow is extremely private and loath to offer any more of herself to the public. “I have a whole breadth of experience outside my public persona,” she says. “It’s not salacious. It’s a lot of picking up my daughter’s toys, bingeing television with my husband, playing video games.” She nods toward her purse, which has Star Wars emblazoned on the side. “The thing that the general public doesn’t know about me is I’m a nerd,” she says. “A huge nerd.”
After Mia Farrow adopted her as a baby, Dylan Farrow grew up in New York City and Bridgewater, a town with a single traffic light and cows grazing on rolling hills. Hers is a large family—Mia Farrow gave birth to or adopted 14 children. Dylan Farrow experienced separation anxiety as a kid and would ask her mother to sit outside her kindergarten classroom all day. “And bless her, she did it,” Farrow says. “And if she had to work, one of my siblings did. I was incredibly lucky that they indulged me.”
After graduating from Bard College, Farrow briefly worked as a production assistant at CNN. “It turned out journalism was geared towards a different member of my family,” she says, referencing her brother Ronan Farrow who won a Pulitzer for his work reporting the many sexual-abuse allegations against now-jailed Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. She and her now-husband moved to Florida where he worked in IT and she took a job in graphic design. A few years ago, she sat him down and said she was “kind of miserable” and wanted to finally take a crack at writing a fantasy novel.
“We did the millennial thing of moving in with my mom for a while,” she says. “She was very accommodating, but thank God we have our own house now to start our own family unit.” Farrow and her husband now have a 4-year-old daughter. “Luckily, we live close enough that we still have her as a free babysitter nearby.” They are all sharing a quarantine bubble.
Like her favorite character in Fire Emblem, who holes up in her room and prefers reading to combat, Farrow is a homebody. When we meet at a park near her house, she notes that it is really the first time she’s left her property since the pandemic began. “I am literally Bernadetta,” she says of the character. “I feel so hard for her.” It’s only on the drive back to New York that I remember the reason this character scorns social interaction: She was abused by her father as a child.
Still, Farrow has proven that, like Bernadetta, she is willing to fight when she needs to. In 2014 when Allen was honored with the Cecil B. DeMille Award at the Golden Globes, she wrote in the New York Times that she developed an eating disorder, engaged in self-harm and feared the touch of any man as a result of her trauma and called out those who continued to support and work with him. Allen in turn wrote his own op-ed claiming Mia Farrow indoctrinated Dylan into believing she was molested. When #MeToo accusations felled other powerful men in the industry, Dylan wrote a piece for the L.A. Times asking why Allen had been spared. In 2018 Soon-Yi Previn said in a rare interview with New York Magazine that Mia had “paraded Dylan as a victim,” a claim Dylan told the magazine “only serves to revictimize me.”
This year it was announced that Allen would release a memoir. When Dylan and Ronan expressed dismay that Hachette planned to publish it—and Ronan dropped them as his publisher—Hachette’s staff staged a walkout to support her and forced the publisher to pull the book. (Arcade Publishing later put out the book.) Allen still has famous supporters and manages to secure financing, often from foreign producers, for his projects (he debuted his latest film at the San Sebastian Film Festival in September), but he has become a pariah among major Hollywood studios. Actors who once supported him have expressed regret about working with him.
— Dylan Farrow (@RealDylanFarrow) March 3, 2020
Farrow says Hush was partly inspired by the #MeToo movement, which she argues is far from over. “It’s not as simple as throwing Harvey Weinstein in jail and calling it a day,” she says. “Right now, there’s a lull in the conversation. It’s not viral. Obviously, women are still being abused, and I feel like issues like this kind of stand on a knife’s edge, and it really takes very, very little to push them back to the forefront again.”
She casts Hush as a coming-of-age story in which the heroine “starts with finding the truth, putting a voice to that truth, making mistakes, learning from them, and starting all over again.” And while discovering one’s own power is indeed a hallmark of young-adult fiction, rarely has that struggle been examined in the context of gaslighting. We know now that it is a common tactic used to discredit women who speak out about abuse. But fantasy is still dominated by male authors, few of whom are equipped to tackle this topic.
The women who do write fantasy novels, especially those that deal with themes like sexism, usually face online abuse primarily by male fantasy fans who bemoan an author weaving politics into their escapist fiction, even though male authors like George RR Martin and JRR Tolkien created explicitly political works. These small groups of fans are part of highly vocal contingent on the Internet who dedicate entire social media accounts to attacking female creators in their favorite genres and arguing that the #MeToo movement has gone too far and that pop culture has become too politically correct. “I feel like those are not the people who would pick up a book written by Dylan Farrow,” she says. “And probably not the people that Dylan Farrow sat down to write the book for.” Anyway, she mostly avoids social media. “I have to stay away for my own mental health, 90% of the time. When I do tweet, it’s like this,” she says, turning her face away from a phantom laptop and grimacing as she mimics hitting “Send.”
Farrow, who is currently working on the sequel to Hush, says the aspect of her book that she identifies with the most is not the battle for truth but the character’s determination to create her own identity, outside of her conflict with the men who try to repress her. “Anyone who is familiar with me and my story and what I’ve gone through will know that it’s been a tough few years trying to sort of step into myself as Dylan the writer rather than Dylan the advocate,” she says. “Believe it or not, I don’t spend all my time yelling about sexual offenders on Twitter. That’s part of my experience, obviously, but not all of it. I’m excited to reintroduce myself to the world.”