Marion Zimmer Bradley Biography
Marion Zimmer Bradley wrote prolifically of gods and goddesses and fantasy worlds. Claimed by pagans and feminists alike as a champion, she was a Christian.
Goddess to the pagans, queen of the science fiction world, the force behind the Society for Creative Anachronism, Marion Zimmer Bradley's first dream was to become an opera singer and to support her musical training by writing. Beginning in her teens, she wrote anything she could sell and made her first money cranking out sci-fi stories and "true confessions" for pulp magazines.
At the time of her death on September, 25, 1999, at age 69, she was still actively involved in research, writing, editing and publishing The MZB Fantasy Magazine. She sang for her own pleasure.
In 1958, the first novel of her Darkover series, The Planet Savers, brought her widespread fame. In 1983, her most famous work, The Mists of Avalon, hit the best seller list and stayed there for four months. Each of those novels generated sequels. There were eventually twenty one Darkover novels, set on a planet colonized by earth at the end of the 21st century, and Mists was followed by The Forest House (1994) and The Lady of Avalon (1997).
Prolific from her earliest years, she wrote early in the mornings when her children were in grade school. During her own childhood, her mother wrote down the stories she told before Marion could write. She drafted The Forest House in high school, and by the age of seventeen, was publishing a magazine for science fiction fans, a portent of her later MZB Fantasy Magazine.
Throughout her writing, she espoused the strength of women; she frequently put a feminine spin on age-old legends. Her Sword and Sorceress anthologies were created to balance the heavily male dominated hero position and to credit women with some of the wisdom and power. Mists is the story of Arthurian Camelot written from the viewpoint of pagan goddesses; Firebrand, the Trojan war as experienced by Kassandra. One hope for Mists, she said, was to spur Christians to rethink their patriarchal stance and value the contributions of women.
As a result, pagan and wiccan believers claim her as a leader. Feminists point to Mists as graphic depiction of the damage white European males have done to the world culture. Some followers believe she was a psychic channel from the Ancients who actually lived the stories she wrote. Many would be surprised to learn that she denied being a feminist, and that she was a Christian, a long-time communicant of St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Berkely, California. "I'm not a medium," she said, "I'm a large."
She believed that a fantasy writer must be well-versed in all fields of humanity, so she studied psychology, parapsychology, mythology, religions, to bring authenticity to her writing.
The credibility of her stories, peopled with magical humans and non-humans living in worlds created solely out of her imagination, came from meticulous research and an life-long addiction to reading. Her interest in the mystical was born early. In the acknowledgments for Mists, she says she had "virtually memorized" Sidney Lanier's "Tales of King Arthur" by the time she was ten years old. At fifteen, she read a fifteen-volume encyclopedia on comparative religions and a ten-volume edition of The Golden Bough. She admitted cutting high school classes to lose herself in the stacks at the Albany, New York, library. As an adult, when asked what she wanted for gifts, her reply was, "More bookshelves!"
Her impact on the world comes from more than her fantasy writing. In 1979 she published The Catch Trap, drawn from her years of interest in the circus life. A story of gay life, controversial in its time, has attracted a following as dedicated as those who call the Mists of Avalon their "bible" of feminism.
In 1966, she threw a dinner party with a Gothic setting. Her attention to authenticity--food, clothing, decor--spawned the Society of Creative Anachronism, which has since grown into an international organization of more than 25 thousand followers who regularly reenact the medieval era.
Her fame did nothing to decrease her generosity to her fans. Dozens of Berkeley college students found a welcome refuge in her home. She taught workshops, spoke to English classes, gave seminars, judged writing contests. She established her fantasy magazine specifically to nurture beginning writers, and she read every story submitted. Even her rejection letters included comments to direct the growth of a talented newcomer.
She was not, however, soft hearted about her expectations. "Anyone who can put together a grammatical sentence," she said, "can write a short story about a sympathetic character who overcomes almost-impossible odds by his or her own efforts to achieve a worthwhile goal." The MZB Fantasy Magazine web site includes terse, straightforward advice to new writers about what a short story is, why stories are rejected, and a list of her grammatical pet peeves.
Most of the world knew her through her writing; her personal life remained private. This was a woman twice married and divorced, mother of three children, who, in her later years of ill-health, planned her own funeral and disposition. Sensitive to the full range of women's emotions, she chose the Gospel of Mary Magdalene and the Hymn to Love from 1st Corinthians as final readings. She chose no burial or stone memorial for herself, but rather cremation and dispersal to a final home among her beloved stars.