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 https://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.
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.
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