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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.)
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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.∗
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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.
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[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.
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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.
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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 Twain's Mississippi, the men and women in this novel are by and of Darkover. Well, all but one. Carr is a Terran and his confusion and cultural shock to the reader that identifies with him are at times actually painful. The characters do not serve to reveal Darkover to the reader but vice versa. In fact to some extent the real revelation made to the reader is of himself.
Isolation in one form or other is almost constantly present….
In [The Forbidden Tower], the most confined of Ms. Bradley's novels, the isolation ultimately is that of a person within himself, separate in mind and body from others. Ms. Bradley explores this in a way thorough and entertaining, impossible anywhere but SF. All her characters are telepathic and at times they have minds linked to briefly become what is nearly a single entity. Yet even their relationships are filled with hurt feelings, misunderstandings, anger, important things left unsaid or telethought, and insecurity. One begins to wonder if any two people can have true personal communication and understanding at all, on any basis. Using SF to make metaphor real, Ms. Bradley also implies that attempting to do so is dangerous, and that to succeed one must first gain, face and accept self-knowledge.
If I have implied all this suddenly appeared out of the blue without precedent in the series I have misled you. It is just so very much more startlingly apparent and important in this book. Also don't think that this is all some dry cerebral novel. One cares about her passionate characters and there is plenty of sense of wonder mixed with the drama, and yes, derring-do is done.
Paul McGuire III, in a review of "The Forbidden Tower," in Science Fiction Review, Vol. 7, No. 1, February, 1978, p. 43.
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[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.
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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.
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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.
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[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 in the Tower of Arilinn, to marry Andrew, the man who saved her psychically and physically from the aliens…. Keepers, through their psychic power and their link with a sentient matrix jewel, are literally untouchable: the attempted violation of a Keeper, for instance, would result in the death of the rapist. This power is exercised unconsciously, like a reflex; Callista, who loves Andrew deeply and whose defences were lowered somewhat during her rescue, must wait until she loosens up again.
This appears at first a rather titillating problem, a private difficulty impinging on the bustling public life of the great Alton house at Armida. But those readers who anticipate a cheerful defloration about the middle of the book have underestimated Marion Zimmer Bradley. Callista's cruelly imposed frigidity is at the very centre of the book and it is examined with increasing depth and widening implications until the final pages….
The way in which the threads are gathered up: the need for a wider use of telepathic healing, the superstitious narrowness of the taboos, the painful and unnecessary discipline imposed on the immature female adepts …, even the dynastic implications of Callista's marriage, this interweaving is skilfully done.
The mechanism of Darkover's psychic world with its paraphernalia of screens, monitoring, matrices and trips to the astral plane or overworld, is described with firm authority. The background of Darkover is beloved and familiar territory for the author. We have the feeling that she no longer invents Darkover, she simply goes there. The culture is nicely balanced between a harsh environment, a feudal society complicated by the presence of telepaths and a high degree of sexual liberty and closeness. (p. 106)
It is fair to ask just how well the characterisation stands up in a book where the four main characters Damon and Ellemir and Andrew and Callista end up closer than the average husband and wife. Are the twin sisters Ellemir and Callista simply another example of fairy-tale splitting of the Frodo/Sam or closer still, the Lethonee/Sorayina type? The verdict is "not proven"; there is more to both girls than a simple warm/cold duality. Damon is the best developed character and Andrew, we notice, becomes more sympathetic as he is drawn into the culture of Darkover. The Keeper, Leonie, hovering on the verge of myth, and the old lord, Dom Esteban, wholly human, are well-drawn supporting characters.
All this is done in a loping, down-to-earth style; we have a sense not so much of padding but of purposeful backing and filling. The writing is not pretty but it is not inflated; the author rises to the occasion many times. The episodes in the over-world, where Damon has built a small shelter and must later expand it into the Forbidden Tower of an independent Keeper, are well done. The adventure in time is appealing and perhaps there exists already in the mind of the author or in an earlier book, the same scene from the point of view of Damon's ancestor, Varzil, confronted by a descendant from the future. It is a measure of the seriousness of the work that this episode stands out almost as light relief; the total impression of the book is one of cumulative psychic power…. (pp. 106-07)
The personality of the author, tough-minded, practical, spiritual, hums in the background of this novel like a matrix jewel. Marion Zimmer Bradley writes with a moral purpose of Victorian intensity, but it is liberal and liberating. (p. 107)
Cherry Wilder, in a review of "The Forbidden Tower," in Foundation, No. 15, January, 1979, pp. 105-07.
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[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 have not read the other novel may get bogged down in myriad references to people they don't know. If they skip that, though, there is an action packed and satisfying ending….
Jean Lorrah, in a review of "The Bloody Sun," in Voice of Youth Advocates, Vol. 2, No. 5, December, 1979, p. 52.
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[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 Publishers Weekly, Vol. 217, No. 16, April 25, 1980, p. 78.
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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 Voice of Youth Advocates, Vol. 3, No. 6, February, 1981, p. 37.
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[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.
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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 she has added in the intervening twenty years and those who liked The Heritage of Hastur will be perfectly satisfied with its companion volume….
[This] should not be missed. Bradley does tend to over-write, and her situations border on the implausible, but that is part of the stuff of which Darkover is made, and it works.
Debbie Notken, in a review of "Sharra's Exile," in Rigel Science Fiction, No. 3, Winter, 1982, p. 41.
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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 review of "Hawkmistress!" in Booklist, Vol. 79, No. 4, October 15, 1982, p. 294.
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"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, people accepted the necessity of deliberate choice. (p. 73)
Starting from Darkover Landfall, in which the colony director explains how women, since their fertility is affected by forced adaptation to a new planet, must be sheltered, Bradley traces the decline of women's status from people who must be protected from hard manual labor because they are so valuable and continues (in Stormqueen and Two to Conquer) to reveal the consequences of this choice: protectiveness becomes oppression. By the time of the Ages of Chaos, women have essentially two options: to provide laran heirs or to opt out—with all the penalties that implies in a rigidly patriarchal culture—into membership in one of the sisterhoods. Underlying Bradley's work and her main theme of choice is specific emphasis on the roles of women on Darkover and the choices open to them. Since their roles are restricted, their choices are correspondingly restricted. Any choices outside the time-honored ones are laden with risk and made only with great pain and sacrifice.
The pain of choice for Darkovan women is especially apparent in The Shattered Chain, Bradley's novel about the Free Amazons, or, as they are more properly called, the Order of Renunciates…. [In] The Shattered Chain, the Amazons (or Renunciates) became a metaphor for female and human conditions on Darkover and elsewhere of being bound by old choices, refusing to remain so, and—through enduring the pain of choice—arriving at new solutions and restored integrity. (p. 74)
The Shattered Chain opens with a series of conflicts that directly concern women. Years after the capture of a Comyn noblewoman and the death by torture of kinsmen who tried to rescue her, she reaches out telepathically to touch Rohana Ardais, Lady of that Domain and a skilled telepath who left her work in a tower when her clan married her off. Defying her lord's ban on interference in Dry-Town affairs, Lady Rohana recruits Kindra n'ha Mhari's band of Amazons to rescue her kinswoman Melora. Because Rohana is the only one capable of telepathic communication with her, she must accompany the Amazons. So she cuts her hair, dons Amazon clothing, and attempts to adapt to Amazon ways. These actions are radical enough for a Lady of the Comyn. But she discovers that life among the Amazons is not merely a matter of wearing trousers and persevering in the face of fear. It is, as she learns, life in the face of one dramatic renunciation. And it requires a total reevaluation of all of Rohana's attitudes. (p. 76)
The chains that must be shattered in this story take many forms. There are indeed those chains that the Dry-Town women wear, signs of ownership, luxurious uselessness (a chained woman is one fewer person for the work force), and subjugation. But there are more subtle psychic chains as well. For example, the reason why Melora dared contact Lady Rohana was that she saw her adolescent daughter Jaelle "playing grown-up" by binding her own wrists with ribbons. Most important of all, the chains in the book are the enslaving attitudes of men and women….
The shattering of intellectual and spiritual chains is most pronounced in Lady Rohana. Although she has hired Amazons out of desperation, she shares many of the Domains' preconceptions about them…. She is surprised to learn that they do not seduce young girls, that they do not neuter women on a regular basis, and that they are kind, even motherly. Once freed of these attitudes, Rohana extends her mental liberation from the Amazons and examines her own world…. (p. 77)
Rohana's freedom takes the form of intellectual independence. In this new liberation, she questions most of the customs that have previously bound her. (p. 78)
At this point, Rohana faces the consequence of her intellectual freedom. If she decides that, yes, she is only an instrument to give Gabriel Ardais sons, she may either continue to live with him—no better than chattel herself—or she may free herself and accept the consequences of social outlawry. And if she is not merely an instrument to bear sons, she must decide what she is to her husband and whether her value to him is worth the having.
She has learned that even intellectual freedom—before taking any action—carries its consequences of pain and doubt. (p. 79)
Here Bradley demonstrates her understanding of human nature by allowing Rohana's reflections to run contrary to the preachments of those popular and critical writers who paint liberation only in the rosiest terms. For every woman who "ups and leaves" her responsibilities, there remain burdens that other people must shoulder. (pp. 79-80)
Experienced, mature, saddened by her own hardships, Rohana expresses Bradley's philosophy of choice to Jaelle: "Every woman must choose what risks she will bear." (pp. 84-5)
Rohana's mental image of "a great door swinging wide, both ways, an opened door between locked away worlds" is transmitted to [others, including her daughter Jaelle,] as the book ends. This door is a choice, taken in pain and renunciation, that enables people to go on to other choices that may produce joy. Opening such a door is a risk, but only through risk can true joy come. (p. 85)
Perhaps the most personal of Bradley's examinations of choice is her work with Lew Alton and Regis Hastur in Heritage of Hastur. If the Amazons represent her statement on women making choices, the characters Lew and Regis are choice makers who are important, personally, to Bradley's development as a writer. Both appeared in her fiction from the time when Darkover was a series of unpublished manuscripts about a place called Al-Merdin, a pleasant amalgam of Henry Kuttner, A. Merritt, and J.R.R. Tolkien. In the Al-Merdin stories, Regis is a youth out to vindicate a friend, while Lew Alton developed into what Bradley … calls her animus, her private voice in her fiction.
In Heritage of Hastur, Regis and Lew are portrayed as interrelated as their bloodlines and the choices each must make. Structurally and emotionally they are foils to one another.
Regis begins as a prince, accepted, but not gifted with laran. Therefore, he regards himself as an outcast, a feeling intensified by his lack of parents and close friends. Lew, on the other hand, is a superb telepath and has experienced the closeness of a Tower circle and of a loving family, but he too feels himself an outcast because the Comyn Council has refused to regard him as more than a legitimatized heir. Neither Regis nor Lew feel as if they fit in. And they both reach the same conclusion: their lives would be simpler if they could opt out: Lew to a Tower or to his renegade kindred at Aldaran; Regis—audaciously enough—into the service of the Terran Empire.
Neither wants any part of the Comyn, which attempted to arrange their lives, marriages, careers, even their thoughts. But where Regis rebels overtly against Comyn control after his friend Danilo is disgraced, Lew rebels against his father because of a cruel misunderstanding. Their reasons for making choices thus become important because they control the choices available. Regis realizes that "he, who had once sworn to renounce the Comyn, now had to reform it from inside out, single-handedly, before he could enjoy his own freedom." His choice is to rebuild. (pp. 85-6)
Regis takes on the burden of responsibility he does not want. And like the women in The Shattered Chain, he accepts the fact that on Darkover, choice consists not so much of shattering chains but of choosing what chains will bind him. Choice compels him to shoulder increasingly arduous burdens. And, like Rohana before him, Regis sees how these duties may produce satisfaction. (p. 87)
At the end of The Sword of Aldones, [Lew] is depicted as an exile. Regis becomes, essentially, the savior of Darkover by participating (The World-Wreckers) in an alliance with Terran telepaths and science. Neither is completely satisfied. Each has lost too much for that. But as Rohana Ardais, wisest of all of Marion Zimmer Bradley's characters, says, "I did not say I had no regrets … only that everything in this world has its price, even such serenity as I have found after so many years of suffering." Like Regis, Rohana has everything she wants but her freedom. That would have cost too much. Nevertheless, what they both make of what they have is Darkover's salvation and a tribute to Bradley's realistic understanding and exposition of human psychology. (pp. 87-8)
Susan M. Shwartz, "Marion Zimmer Bradley's Ethic of Freedom," in The Feminine Eye: Science Fiction and the Women Who Write It, edited by Tom Staicar, Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1982, pp. 73-88.
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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 Lancelot's, not Merlin's. We see the creation of Camelot from the vantage point of its principal women—Viviane, Gwenhwyfar, Morgaine and Igraine. This, the untold Arthurian story, is no less tragic, but it has gained a mythic coherence; reading it is a deeply moving and at times uncanny experience.
In Mrs. Bradley's novel Viviane is the Lady of the Lake, High Priestess of Avalon and sister of the Lady Igraine. In a vision granted by the Great Goddess, Viviane has foreseen a Britain united in peace under a high king who will remain true to Avalon and the old religion of pagan Goddess worship while tolerating the new religion of the male Christ that is now winning its way across the land. Viviane accordingly chooses her sister, Igraine, to give birth to this future king, Arthur. She also chooses and trains Morgaine, Igraine's daughter and therefore Arthur's half-sister, to succeed her as priestess of the mysteries of Avalon. However, Viviane's plan to insure a doubly royal heir for Arthur goes awry: She selects Morgaine as the priestess-virgin to be deflowered in the primitive ritual Arthur must carry out to become king. Horrified to learn that this incestuous union with her half-brother has made her pregnant, Morgaine leaves Avalon, abandoning her duty as High Priestess and sowing the seed of future tragedy. Thus Mrs. Bradley gives us a plot behind the plot of the Arthurian story as we have known it. (p. 11)
The more traditional story too is all here in … "The Mists of Avalon": all the jousts, tourneys and battles. And all the familiar romance and sexual desire is here, with some new additions….
What [Mrs. Bradley] has done here is reinvent the underlying mythology of the Arthurian legends. It is an impressive achievement. Greek, Egyptian, Roman, Celtic and Orphic stories are all swirled into a massive narrative that is rich in events placed in landscapes no less real for often being magical. Nor is it a surprise to find at this time a rewriting of the "matter of Britain" from the female perspective…. Looking at the Arthurian legend from the other side, as in one of Morgaine's magic weavings, we see all the interconnecting threads, not merely the artful pattern….
In Mrs. Bradley's version, Morgaine finally learns that she is herself the Goddess, herself the Fairy Queen. In this recognition, "The Mists of Avalon" harks back to the 14-century "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight," one of the first and perhaps the most perfect Arthurian poem in English; only at its end do we discover that the scheme to test Gawain's chastity and temper the pride of Arthur's court, which is the central story of the poem, has been Morgan's. Suddenly to bring in Morgan has often seemed to scholars a cheat in an otherwise flawless poem. "The Mists of Avalon" rewrites Arthur's story so that we realize it has always also been the story of his sister, the Fairy Queen. (p. 30)
Maureen Quilligan, "Arthur's Sister's Story," in The New York Times Book Review, January 30, 1983, pp. 11, 30.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 256
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 from the real world to the mystical will linger in the reader's mind long after battles, pageants and Pellinore's dragon have faded from memory; the question, too, of which world was the more real will remain.
Marion Zimmer Bradley deserves high praise for her work since this great and sweeping book successfully ties together legend and lore. Slightly archaic usages and references to ancient events as recent or current establish the period without identifying it, thereby adding to the mythical setting. My only complaint is in the use of "karma" and "firewater," both of which evoke decidedly non-Arthurian images; but these are mere motes in a brilliant panorama.
Read The Mists of Avalon … and revel in the wonder of it. (p. 3)
Lawrence M. Caylor, in a review of "Mists of Avalon," in Best Sellers, Vol. 43, No. 1, April, 1983, pp. 2-3.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 281
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 aspect of this novel is the depiction of the long struggle between Druidism and Christianity. There is little doubt that Bradley sympathizes with the Druids, whose religion, according to her, encouraged sensitivity, tolerance and respect for females. The most lyrical passages are those describing the priestesses and their shrine, a lovely island called Avalon, located just on the other side of this dimension. There is the feeling that the world lost much of value when Avalon slipped—or was hidden—from us.
In short, Bradley's Arthurian world is intriguingly different. Undoubtedly, the brisk pace, the careful research and the provocative concept will attract and please many readers. Her strong female characters are a delight, though a few readers may be annoyed by her many references to mothering. But this is a minor objection in an impressive book. Overall, Mists of Avalon is one of the best and most ambitious of the Arthurian novels…. (p. 21)
Beverly Deweese, in a review of "Mists of Avalon," in Science Fiction Review, Vol. 12, No. 2, May, 1983, pp. 20-1.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 71
[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.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 80
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.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 134
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 the role of women in any culture or time.
S.A.L., in a review of "Thendara House," in Kliatt Young Adult Paperback Book Guide, Vol. XVII, No. 8, November, 1983, p. 1.
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