Marion Zimmer Bradley

More about Japan later. But now for something rather different…

In the Acknowledgements for Tales from Ragaris, I like to give credit to other authors who have influenced me. So at the back of “The Tenth Province of Jaryar”, you will find the following:

“Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover novels first gave me the idea for a series of connected-but-stand-alone books set at different places and times in an invented history. Others have done the same thing, but for me she came first, and feministically.”

I’ve previously blogged here http://www.penelopewallace.com/more-on-genre-the-novel-sequence/about the Darkover series.

In particular, I said

In fantasy/SF, a prime example is Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover series, which covers thousands of years, in over 20 books, and only rarely has the same hero/heroine for two books running.  For a long time Bradley also refused to provide maps, dates or family trees, and the books can genuinely be read in almost any order.  I still recall the thrill of connecting the dots, and realising that Rohana’s horrible son in “Thendara House” was the same person as Dyan’s horrible father in “The Heritage of Hastur”.  (In later years this author became more famous for her feminist retelling of Arthurian legend, “The Mists of Avalon”, but I prefer Darkover.)

It’s true that not all the books are to the same standard, but they’ve inspired me in many ways: the down-to-earth worldbuilding and comparative rarity of magic, for example. The way in which she shows not merely political or technological change over time, but also social and cultural developments. She was not only a key champion of feminism in fantasy/SF but an early standard-bearer for LGBT characters (“lovers of men, lovers of women”, as they would be called on Darkover.) Key works in this respect are “Thendara House” and “The Heritage of Hastur”. She also went out of her way to encourage new writers, mainly but not exclusively women.

But.

Recently I had the unpleasant but salutary experience of watching the two-part documentary “Leaving Neverland”, in which two young men and their families distressingly but (to me, and to many) convincingly detail years of grooming and sexual abuse by Michael Jackson.

When I wrote the Acknowledgements for “The Tenth Province”, I was already aware of some of the accusations that have been made of recent years against Bradley. Her husband (they later divorced) was convicted of sexual abuse of a teenage boy, abuse which she apparently knew about. Some years after her death in 1999 her daughter and son said that she herself also abused them.

I suppose that part of the reason why, despite this, I wrote what I did, is because the books are still good and intriguing, and her influence on my writing is still just as great as it was before I looked on Wikipedia.

But also because I don’t know. As a former lawyer, I am always wary of accusations, especially accusations against the dead, and I always try to remember that people accused or on trial may be innocent. (I tried to explore some of the emotional difficulties this creates through Dorac and Kai in WDNKC.) Since watching “Leaving Neverland”, I’m inclined to think I’m too wary, but it’s still a perspective to bear in mind.

And “The Heritage of Hastur” is a book in part about sexual abuse. It tells how the teenage Regis Hastur, while coming to terms with his own sexuality, discovers that his best friend Danilo has been abused through psychic means by an older man. Although the abuser is not portrayed in this and the sequel as all bad, Regis’ sympathy and horror, and Danilo’s suffering, are vivid and powerful.

(Another Darkover book, “Two to Conquer”, is largely about a man who uses psychic powers repeatedly to commit rape, and how he gets his come-uppance and repents. It’s not nearly as good a book as “The Heritage of Hastur”.)

I still find it extraordinary, almost unbelievable, that the woman who wrote Regis’ and Danilo’s story could also be criminally abusive. But apparently she was.

Love from the PPI Blogger

1 Comment
  • Stephen Sheridan

    13th May 2019 at 12:11 am Reply

    Your Japan blog was very interesting. How did you sense the relationship between men and women worked? When I worked for a Japanese company in the early nineties, it was an extremely patriarchal environment with a strange combination of heavily restrained and occasionally unrestrained behaviour. A lot has changed in the past 30 years, but I wonder how deep the change has been.

    Your post on MZB brings up the question of how much the personal character of the artist can be divorced from the quality of the art. Always a matter of individual taste I guess. I tried the Mists of Avalon in my youth, but wasn’t able to make headway – probably because I was too immature for the content. It is noticeable that it also tackles abusive/illicit relationships. MZB may well have had a subtext there as well. Looking at the Wiki page on her and her ex-husband, the evidence against her on knowingly covering for him looks strong. She appears to have only divorced him in 1990 when he was jailed for his abuse.

    In another twist I think I may have found a knowing reference she made by titling her book “The Heritage of Hastur”. In the horror mythos of HP Lovecraft and his collaborators there is an Old One (chaotic, evil and alien deity) called Hastur the Unspeakable, ‘he who must not be named’. I think there is a similarity to Oscar Wilde’s reference to Ancient Greek pederasty as ‘the love that dare not speak its name’ (a very specific literary reference rather than a general one to homosexuality, since the Ancient Greek format referred specifically to an older “wise” man teaching a younger man about becoming a better citizen in exchange for physical relationship – something we rightly consider appallingly abusive today). The use of the name is possibly some kind of knowing comment on her part to those who could work out the reference. On the other hand, I may be like the deluded fools who follow Nostradamus in creating a link where there isn’t one.

    Its tough stuff to discover your heroes are not quite what you thought they were.

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