Marion Zimmer Bradley Bradley, Marion Zimmer - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Marion Zimmer Bradley 1930–

American novelist, short story writer, editor, and critic.

Bradley is a prolific science fiction and fantasy writer who is best known for her series of novels tracing the evolution of the planet Darkover. While the Darkover novels comprise a diversity of plots and time periods, they share a common setting and similar thematic concerns. Although all Darkovans are descendants of explorers from Earth, two different cultures have evolved. The Terrans rely on communal support and advanced technology, while the Darkovans are self-reliant and antitechnological. Bradley does not openly favor either one; her work often explores the conflicts that arise from opposing forces, and the Darkover novels, like her other works, usually end in reconciliation. Lester del Rey calls Darkover "one of the most fully realized of the worlds of science fiction," and critics in general praise Bradley's literate writing, intricate characterizations, and logical plots.

Among the serious issues addressed in the Darkover novels are the importance and the problems of communication between individuals. The first Darkover novel, The Sword of Aldones (1962), centers on Lew Alton and his acute sense of isolation which stems from both his physical deformities and his dual heritage—Darkovan and Terran. In The Forbidden Tower (1977), however, Bradley employs the Darkovans' telepathic powers in order to explore the extreme emotional and physical closeness of the four protagonists.

An undercurrent of feminism runs throughout the Darkover series. Bradley frequently examines sex roles and the limitations they place on the individual. One of the most notable examples of this idea occurs in The Shattered Chain (1976). Revolving around the struggles of three women for independence and self-realization, this novel explores both the necessity of choice and the inevitable pain and hardship that result from the freedom to choose. Critics have praised Bradley's ability to incorporate feminist and utopian ideals into the harsh realism of Darkover without diminishing the credibility of the characters or their society.

Bradley's feminist interests are also evident in her recent non-Darkover novel, The Mists of Avalon (1982). This novel, which retells the Arthurian legend from the viewpoint of the women involved, has received considerable critical attention. Critics on the whole are impressed with Bradley's accurate and detailed evocation of the times and consider The Mists of Avalon an important addition to the chronicles of Arthur. Aside from these novels, Bradley has also written numerous other works ranging from science fiction to science fantasy. Although most of her works are favorably received by critics, it is largely Bradley's Darkover series which gave rise to her popular appeal.

(See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 57-60; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vol. 7; and Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 8.)

Theodore Sturgeon

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

A writer of absolute competence is Marion Zimmer Bradley, who should be more widely read. Her "Darkover Landfall" … is both literate and exciting, with much of that searching "fable" quality that made "Lord of the Flies" so provocative. (p. 16)

Theodore Sturgeon, "If …?" in The New York Times Book Review, April 22, 1973, pp. 14, 16.∗

Dan Miller

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Bradley's tales of fantasy and adventure on the planet Darkover have quietly and deservedly gained a considerable following. This latest installment [The Shattered Chain] explores an important and heretofore neglected aspect of that feudalistic culture—the role of women…. Although filled with characteristic epic sweep, the present novel is more cerebral, and the Amazons emerge with far more dignity and heroism than their pejorative name implies. As with the others in the series, no knowledge of the previous books is required for enjoyment.

Dan Miller, in a review of "The Shattered Chain: A Darkover Novel," in Booklist, Vol. 73, No. 1, September 1, 1976, p. 22.


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[The first two books in Bradley's Darkover series, written in 1962, have been reissued.] The Planet Savers … was originally little more than a long novelette; it's followed here by a new Darkover short story, a curious piece for Bradley, but quite good.

The Sword of Aldones … is a full novel, and the one that really began the Darkover cult. It's a complicated story of Comyn intrigue and dark matrix magic, foreshadowing the later Heritage of Hastur. It also presents a somewhat different Darkover than we find in later novels. Bradley refused to be bound by consistency—wisely. I think, since Darkover has evolved and improved. But even the early stories have the wonderful allure of this strange world.

Lester del Rey, in a review of "The Sword of Aldones," in Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact, Vol. XCVII, No. 3, March, 1977, p. 169.


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Marion Zimmer Bradley is rapidly becoming one of the best writers in our field. Book by book … she has been increasing her command of the craft and art of writing. The [deepening] of her characterization and the widening of her grasp of background, along with the increasing honesty and inventiveness of her plotting, are all joyous developments to behold.

Her "Darkover" stories are her best known ones, of course. And they depend on psi-effects to a major extent—a subject which I don't normally enjoy very much. Frankly, while I found the early Darkover novels fairly good reading, I wasn't much impressed. Now I look forward to each one with the keenest anticipation.

The latest is The Forbidden Tower…. And it lived up to my anticipation in every way, despite the fact that much of the story involves a sort of love relationship among a group of people—something that becomes unendurably treacly in the hands of a lesser writer.

This is a direct sequel to The Winds of Darkover. In that, the Terran Andrew Carr was drawn into a crisis between Darkovian people and another race that had learned to control the psi-crystals that are the source of Darkovian power. He rescued a Keeper (a sort of virgin priestess), and at the end was riding off with her toward his new home on Darkover.

This book picks up immediately with their intended marriage. (pp. 170-71)

Somehow, the characters—even many of the lesser ones—become very real. And the background of Darkover—by this time a most fascinating world—is deepened. Psi, which is too often just a magic gimmick, becomes more and more a believable alternate body of science; each book recently has developed more and more of the understructure of this; as Bradley uses it, it no longer bothers me, but becomes a truly fascinating alternate.

I found it splendid, and can't recommend it too highly. (p. 171)

Lester del Rey, in a review of "The Forbidden Tower," in Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact, Vol. XCVII, No. 11, November, 1977, pp. 170-71.


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The Forbidden Tower is a sequel to The Spell Sword. Although one need not have read the earlier book to understand and enjoy this one, it does concern the same characters and picks up the action exactly where the other left off. Yet, aside from that, and background, the two novels have nothing in common. Forbidden Tower is the most psychological and sexual novel of the series while Spell Sword is the most straight action adventure….

Ms. Bradley's ability to create intricate characters economically and then reveal them through interaction with events and each other is awesome. Her people are a product of their world. Just as Huckleberry Finn could only exist on Mark...

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(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Stormqueen! is] another story of Darkover—by now one of the most fully realized of the worlds of science fiction. This time, however, it isn't about the period when Darkover has been discovered by the men of Earth, with the conflict placed between the natives and the Terran Empire.

Instead, Bradley has gone back long before the coming of the terrans….

As has been the case for all her recent novels, this is a complicated story with many threads and subplots. But the key to it all is Dorylis, a young girl whose laran, or psychic power, is such that she can control the storms and direct lightning to strike where she wills. She's still a child, however—a rather badly spoiled child. And unless she can discipline herself to master her talent, it must master and destroy her—and those about her….

I'm not entirely happy about one small section near the end where Dorylis suddenly seems to have a change of heart that isn't justified as well as I'd expect from Bradley; she seems suddenly too mature and too altruistic. But that's a small point in an excellent story, in all other ways.

I enjoyed the novel, and hope now that Bradley will go on to cover a lot more of the history of Darkover, hitherto only revealed in tantalizing hints.

Lester del Rey, in a review of "Stormqueen," in Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact, Vol. XCVIII, No. 8, August, 1978, p. 173.

Ian Watson

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

I'm an admirer of Darkover. This remote, chilly world under a blood-red sun … is a marvellous creation—and though the same characters, or their parents or children, wind in and out of the books and though there is a prevalent stock theme (the collision of Darkovan and Terran, the latter discovering strange affinities) yet the various books of the cycle aren't formulaic or mere lead-ons from one to the others; all exist solidly and independently, some for better, some for worse. (p. 92)

[Darkover Landfall and The Spell Sword are], in the chronology of Darkover, the first two novels—though, since Bradley dips into the Darkovan mythos when and where she pleases, not the first two to be written by any means. The cover calls them "science fantasy", with suggestions of Sword & Sorcery, and for a long time I confess I was put off entering Darkover by the aura of mighty-thewed barbarians hefting cutlasses, priestesses in negligée, eldritch forces and warring fiefs that emanated from the Ace and DAW paperbacks…. Not a bit of it, though. Good solid sf, this. A real culture is here, as well-realized as Le Guin's Gethen, not a wish-fulfilment one. The paranormal is intelligently handled. The swordplay and "primitivism" is all appropriate, necessary, and vital.

Yet is this the place to start in on Darkover? I don't really think so. These two novels are comparatively minor ones in the cycle—by far the better of the two, The Spell Sword, paling beside its mature successor The Forbidden Tower…. The events that happen after Spell Sword are much more harrowing and gripping—and the way Bradley organises her book there's no need to read the predecessor first to appreciate the successor to the full. And Darkover Landfall—the only work set before the Terrans arrived on Darkover in force, two millennia earlier when a human starship of colonists crashed, is entirely disconnected from the rest of the cycle—a prelude, and almost an unnecessary one…. [If] you start here, in a minor key, be assured that there are major keys already played elsewhere. (pp. 92-3)

Ian Watson, in a review of "Darkover Landfall" and "The Spell Sword," in Foundation, No. 14, September, 1978, pp. 92-3.

David A. Truesdale

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The closing chapters [of Stormqueen!] are tremendous; emotionally draining as well as mentally stimulating as Bradley takes us on an out-of-the-body mind journey to the very borders of the Otherworld. This makes up quite nicely for all the breast-beating and continual detailed maneuvering of plot and characters, although the detailing of the basics of matrix mechanics was welcomed indeed.

The prose is quite clear, crisp and powerful, and Bradley's arguments are logical and reasonable. She deals with the contemporary issues of genetic engineering, abortion, men and women as sex objects, what understanding, compassion and a call to reason can accomplish—all against a backdrop of feudal intrigue and inheritance by a people who are struggling and groping to understand and control their powers of telepathy, telekinesis and other psi powers.

A very well done is to be given this thoughtful and detailed wonderment. (p. 34)

David A. Truesdale, in a review of "Stormqueen!" in Science Fiction Review, Vol. 7, No. 4, September, 1978, pp. 33-4.

Cherry Wilder

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[The Forbidden Tower] continues from The Spell Sword; the alien Catmen have been vanquished, though at heavy cost. Damon Ridenow and Andrew Carr marry the twin sisters Callista and Ellemir of the house of Alton. Both men are displaced persons. Andrew has given up all his ties to Earth and is feeling his way in a new culture. Damon has been denied his vocation as a Keeper, one of the highly trained telepaths who work in the Towers. The ancient science of the Comyn lords of Darkover centres rigidly upon the training and discipline received in these towers and is hedged with prohibitions.

The force of these taboos falls most heavily on Callista, who renounces her vows as a Keeper, trained...

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Jean Lorrah

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[The Bloody Sun is] a telepathic wish-fulfillment fantasy written by a skilled and talented author who can make it all come alive. This is a rewritten version of an earlier book in the well known Darkover series, but it retains the same intriguing story of Jeff Kerwin, who must find and then fight for his heritage on the planet Darkover…. Jeff's self-discovery is the same journey young people must always make, yet it is told in a romantic context of secret societies, unknown ancestry, and, of course, young love. The only serious flaw to a reader's enjoyment comes toward the end of the book, where Bradley has inserted a great deal of material to link this book with The Forbidden Tower; those who...

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Publishers Weekly

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[In "Two to Conquer"] Bard di Asturien is a brutal, insensitive man, a misogynist who believes all women wish to be mauled by him…. One day Bard murders a childhood friend and is exiled by the king. But with the death of the king Bard returns, and (in a particularly unconvincing bit of hocus-pocus) conjures up his double, Paul Harrell…. Paul and Bard eventually marry their true loves and actually live happily ever after. This installment in Bradley's popular Darkover series is mechanical, hokey and talky. Further burdened by a soap opera sensibility, the book only occasionally ascends to the level of pure and simple storytelling.

A review of "Two to Conquer," in...

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Diane C. Yates

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Fans of Bradley's Darkover series will welcome [Two to Conquer], set "toward the end of the Ages of Chaos, during … the Time of the Hundred Kingdoms." It is the story of Bard de Asturien, the Kilghard Wolf; ambitious, a mighty warrior, but tragically flawed even as the greatest of Shakespeare's heroes: he is unable to love…. Although set on the fantastic world of Darkover, the story is about the most realistic human emotions. Beautifully written and profoundly moving, it demonstrates that the power of friendship and love between human beings can transcend the usual stereotypes of man/woman relationships.

Diane C. Yates, in a review of "Two to Conquer," in...

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Roland Green

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Sharra's Exile] is a direct sequel to The Heritage of Hastur and not entirely intelligible to readers unfamiliar with the earlier book…. Darkover is becoming such a complex world that the "mature" Darkover novels (beginning with Heritage) are likely to be heavy going for the reader unfamiliar with the series. For loyal Darkover readers, however, this latest work will be a feast, displaying as it does all of Bradley's great gifts for characterization, world building, and sheer storytelling.

Roland Green, in a review of "Sharra's Exile," in Booklist, Vol. 78, No. 7, December 1, 1981, p. 483.

(The entire section is 92 words.)

Debbie Notken

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Darkover is rather a controversial taste—like certain foods, very few people are neutral on the subject. I confess to having been hooked long ago and to reading each new Darkover book with anticipation and interest. The current offering, Sharra's Exile, is actually a major reworking of the very weak The Sword of Aldones, one of the two earliest Darkover books….

Sharra's Exile is a worthy sequel to The Heritage of Hastur, which is probably the single most popular Darkover novel. It is written in the same form, alternating between the viewpoint of Regis Hastur and that of Lew Alton. Bradley is remarkably successful at combining the bones of her old story with the meat...

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Roland Green

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The Darkover saga is now beyond question one of the most notable feats of storytelling in the history of sf, not to mention one of the most popular. [Hawkmistress!], laid in the time of the Hundred Kingdoms, when Darkover was torn by petty wars, is the story of Romilly MacAran, who possesses a special form of telepathy that allows her to communicate with hawks and horses…. A very fine coming-of-age story, with excellent characterization and pacing and powerful handling of Romilly's telepathic links to animals; it would deserve high praise even if it didn't have a ready-made audience. Highly recommended … for introducing new readers to Darkover.

Roland Green, in a...

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Susan M. Shwartz

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

"You cannot take hawks without climbing cliffs."

The ironic realism of this proverb underlies Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover novels. For every gain, there is a risk; choice involves a testing of will and courage. Darkover—a stark world of inbred telepaths, forest fires, blizzards, and a precariously balanced ecostructure—is not one of the bliss-filled utopias that fill books of speculative fiction. Unlike such places, in which, it seems, consensus and good intentions promote social well-being, on Darkover any attempt at change or progress carries with it the need for pain-filled choice. From the very settlement of Darkover, after an accident that caused colonists to crash onto an unknown world,...

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Maureen Quilligan

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Of the various great matters of Western literature—the story of Troy, the legend of Charlemagne, the tales of Araby—none has more profoundly captured the imagination of English civilization than the saga of its own imperial dream, the romance of King Arthur and the Round Table….

The story of Arthur traditionally begins as the story of male lust….

In "The Mists of Avalon," Marion Zimmer Bradley's monumental reimagining of the Arthurian legends, the story begins differently, in the slow stages of female desire and of moral, even mythic, choice. Stepping into this world through the Avalon mists, we see the saga from an entirely untraditional perspective: not Arthur's, not...

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Lawrence M. Caylor

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

With The Mists of Avalon the reader enjoys a new perspective: that of the women [in the Arthurian legends]…. Furthermore, the development of the novel depends not on a contest between good and evil, Christianity and paganism, nor on the characters themselves so much as it does on the tension that frowns as a new culture overshadows and obliterates an older one. Thus Marion Zimmer Bradley has written of a present urgency in a mythical setting, and written magnificently at that! (p. 2)

Perhaps the most beautiful and wonderful image in the story is that of Avalon/Glastonbury, separated by a magical veil of mist, two worlds sharing a single island, one tradition on different planes. The passage...

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Beverly Deweese

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Most readers know the story of King Arthur; however, Marion Zimmer Bradley, in Mists of Avalon has written an especially vivid, unorthodox version of this romantic tale. Bradley's narrator is Morgaine, a Druid priestess, and her England is populated by those who worship the Lady (the Earth Mother) and those few who are turning to the harsher, more intolerant Christianity—a religion which equates chastity with good and sex with evil.

The story centers on the struggle between the two religions and the efforts of each to bring peace to England—by controlling King Arthur. (pp. 20-1)

Bradley's many realistic, complex characters involve the reader; however, the most fascinating...

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Susan L. Nickerson

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[In Thendara House] Bradley has pulled together characters and plot elements from four or five previous stories and has turned out another intricate and richly detailed investigation of the roles of women and men on Darkover…. With none of the heavy-handedness of Bradley's "feminist" novel The Ruins of Isis, this is thought-provoking, dramatic, and engrossing.

Susan L. Nickerson, in a review of "Thendara House," in Library Journal, Vol. 108, No. 16, September 15, 1983, p. 1811.

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Roland Green

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The latest entry in the enormously and deservedly popular Darkover saga [Thendara House] is a direct sequel to The Shattered Chain…. This book is more uneven than the last Darkover novel, Hawkmistress!…, and hence is less than ideal as a starting point for the saga. However, Bradley's prose is up to its usual high standard, many scenes have raw power, and enormously serious questions are addressed.

Roland Green, in a review of "Thendara House," in Booklist, Vol. 80, No. 3, October 1, 1983, p. 222.

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Kliatt Young Adult Paperback Book Guide

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The name of Marion Zimmer Bradley is a guarantee of excellence. Creative imagination, strong, fleshed-out characters, compelling style, an uncanny ability to make all totally credible combine to involve readers from the first page, never releasing them until long after the last page. [Thendara House], another in the famed Darkover series, deals with conflicts—conflicts between loyalties, between personal relationships (hetero- and homosexual) between cultures, between short and long views, between personal desires and planetary needs, between sexes, and so on. The question is, Can conflicts change from "against" to "with"?… It is a long book worth careful reading, especially by anyone interested in...

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