I’m aware of the name Marion Zimmer Bradley because, if you read science fiction and fantasy at all, that name comes up quite a bit. That said, to the best of my knowledge, I don’t believe I’ve read any of her works, including her arguably best known novel The Mists of Avalon. Although rumors of her being a perpetrator of child sexual abuse in one manner or another have come into my awareness over the past year or two, I never paid much attention to them.
Then I found an interview published at Life Site News with Bradley’s daughter Moira Greyland titled INTERVIEW: Daughter of famed sci-fi author explains mother’s gay pedophile worldview published last May 2018, which discussed Greyland’s book The Last Closet: The Dark Side of Avalon.
This is the book’s description at Amazon:
Marion Zimmer Bradley was a bestselling science fiction author, a feminist icon, and was awarded the World Fantasy Award for lifetime achievement. She was best known for the Arthurian fiction novel THE MISTS OF AVALON and for her very popular Darkover series.
She was also a monster.
THE LAST CLOSET: The Dark Side of Avalon is a brutal tale of a harrowing childhood. It is the true story of predatory adults preying on the innocence of children without shame, guilt, or remorse. It is an eyewitness account of how high-minded utopian intellectuals, unchecked by law, tradition, religion, or morality, can create a literal Hell on Earth.
THE LAST CLOSET is also an inspiring story of survival. It is a powerful testimony to courage, to hope, and to faith. It is the story of Moira Greyland, the only daughter of Marion Zimmer Bradley and convicted child molester Walter Breen, told in her own words.
Back in the 1990s when I lived in Southern California, I worked for Child Protective Services as an investigator, so I know there is an ugly side to the lives of families, although some are far more grim than others.
But having such darkness being publicly revealed can be especially difficult and painful if the “monster” in question also happens to be your hero.
As I said, having never read any of Bradley’s works, she’s not a hero of mine, but she was to many, many people.
In December 2017, Electric Lit published an article by Jessica Jernigan called The Book That Made Me a Feminist Was Written by an Abuser.
Both Greyland and Jernigan tell their own poignant tales and particularly in the (hashtag) #MeToo era, when abusers are typically envisioned as folks like Brett Kavanaugh (although none of the allegations against him have been legally substantiated) and Harvey Weinstein (who has been arrested, released on bail, was compelled to surrender his Passport, and whose trial is pending), facing the fact that a highly respected feminist icon and symbol is actually a child sexual abuser (Greyland had been sexually abused for years by her father Walter Breen, who was convicted of the crime and sent to prison, while her mother Bradley knew about the abuse and did nothing to protect her own daughter, plus has been accused of actively sexually abusing her child) must pull her fans in very strange directions.
Jernigan in her article said:
And then, in 2014, Moira Greyland, Marion Zimmer Bradley’s daughter, told the world that her mother had sexually abused her and many other children for more than a decade. I didn’t even know how to process this information. I believed Greyland, absolutely, but I just couldn’t make this revelation fit with The Mists of Avalon and what that book meant to me. Bradley was not an author to whom I had a personal attachment. I’d never gotten into anything she’d written besides The Mists of Avalon. Had I been more of a fan, I might have seen the pedophilia threaded through her other work. I might have known that Walter Breen — Bradley’s husband and Greyland’s father — died in prison after being convicted of molesting a child. (Greyland says that there were many, many more victims.) Had I been more of a fan, I might have known that rumors about Bradley and Breen had circulated in the science fiction and fantasy communities for years.
She quotes Greyland in her write up:
[O]ne reason I never said anything is that I regarded her life as being more important than mine: her fame more important, and assuredly the comfort of her fans as more important. Those who knew me, knew the truth about her, but beyond that, it did not matter what she had done to me, as long as her work and her reputation continued.
…and then concludes by stating:
I believe Moira Greyland. Her life matters more than any fiction.
But is that true of everyone who liked, respected, and admired Bradley?
Janni Lee Simner, who has continued to write works in Bradley’s Darkover series, announced on June 13, 2014 that she would be donating advances from her two Darkover books, her Darkover royalties and at the request of her husband, Larry Hammer, payment for his sale to Bradley’s magazine, to the American anti-sexual assault organization Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network.
John Scalzi, science fiction author and former president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, on twitter in 2014, called the news horrible.
On his blog, Hugo Award winner Jim C. Hines said:
To begin with, while Bradley and Breen are both gone from this world, their victims survive. The damage they inflicted lives on. Are you going to tell victims of rape/abuse that nobody’s allowed to acknowledge what was done to them? That the need to protect the reputation of the dead is more important than allowing victims their voice? To hell with that.
Second, as Luhrs and others have pointed out, many of the same behaviors that allowed this abuse to continue for so long are still present in fandom and elsewhere today. We excuse sexual harassment as social awkwardness. We ignore ongoing harassment and assault for years or decades because someone happens to be a big name author or editor. Half of fandom shirks from the mere thought of excluding known predators, because for some, sexual harassment and assault are lesser crimes than shunning a predator from a convention.
G. Willow Wilson, World Fantasy award winner said she was speechless. In the same twitter conversation, someone replied:
Artists aren’t a special type of person, they are prone to corruption as much as anyone else. Power and success don’t help.
To which Wilson responded:
Yeah. But you *want* them to be better. Or at least not EVIL.
Diana L. Paxson, who collaborated with Bradley on a number of novels and who continued to write books set in the Avalon series after Bradley’s death, said on her blog:
I was shocked and appalled to read Moira Greyland’s posts about her mother on Facebook. Child abuse is one of the most terrible of crimes, because the perpetrators are those who should be the victims’ protectors.
She goes on to explain her relationship with Bradley with whom she was neighbors in Berkeley (California).
It sure sounds like, with some difficulty, those closest to Bradley as well as her fans and admirers were able to denounce her actions against her own daughter (and maybe others), finding the recognition of Greyland’s victimization more important, more compassionate, and more human, than honoring the artist.
But is that really how everyone responded?
About five days ago (as I write this), I queried someone I’m friends with on Facebook who I thought might have a different perspective. I’m not going to name names at this time, but my question to this person was:
Maybe you can help me with something since my knowledge of Bradley and her controversial history is far from complete. From what I’ve read so far, numerous SF authors have condemned the late author’s actions, and yet I’ve read something (can’t remember the source) that feminists SF authors are defending Bradley. I don’t know how they can, since the facts seem to be well established.
This was the response, and it’s rather scathing:
If any SF author has condemned Bradly or Breen, it wasn’t by a member of SFWA. They dismiss it as “old business. What difference does it make? Don’t be pedophobic.” Yes, that’s a word now.
Other SF authors bitch that Moira is homophobic and nothing she says is reliable because she’s trying to establish a narrative ….. because politics.
But no, Moira has been treated largely as a leper within TruFan communities, because the old queens don’t want to be deprived of their own personal deprivations.
So, I don’t know who you’ve seen condemning Bradley and Breen, but it’s no one outside of the Baen crowd…. maybe a slightly wider circle than that. But George RR Martin himself referred to her work on the subject as a “toxic swamp.” Cat Rambo of SFWA dismisses ANY mention of Breen and Bradley as “digging up an old corpse for political purposes.”
Feminists love MZB because she perverts everything they want perverted. Masculinity? Check. Sexuality? Check. Child sacrifice? Check.
Though, heck, Moira is far nicer than I would be under similar circumstances.
I have no independent confirmation of the above statement, but I’ve heard it more than once from different sources.
If a hero (in this case, a SF/F luminary and feminist) stubs their toe, how should you respond? Should you stop reading their works? Should you publicly condemn and shun them?
Both Bradley and Breen are deceased (Bradley will have been dead 20 years this September), so they are beyond anything you are I can do to affect them. I recently published a blog post about how legendary SF author Robert Silverberg received many negative responses because of his statements regarding NK Jemisin’s latest Hugo Acceptance speech, and I asked how much of a backlash was warranted? Should fans boycott Silverberg’s works?
My personal opinion is that the two situations aren’t comparable. At worst, Silverberg’s comments were in bad taste and insensitive, while Bradley’s acts were heinously criminal and damaging, not only to a child, but particularly to her own child, someone she had a high moral duty to protect and to cherish, a duty, by all evidence, that she failed.
Especially in the morally ambiguous environment of the 21st century (not that everyone was moral in any age), we need heroes more than ever. Most of mine are fictional, because in real life, actual human beings are going to fail, sometimes in a spectacular manner. I don’t care who they are. Throw a name out there. I promise, just because that person is human, they have failed in something and they will fail again.
I suppose with that attitude, those who admired and respected Bradley should be able to see her for who and what she was. I’m not sure that will help them, but if you’re morally honest and can also accept quantifiable, verifiable, and established facts (yes, the two have to go together), then you have no choice but to say that what Marion Zimmer Bradley to her own daughter was not only wrong, but criminal.
As I said, Bradley is dead, and you might be asking “why does it matter after so many years?” or “it’s old news” or “it’s water under the bridge.”
It isn’t “old news” for her daughter. She has to live with her memories and her experiences for the rest of her life. She has had to choose between being a victim and being a survivor. She’s owned her experiences by writing a book, by going public, by advocating, by helping others who are like her.
Regardless of what sort of hero Bradley may have been to you, maybe the better hero has risen out of the ashes of Avalon.
EDIT – 1-12-2019: Given what I’ve written above, a friend of mine directed me to a June 2014 article by Alyssa Rosenberg written for the Washington Post called Re-reading feminist author Marion Zimmer Bradley in the wake of sexual assault allegations. The following quote from the article is unlikely to comfort any devout fans or close associates of Bradley:
A significant theme of Zimmer Bradley’s answers in her 1998 deposition is the idea that very young teenagers ought to be able to make their own sexual decisions, including about whether to have sex with adults who proposition them. She rejects the idea that any element of coercion is possible in these interactions, particularly when a teenager is physically larger than an adult.
“Did you ever do anything to protect [Victim X] from any type of sexual contact with Walter Breen during the three years that he was a guest in your home following your marriage?” an attorney asks Zimmer Bradley at one point in the deposition. Her rather astonishing reply? “Oh, please. The idea of me protecting little [Victim X], good heavens.”
Answers like these throw passages from “The Mists of Avalon” into a new and disturbing light. Take one passage about a Beltane ritual. Zimmer Bradley writes that “The little blue-painted girl who had borne the fertilizing blood was drawn down into the arms of a sinewy old hunter, and Morgaine saw her briefly struggle and cry out, go down under his body, her legs opening to the irresistible force of nature in them.”
Being publicly hailed as exceptionally talented, or being well-known, or a champion of social causes, does not mean that in a person’s heart of hearts and by their hidden actions, that person is necessarily a good and moral. As I’ve said before, any of our heroes can fail us, and worse, fail those who depend upon them the most, their children.
Additionally, my understanding of the traditional rabbinic understanding of sexual intimacy, family, and morality, especially as related to children, is unlikely to win me many friends, at least in more progressive circles.