DISCLAIMER: This rant is going to be a bit different from my usual stuff, since it is part artistic ranting… and partly a description of my awareness of what had gone on when I was far, far too young to know about it.
Please also be aware that I am not criticizing Wiccans below, but the anti-historical propaganda that Bradley was peddling. It does a disservice to ancient Celtic religion and culture to depict it as being something it was not, merely because the author has an agenda.
I’m going to be very controversial and very disliked for this, but it needs to be said: I have always disliked Marion Zimmer Bradley. Yes, pre-scandal.
And I know this seems like bandwagon hopping, but I’ve actively disliked the woman for a long time.
Okay, I’m going to reveal the layers of my dislike in the order that they occurred. Yes, there are layers to my dislike, and as a result it’s more complex than my hate for, say, someone like Stephenie Meyer or L. Ron Hubbard.
At first, I thought that my dislike for MZB was because she had written The Mists of Avalon. I do not like this book. At all.
And yes, mentioning that you don’t like it automatically causes some people’s panties to bunch, out of the assumption that you must be anti-feminist if you dislike a supposedly feminist retelling of the Arthurian legend. Or rather, feminist if you think feminist means,”I respect and admire women as strong powerful and intelligent human beings, unless they belong to a religion I don’t like, in which case they’re weak and stupid and hypocritical.” And involves castrating “good” men into whiny little bitches so the women will look better. You know, feminism.
What’s more… you know those awful Christian fiction books? The ones where the Christians are the pure, noble, always-right paragons and we’re supposed to admire them and treat everyone who isn’t with pity or contempt? Yeah, this is the neopagan/Wiccan version of that. It’s just as clunky, just as shallow, and just as nasty.
Some people try to claim that the book shows both sides, with neopagan characters who are bad and Christians who are good. But let’s be honest here: in this book, neopaganism is associated with strong smart women and social/cultural enlightenment, while Christianity is associated with brutality and sexism. A few “bad” things Morgaine does won’t change the fact that we’re meant to sympathize with and like her. A few token characters on either side does not change that this book is a steaming pile of bigotry.
Yes, I’m saying it. Any common definition of bigot fits the attitude that is exhibited in this book (and to be fair, most of the Christian books mentioned before). And pretending that it doesn’t just highlights one’s own bigotry.
Yeah, religious bigotry is smeared all over this fucking book, but nobody’s allowed to point this out lest they be seen as anti-woman. I think I’ve proven myself more than enough with my rants about how the various authors I snark write women (including female authors), but if anyone thinks that disliking an overrated old book makes me a misogynist… I don’t care about their opinion, because clearly they’re an idiot.
And you notice I said “neopagan” and not “pagan”? Well, that is because the “balanced” approach that MZB took involved pitting the worst aspects of early medieval Christianity (with none of the best ones, of course) not against an actual historical amalgamation of ancient Celtic beliefs and culture…. but against Wicca.
A religion founded in the mid-20th century.
Which is presented as if it were actual ancient Celtic culture and religion, rather than the rich and complex tapestry of gods, heroes and beliefs, which were – yes, indeed – quite feminist for an ancient society.
Because God forbid we include actual history in historical fantasy!
Please note that I’m not trashing Wiccans here, BTW. I am trashing the historically inaccurate belief that Wicca was what the ancient Celts practiced, and that they had some kind of idealized fairy-tale matriarchy with benevolent duotheism. That is propaganda. Like every other civilization in history, the ancient Celts had a lot of good things… and bad things.
Okay, I’m going to stop ranting about Mists of Avalon or I’ll be here all day. Anyway, at first I thought that being an intellectually lazy bigot was my reason for hating her, but attempts to read her other books were just… uncomfortable. I can’t explain exactly why I felt this way, but every time I touched one of her books physically it left me feeling… unclean.
You ever touch the guts of a car and get that gritty oily stuff all over your hands, and it takes forever to wash it off? That’s how I felt.
This even happened with etext version of her books. I always felt this sort of squirmy distracted feeling that you get when you ride a roller coaster that you really don’t want to ride but other people expect you to. Her books weren’t good, but they weren’t dramatically BAD either. They were average. But every time I tried to read them, it was like I was swimming in oily filthy water with dead bugs floating in it.
And this was when I was absolutely voracious as a reader. I read quite a bit of shit back then, because I hadn’t yet developed a sufficiently critical eye. Even Mercedes Lackey, and I loathe her now.
But I didn’t know why. I didn’t know why I had this reaction to this ONE AUTHOR in particular.
But some years ago, I found out the reason that I felt that way… and seriously, if I needed proof that spiritual or psychic impressions can be detected, look no further. Uncleanness can be transmitted through books.
Specifically, I found the website of author Stephen Goldin, a guy with a pretty decent background in Science Fiction including some early Star Trek and the Family d’Alembert series with EE Doc Smith. And I was both shocked… and strangely relieved. Because it explained EVERYTHING. Everything I had felt and experienced suddenly made sense.
What happened is that Marion Zimmer Bradley was married to a man named Walter Breen, who was a pedophile. I’m not just repeating rumors. He was convicted as a child molester, and wrote books on the subject of pederasty, namely that he was totally in favor of it. He died in prison after only serving a year of his too-short-anyway sentence for molesting a kid.
And one of his victims… was Goldin’s stepson Ken Smith.
Now being married to a child molester does not automatically mean you were complicit. I wanna emphasize that. For every Mrs. Sandusky, there are a bunch of women (or men) who genuinely do not know what their partner is doing. So I’m not blaming her because of THAT.
HOWEVER, Breen was first convicted in 1954, and was even banned from coming to cons in the sixties because of his crimes. A lot of people insisted that it was just rumor and refused to get upset about it. This was right before they got married… and it turns out, not only knew about the rumors, but she soon knew about the actual molestation. And despite claiming to be upset at first, she was totally okay with it.
I could just show that gif for the rest of this rant, and it would sum up my feelings.
This is all pretty horrifying stuff, and I kept reading all the documents that Goldin had on his website. It used to be the entire front page, back when it was on a different host server. However, in the last few years he’s migrated it to a different part of the website rather than saying on the very front MARION ZIMMER BRADLEY WAS A PEDOPHILE AND A PEDOPHILE’S ACCOMPLICE.
And this material is pretty damn official, including excerpts from Bradley’s depositions, including her stating that she treated Goldin’s stepson like one of her own children, that she knew her husband had raped a kid, and she was totally okay with it. This deposition is incredibly disturbing to read, but it highlights just what a sick, warped mind she had. She doesn’t seem to have seen ANYTHING wrong with all this, and comes across as a bit baffled that people are making a fuss.
And then… I read Elisabeth Waters’ deposition and it just got worse.
In case you are wondering, Elisabeth Waters is a fantasy writer and editor who has produced the Sword and Sorceress series of anthologies (courtesy of Bradley) for many years. She worked for Bradley for many years. She had a romantic relationship with her for many years (Moira refers to her as her “stepmother”). She inherited Bradley’s estate. So… not a very objective witness.
But her deposition made me ill several times over, especially since I got the vibe that she KNEW this was all wrong and horrifying, but tried to downplay it because MEAL TICKET. Specifically, there’s a passage where Waters states that Bradley molested her daugher Moira in the shower by fondling her breasts. She admitted to this, but claimed that prepubscent kids don’t have any erogenous zones. She also stated that Bradley’s son Patrick had also been molested by her, but she hadn’t felt like actually pursuing the topic.
I’m going to just let the horror of that sink in.
So once I finished I felt exhausted and grossed out, but strangely relieved. My weird disjointed feelings and thoughts suddenly made perfect sense – somehow I had picked up on the skeeviness, the ugliness, the EVIL from the author through her books. And frankly, the propaganda and bigotry make perfect sense if you regard her as a complete sociopath, possibly a psychopath.
And had Marion Zimmer Bradley still been alive when I read this, I would have dedicated my online presence to telling as many people as possible what a monster she was. But since she was dead and could no longer harm anyone, I just put up the link to Goldin’s website on the rare occasions when someone talked about MZB and I had to explain why I loathed her.
This brings me to 2014.
If you haven’t heard of Deirdre Saoirse Moen, she is a fantasy author and designer of cute greeting cards, and she has a very nice blog and website at http://deirdre.net. Ms. Moen found the same site that I did just a few years before, and she was just as sickened as I was.
So when Tor.com posted a gushing piece on MZB, she spoke up in a post called “Marion Zimmer Bradley Gave Us New Perspectives, All Right,” which linked to Goldin’s website and included several of the most damning excerpts from her and Waters’ depositions. Tor ended up pulling the piece after Moen said what she knew, with actual legal documentation to back it up.
But wait! There is more! Ms. Moen then followed it up with “Marion Zimmer Bradley: It’s Worse Than I Knew,” after she got in contact with Bradley’s daughter Moira Greyland. I have to say that if you have sexual-abuse triggers or have just read the above depositions, you probably shouldn’t read Moira’s emails right away. They are hard to read for anyone.
Specifically, Moira refers to her father as a “serial rapist” with 22 victims that she knew of, and states that she helped get him convicted. Apparently she tried to tell her mother and Ms. Waters, and their response was to get an apartment so he could rape children in private.
Worst part: she says that her mother was WORSE than her “serial rapist” father, “completely out of her mind sexually” and emphasized that she raped lots more children than just her own kids. She also wrote wrenching and painful poems included in the post:
- “Mother’s Hands,” in which she addresses the horrible physical, emotional and sexual abuse she suffered.
- “They Did Their Best,” which is a blistering condemnation of people demand that victims instantly forgive and forget, and try to make excuses for the predators.
Ms. Moen’s posts basically went viral after that, being touched on by authors like Jim C. Hines, John Scalzi, G. Willow Wilson, Janni Lee Simner, and others. Victor Gollancz Ltd said that they would be donating all e-book sales to a children’s rights charity, and Simner did likewise (to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) with all royalties that she received from her Darkover stories.
And even though she has been dead for years and has been a beloved figure in the fantasy literary world, it actually got some mainstream attention as well. The Guardian actually posted a very complete article on the whole revelation, the Washington Post a apologist editorial, EW.com touched on it, as well as less mainstream sites like TeleRead, Goodreads, Escapist, and many others.
Furthermore, her brother Mark also spoke out, mostly about the vicious abuse he suffered from his mother, but also about the brand of “feminism” that inspired Mists of Avalon. Everything he says lines up with things that Moira has said.
Yes, you got a few a-holes who insisted that her “good work” for the pagan/feminist community trumped everything else (because feminist cred is still valid if you RAPE LITTLE GIRLS), or insisted her daughter was just lying to sully her reputation/make money. Some tried to fudge the issue by insisting that ooh, she was a human being and people are complex. But for the most part, people were wildly supportive of Ms. Greyland, and most of them were shocked and appalled because they hadn’t had an INKLING that this had happened.
I watched this with a genuine sense of glee, because I had known what this woman was for some years, at least a decade. And now she was getting what she deserved, even posthumously. This woman and her estate had spent years presenting an image of MZB that was carefully scrubbed of child abuse and molestation, which was ONLY managed because it happened before the Internet became the omnipresent thing it is today.
But even more than that, I was shocked at how many people DID NOT KNOW that this happened. A few may have known about Walter Breen in a vague way, but they didn’t know about HER.
I do want to add that I did not get any pleasure from these people finding out that MZB was a child molester. Most of these people were not just shocked, but hurt. They had liked or still liked the books, and it really hit them hard to discover that MZB was a child molester. However much I hate Mists of Avalon, a lot of them had gotten something positive from the book, whether they felt a kinship to the characters, felt empowered, or just felt swept up in the story. And I do not begrudge them that.
… even if it I did hate it, and it spawned other shitty Arthurian stories like Rosalind Miles’ Guenevere trilogy.
So this whole debacle was kind of like lancing a boil. It was painful and messy, but it let the infected poison that had been brewing under the skin. MZB was not only a pedophile’s accomplice, but a pedophile herself. I don’t know how widespread this knowledge is now, but it’s widespread enough that you can easily expose the connection whenever she or her books are mentioned.
Sadly, it’s not yet widely-acknowledged enough that “marion zimmer bradley pedophile” or “marion zimmer bradley child molester” will autofill on google. But the truth is now out, it’s easily verifiable, and the only people who seem to be resisting it are either uneasy fans or people associated with her estate who have something to lose if her sales take a hit… and even they can’t really fight the tide.
I have to wonder if this is why there has never been a biography of Marion Zimmer Bradley, despite her being fairly famous for an author. Anyone who did ANY study of her life, no matter how shallow, would find out she was married to a convicted child molester (her official biography on http://www.mzbworks.com/ is suspiciously devoid of any mention of him), and would probably end up reading the depositions and legal documentation about it. There’s simply no way anyone who did research on her life could avoid finding this stuff out.
So any biography would be
- A tidied-up whitewash that could be easily and publicly exposed as a lie.
- A devastating expose that would destroy her carefully cultivated image.
And I somehow doubt her estate would be willing to see either thing happen.
But what really gets to me is…. how was this forgotten? How was it overlooked? The depositions happened in the LATE NINETIES. That wasn’t THAT long ago in the grand scheme of things.
And it’s not like these legal documents were buried. There was a WHOLE WEBSITE (a small one, but still!) devoted mostly to exposing these documents to anyone who would read them. I managed to find them. So did Deirdre Moen. Why in fuck did more people not find them?!
The only other reference I’ve seen was Jason Pitzl-Waters, who wrote a blog on the whole subject for Wildhunt.org. He seems to have been aware of Goldin’s publicization of the information, but comes across as uncomfortable with acknowledging that yeah, this is how it went, probably because of how popular her books are with neopagan audiences. He uses the word “allegations” repeatedly, even though the depositions are… well, depositions. It is a sworn testimony, not just a rumor.
But otherwise… I can’t understand how this wasn’t better known. I found the website through an ordinary search engine, which I just entered “marion zimmer bradley” into. I was not looking specifically for anything connected to child molestation! Yet it was one of the first things to come up besides MZB’s official estate site (which is in dire need of a facelift).
Did people just not google her for all those years?
Did people find the website, but figure that the accusations were just lies or an effort to smear her name?
Did they figure that the easily-traced legal documents were fake because nothing had been publicized?
Did they know, but not want to expose her evil because they though it might reflect badly on the feminist/pagan/LGBT communities who loved her books, and which she was a part of?
Was there some kind of effort to bury this information for the sake of book sales, especially since the Avalon series went on until 2009 (under a ghostwriter)?
Or was there just some kind of SF/F fan community suppression of stuff that would reflect badly on someone famous and beloved? Such things can and do happen.
I honestly do not know, and likely we’ll never know the whole story of how this whole nightmare was somehow FORGOTTEN for so many years, and how the only man speaking out about it was ignored for so long. But I seriously do wonder if her estate has been trying to scrub knowledge of it over time, especially since her own website does not mention her ex-husband, nor does it give any indication that she apparently hated her children enough to DISINHERIT THEM.
I like to say that if I stopped reading/watching any material by people whom I disagree with on serious issues, I’d probably only only have about six books and three movies left. Maximum.
But in the case of MZB, I can’t imagine how ANYONE could stand to read her works after finding out the massive physical, emotional and sexual abuse she visited on multiple children. She truly was a monster. She was so monstrous that – no lie – I actually felt dirty and gross just touching or looking at her BOOKS, before I had ever heard of Goldin or Breen. And I wasn’t the only one who got that vibe. Lots of people deleted or burned their copies of her books when they heard the news, and I admire them for giving up something that had given them pleasure because of this.
And finally, I hope that in addition to everything else, this will scupper the false idea that MZB was some kind of paragon of feminist queer pagan awesomeness. She was everything that I always knew her to be – not a true feminist, not a good person, and not tolerant – but I didn’t always know that she was much, much more. And it was dark, poisonous and toxic.
So in conclusion, that is my story and my thoughts on Marion Zimmer Bradley. Thank you, and g’nite.