Posted by: Mish | June 23, 2009

MZB, SFF, SCA, ETC.

As previously mentioned, sci-fi author Sharon Lee has declared June 23rd Fantasy and Science Fiction Writers Day to be:

A day for all of us readers of science fiction and fantasy to reach out and say thank you to our favorite writers. A day, perhaps, to blog about our favorite sf/f writers. A day to reflect upon how written science fiction and fantasy has changed your life.

Firstly, thank you to all of the SF/F writers out there who whisk readers off to earthly adventures and beyond, cause readers to contemplate and discuss infinite possibilities, fill heads with dragons and fae, and show that magic does happen.

While writing about MZB for last week’s prompted post, I kept thinking that a blurb is not enough. Marion Zimmer Bradley may not have altered my life, but she was definitely a heavy influence in my reading and then some. While I was in high school, MZB’s Sword and Sorceress anthologies reintroduced me to fantasy’s realms, which I hadn’t really ventured into since I was a child. The Mists of Avalon welcomed me further in and I haven’t left since. I also enjoy donning period attire when attending SF/F conventions or whenever the rare opportunity arises. The problem is not living near Faires and the closest to me now, three hours away, has been cancelled for the last few years. There’s the rub. In 1966, MZB co-founded the SCA, the Society for Creative Anachronism. She is also credited with naming the group whose members are oftentimes seen at such venues of fun and debauchery.

When MZB first began the Sword and Sorceress anthology series in the early eighties, strong female protagonists were practically nonexistent in fantasy literature. She wanted to change that female characters were seen as nothing more than dumb damsels and prizes. She encouraged submissions from new writers, particularly women because the sci-fi and fantasy genres were dominated my men. Several contributors went on to become popular novelists, like C.J. Cherryh and Elisabeth Waters. In 1999, shortly after selecting submissions for S&S XVIII, MZB passed away. In its introduction, Elisabeth Waters, who has continued carrying the torch as editor, said:

“The best way I can honor her memory is to finish the work she started and left uncompleted.”

First published in 1983, MZB’s Mists of Avalon is a retelling of Camelot’s story from the perspectives of the women involved: Morgaine, Avalon’s High Priestess, and Gwenhwyfar, to name a few. Unlike in other versions, Arthur, Lancelot, and Merlin are supporting characters. Among her thoughts on Avalon and in regard to Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, MZB wrote:

“When I read Malory I noticed specially that Morgan le Fay, and the Lady of the Lake (with her many “damsels”) were frequently portrayed as Arthur’s friends and allies — but equally often as his antagonists. Yet their “evil” was never motivated, except, occasionally, to test the faith of the knights, either in God, or in “true love” — like the Song of Solomon, a parable in devout Christian eyes for the love of God….It was unthinkable to tell tales of Arthur without also telling tales of the women involved. This whole thing took place in a Celtic milieu, after all, where the women were integral to the whole thing. Malory minimized the women; he made them into villains, nitwits, and evil sorceresses (remember Morgan attacking King Uriens with murderous intent, but when she was held back by her stepson Uwaine, she had no excuse except “The devil made me do it”). But Malory could not get rid of them entirely.”

Cultural and religious beliefs and the shift from the old ways to the new are  portrayed respectfully and accurately. One of the reasons Mists of Avalon is comparable to, if not better than, other Arthurian lore is that MZB’s extra homework shows. Under the pens of MZB and Diana L. Paxson, Avalon became a series, which Paxson continues. The Sword of Avalon‘s estimated time of arrival is December of this year.

Another of MZB’s acclaimed projects is the Darkover series about a lost colony that developed psychic powers. She started the sci-fi/fantasy series in 1958, later collaborated with others, and it’s still going strong thanks to Deborah Ross/Wheeler. I have yet to read anything from Darkover, but it’s queued, along with some of her other works, which seem endless. It’s rather difficult keeping up with her lengthy list novels and series.

Also noteworthy is that in the fifties and sixties, MZB wrote gay and lesbian pulp fiction when such subject matter was considered extremely risqué and pornographic.  Same-sex relationships were kept under wraps and referred to as twilight love, which is why “Miriam Gardner” chose the title Twilight Lovers. She also wrote under the pseudonyms Lee Chapman, Morgan Ives, and John Dexter. Who would have thought that one of my college courses and my love for fantasy literature would meet one day?

MZB was posthumously given the World Fantasy Award for lifetime achievement at the World Fantasy Convention in 2000. She was a remarkable writer and editor with too many projects to list here, but I’ll mention one more. In 1988, she founded Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Fantasy Magazine which featured stories and interviews. After fifty issues and her passing, the magazine fizzled. However, Marion Zimmer Bradley‘s plethora of other works, ideals, and spirit continue burning.

“The visible world was only an imperfect reflection of the Ideal,
which the Philosopher sought to transcend.”
~Marion Zimmer Bradley, Priestess of Avalon

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