When you favorite author is less of a person than you’d like
Marion Zimmer Bradley was born in Albany, NY. There aren’t many famous people from around where I grew up, so when someone from there makes it, you take some pride, even if you aren’t fans of their work.
Ms. Bradley had many fans, for a number of reasons. She was a pagan, and helped pushed the boundaries for those traditions before converting to Christianity. Her Darkover series creating a fictional world used by her and other authors. Until she encountered legal problems about the similarities between one of her stories and another author’s fan fiction, she encouraged other authors, in particular unpublished authors, to use her world and send her their work. She also helped other authors build their platforms with her anthology series.
Her Mists of Avalon is a retelling of the Arthurian legend from the point of view of the female characters. It turned into a miniseries starring Angelica Huston and Julianna Margulies that drew more than 30 million viewers in 2001 on TNT.
If that were all the story, she would be a literary hero, and a hometown hero for me. But it’s not.
Bradley’s husband Walter Breen was arrested and convicted of child molestation in the early 1990s. A member of NAMBLA (the North American Man-Boy Love Association), he was first arrested for molestation in 1954. He went to prison for what amounted to the rest of his life when he was convicted of felony child molestation in 1991. He died of liver cancer in prison in 1993.
So when Bradley’s daughter, harpist, singer, and opera director Moira Greyland, accused Bradley of sexual abuse last month, the allegations had the ring of authenticity. She accused Bradley, who died in 1999, of sexual assaulting her from the age of 3 until she walked away at the age of 12. She accused Bradley of also abusing other children of both sexes.
To be fair, Ms. Bradley isn’t here to defend herself. However, the accusations have the ring of authenticity to other writers. Janni Lee Simner has said she will donate all of her earnings from any Darkover-related work to an anti-abuse charity. When John Salzi posted about it on Twitter, responses included a woman saying that she knows “from first-hand accounts/experience that this is not untrue.”
And given her relationship with Breen, it seems more likely than not-unlikely.
For people who grew up on Bradley’s work, all this is a bitter pill. The telling of the Arthurian tale from a woman’s point of view resonated with a lot of women who considered Bradley a feminist icon. Many just loved her work?
So what do you do when your idol’s flaws are that big? What if Marion Zimmer Bradley stoked your muse and got you to think seriously about writing? What if you love Ender’s Game but not Orson Scott Card’s stance on homosexuality? Would you go see a Woody Allen movie? Where’s the line?