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Bradley, Marion Zimmer

BRADLEY, Marion Zimmer

Born 3 July 1930, near Albany, New York; died 25 September 1999

Also writes under: Lee Chapman, John Dexter, Mariam Gardner, Valerie Graves, Morgan Ives, Alfrida Rivers, John J. Wells

Daughter of Evelyn C. and Leslie Raymond Zimmer; married Robert A. Bradley 1949 (divorced); Walter Breen, 1964 (divorced); children: David, Patrick, Dorothy

Marian Zimmer Bradley grew up on a farm in upper New York state, where she very early developed a love for reading and writing. Having won a National Merit Scholarship, she attended New York State College for Teachers (1946-48), but left to marry a fellow science fiction fan, Robert Bradley, many years her senior, and moved to Texas. She had begun writing as a teenager, and after her marriage and the birth of David began a prolific output, mostly romances, gothics, and fantasies, to help support her family and pay for her return to college. Beginning in 1952 she published under a number of pseudonyms. She used her own name, however, when she published (with Gene Damon) Checklist: A Complete, Cumulative Checklist of Lesbian, Variant, and Homosexual Fiction, in English, or available in English Translation, with Supplements of Related Material, for the Use of Collectors, Students, and Librarians in 1960, with supplements in 1961 and 1962, which foreshadowed her later openness about her own sexual orientation.

Bradley graduated from Hardin-Simmons College in Abilene in 1964 and went on to do graduate work at Berkeley (1966-67). Divorced from Robert Bradley, she married Walter Breen, had two more children, and continued her writing career. She has continued to live in California, and, despite several strokes, acted as the doyenne of a productive group of younger fans and writers, continued to produce novels, and edited two series of anthologies, Greyhaven and Sword and Sorceress. In 1988 she began to publish and edit Marion Zimmer Bradley's Fantasy Magazine, which encourages tales of "sword and sorcery," the fantasy subgenre with which she is popularly associated.

Bradley's most popular series of novels, beginning with The Planet Savers and The Sword of Aldones in 1962, are set on Darkover, a snowy and forbidding planet originally settled by colonists from Earth. In the centuries following, the "lost" settlers have developed a patriarchal feudal society ruled by an aristocracy that holds power partly through hereditary psychic abilities. The planet's rediscovery leads to interesting conflicts between Earth's modern technology and Darkover conservatism.

The Darkover novels are almost ideal illustrations of the ways in which attitudes toward women as writers and subjects of science fiction have changed. The earliest, designed to appeal to a young and almost entirely male audience, are essentially exotic adventure stories centered on white male heroes, with few female characters. But beginning with The Heritage of Hastur (1975), Bradley began to write more complex novels focused on personal relationships and politics rather than action, and gradually to shift from male to female protagonists. Acknowledging her own lesbianism, she began to explore sexual roles and show both male and female homosexuals in a positive light. Particularly influential has been her invention of the Free Amazons (or Renunciates) in The Shattered Chain (1976). These are women who in a male-centered world have freed themselves from a dependence on men. Their lives are not easy or trouble-free, but their community offers an alternative to Darkover's oppressed women.

A young adult series involving three princesses faced with dangerous quests and self-revelation began with Black Trillium (1990), coauthored with Andre Norton and Julian May; Bradley was sole author of the fourth in the series, Lady of the Trillium (1995). Bradley teamed up again with Norton and Mercedes Lackey to produce Tiger Burning Bright, about the women in three generations of a ruling house who must flee and travel in disguise when an evil emperor overthrows their city-state. The novel was not critically acclaimed, but the elements of feminism, magic, romance, and action-adventure are characteristic of Bradley's writing.

Ghostlight (1995), Witchlight (1996), Gravelight (1997), and Heartlight (1998) are departures from Bradley's outer space settings; they feature Truth Jourdemayne, a researcher into the paranormal, who finds herself drawn into mysteries involving occult phenomena.

Bradley has written and edited at least 40 other novels and anthologies. Of particular interest to women are The Ruins of Isis (1979), an ambiguous depiction of a society in which women dominate men, and two historical novels. The Mists of Avalon (1983) became hugely popular and influential, skillfully retelling Arthurian legend from the point of view of Morgan Le Fay. Dramatizing the struggle between traditional Goddess-worship paganism and the spread of Christianity, Bradley presents a fascinating revision of the motivations and agonies of a familiar cast made new: Arthur, Merlin, Lancelot, Gwenhwyfar, Vivian. It is a powerfully feminist novel, depicting both the prosaic and the magical aspects of the lives of the women who provide the novel's emotional punch. Avalon led to a resurgence of interest in the Matter of Britain in fantasy fiction, not omitting Bradley's own later The Forest House (1994), a romance set in Roman Britain, and Lady of Avalon (1997).

Bradley performed a similar transformation of myth in The Firebrand (1987), which tells the story of Kassandra against the backdrop of the Trojan War and, as in Avalon, of a matriarchal society overpowered by the patriarchal rule of the Greeks and their male pantheon.

Other Works:

Selected: The Door Through Space (1961). I Am a Lesbian (1962). Seven from the Stars (1962). The Colors of Space (for children, 1963). The Bloody Sun (1964). The Brass Dragon (1969). Darkover Landfall (1972). The Jewel of Arwen (short stories, 1974). The Forbidden Tower (1977). Stormqueen (1978). The Endless Voyage (1979). House Between the Worlds (1981). Sharra's Exile (1981). Hawkmistress (1982). Thendara House (1983). City of Sorcery (1984). The Best of Marian Zimmer Bradley (edited by M. Greenberg, 1985). Lythande (short stories,1986). The Best of Marion Zimmer Bradley (1988). The Heirs Hammerfell (1989). Sword and Sorceress: An Anthology of Heroic Fiction (editor, 1992). Rediscovery (1993, with M. Lackey).

The papers of Marian Zimmer Bradley are collected at Boston University.

Bibliography:

Arbor, R., Leigh Brackett, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Anne McCaffrey: A Primary and Secondary Bibliography (1982). Arbor, R., Marion Zimmer Bradley (1986). Benson, G. and P. Stephensen-Payne, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Mistress of Magic: A Working Bibliography (1991). Merlin's Daughters (1987). Breen, W., The Gemini Problem: A Study in Darkover (1975). Staicar, T., ed., The Feminine Eye: Science Fiction and the Women Who Write It (1982). Weedman, J. B., ed., Women Worldwalkers: New Dimensions of Science Fiction and Fantasy (1985). Wise, S., The Darkover Dilemma: Problems of the Darkover Series (1976).

Reference Works:

CANR (1990). FC (1990). Oxford Companion to Women's Writing in the United States (1995). Twentieth Century Science Fiction Writers (1991). St. James Guide to Science Fiction Writers (1996).

Other reference:

Interzone (1990). Science Fiction Studies (March 1980).

—LYNN F. WILLIAMS

UPDATED BYFIONA KELLEGHAN

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