Marion Zimmer Bradley Biography

Start Your Free Trial

Download Marion Zimmer Bradley Study Guide

Subscribe Now


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Recognized as a major science-fiction and fantasy writer since 1975, Marion Zimmer was born in East Greenbush, New York, a community near Albany. She grew up doing chores on the family farm. Her elementary school entrance was delayed a year; however, once in school, she skipped two grades. As a teenager, she contracted rheumatic fever, which probably helped steer her in the direction of intellectual, rather than athletic, pursuits. Her early reading included Arthurian legend, and while still in high school, she began a novel set in ancient Britain that influenced the later The Mists of Avalon. Following some study at New York State College for Teachers, she married Robert A. Bradley, after which she lived in various small towns in Texas. They had one son, David Robert.

Divorced in 1963, Marion Zimmer Bradley entered Hardin-Simmons University, graduating in 1963 with a triple major. Bradley’s first published science-fiction stories, “Women Only” and “Keyhole,” appeared in Vortex in 1953. Her first science-fiction novel, The Door Through Space, set on the planet Wolf, was followed by the first Darkover novel, The Sword of Aldones, which was nominated for the Hugo Award.

Like William Faulkner, who created the mythical Yoknapatawpha County as the world of a number of novels, Bradley conceived a dim red star, Darkover, as the realm of the Darkover novels. She established a chronology that includes an Age of Chaos and the Age of the Hundred Kingdoms. Another group of space inhabitants, the Terrans, plays an important role in the novels. After many conflicts, the Darkoverans and the Terrans begin to exchange knowledge. The usual plot of a Darkover novel follows the relationships between a tradition-bound society on Darkover and a technologically obsessed Terran Empire. A Terran boy is generally a misfit who, after many risks and trials, finds his place on Darkover. The Darkoverans accept outsiders only on their own terms, so the price is high, but the reward is great. Satisfying long-term relationships are important, as is kinship. The planet provides an alternative to rootlessness, and communication flourishes. The idea that nothing worthwhile is gained without risk is an underlying thesis in the Darkover novels.

In 1964, the year of her marriage to Walter Breen, the central Darkover novel, The Bloody Sun, was published. It contains the seed for later events as well as the results of what had gone on before. Other 1960’s works include the Darkover novel Star of Danger and three gothic novels. In 1967, Bradley and her family moved to Staten Island, New York. Bradley had a son, Patrick, and a daughter, Moira, with Breen.

The 1970’s was a prolific decade for Bradley. The Brass Dragon was a juvenile science-fiction story. Hunters of the Red Moon was a major science-fiction novel on which Bradley’s brother, Paul Edwin Zimmer, collaborated, as he did on some scenes in The Spell Sword, a Darkover novel. In 1972 the family moved to Berkeley, California, expecting the move to be a permanent one. That same year, Bradley’s Darkover Landfall created some controversy among feminist (and other) readers because one of the characters had to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term. The 1975 novel The Heritage of Hastur was thought by many to be the best Darkover novel to date. A major character is Regis Hastur, a promising political leader who had appeared in several other Darkover novels. The Shattered Chain focuses on the “Free Amazons” and Darkoveran womanhood in general. The next year, The Forbidden Tower was nominated for the Nebula Award and received the Hamilton-Brackett Memorial Award.

During this period, Bradley was certified to practice psychological counseling. This and other preparation resulted in her ordination as a priest in the Pre-Nicene Catholic Church; she subsequently established the Centre for Nontraditional Religion. The 1980’s Darkover fiction included Two to Conquer, Sharra’s Exile, Web of Light , and four other novels. The decade was...

(The entire section is 1,177 words.)