Marion Zimmer Bradley Biography


(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....

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(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Marion Zimmer was born in Albany, New York, in 1930. As a teen, she was a science-fiction and fantasy fan. She made her first amateur sale to a fiction contest in Fantastic/Amazing Stories in 1949. That same year, she married Robert Alden Bradley. Her oldest son, David, was born in 1950. Bradley wrote during these early years, but only for fanzines and school magazines. Her first professional sale came in 1953, when she sold a short story to Vortex Science Fiction.

Bradley’s first novel was published in 1961. In 1962, she published two novels together, including the first novel set on the planet Darkover. The Darkover novels eventually became her best-known works. She published several more novels in the 1960’s, while going to college; some of her work at this time was done under various pseudonyms. She graduated from Hardin-Simmons University in Texas in 1964 with a B.A., and in 1966-1967 she did graduate work at the University of California, Berkeley. During this time she and Robert Bradley divorced. She then married Walter Breen, with whom she had two children, Patrick and Moira.

During the 1970’s, Bradley published an average of two books per year, usually a Darkover novel and another novel. The Darkover series generated fan groups specifically dedicated to that series. Also in the 1970’s, Bradley became a pastoral counselor in California and began to study religion and counseling. Her writing career continued to flourish in the 1980’s. In 1983, she published The Mists of Avalon, a best seller. In 1980, she became an ordained priest of the Pre-Nicene Catholic Church and established the Centre for Nontraditional Religion. Religious themes also appear in her novels.

In the late 1980’s, Bradley began editing her own magazine as well as anthologies. She helped nurture up-and-coming writers, particularly female authors. In her magazine and the Sword and Sorceress anthologies, she made an effort to publish first-time authors. In 1990, Bradley divorced Breen. Her writing and editing career continued, although she had some health problems. She died in 1999 after suffering a major heart attack, leaving behind many works in progress that were completed by other authors.