{image via Modern Arts Studio}

Author/editor Marion Zimmer Bradley (commonly referred to in Science Fiction circles as MZB, was born June 3, 1930. If she hadn’t died September 25, 1999, June 3, 2024 would have been her 94th birthday. Let’s take a minute to look back on the controversial author and editor’s career and her far-reaching influence on Speculative Fiction.

Not only did she write or co-write over twenty novels, but as an editor she provided multiple major outlets for new fantasy authors, both through her Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Fantasy Magazine and her popular Sword and Sorceress annual anthologies

Marion Eleanor Zimmer was born June 3, 1930 in Albany, New York. She died September 25, 1999 in Berkeley, California. In her younger years she was a Texas housewife. She was married twice, to Robert Alden Bradley from 1949 to 1964 and then to Walter Breen from 1964 to 1990. Both marriages ended in divorce. Both produced offspring: a son David Robert Bradley (1950–2008) from her first marriage and a son and a daughter. Mark Greyland and Moira Greyland from her second marriage.

Her frequent collaborator, Rosemary Edghill pointed out “she always worked closely with her writers and was a very hands-on editor.”

Like many readers, MZB enjoyed the action tales of Robert E. Howard, Fritz Leiber, and C. L. Moore. However, as a lifelong feminist she disliked the fact that in most Sword & Sorcery stories, female characters existed only as damsels in distress for heroes to rescue who were then given as “bad conduct prizes” to the heroes. She convinced a major New York publisher to print an annual anthology of swordswomen and sorceress stories, with mostly, but not exclusively female writers. The series stretched from 1984 until her death, and then continued afterwards, edited by her colleagues Elisabeth Waters and Diana Paxon. It started the career of several fantasy authors, including Vera Nazarian, author of the popular The Atlantis Grail YA series, Mercedes Lackey, author of the bestselling Heralds of Valdemar series. and videogame designer Stephanie Shaver.

Her best known science fiction series were the Darkover novels, which straddled the border between science fiction and fantasy. Her crowning achievement as a fantasy novelist was the historical fantasy The Mists of Avalon, a feminist retelling of Arthurian legend that emphasized the disparity between the ancient Celtic pre-Christian traditions of Dark Ages Britain and the new foreign tenets of Christianity.

After her death, Marion Zimmer Bradley’s daughter, Moira Greyland accused her not only of aiding and abetting her second husband in child molestation, but in herself molesting their daughter. Since Ms. Greyland made this accusations only after MZB was dead and could no longer defend herself or refute the charges, MZB had no opportunity to go to court and clear her name. Some authors have donated the money earned from sales to Bradley to various child-related charities. Given that she edited Breen’s book, Greek Love, and edited and contributed at least one article to his  journal, The International Journal of Greek Love, she had to at least suspected his unhealthy interest in boys. “Greek love” is an old euphemism for male homosexuality, especially the relationship between an older man and a boy or youth. Many who knew her well said they had never seen or suspected anything untoward. However, others believed the accusations. Victor Gollancz, Ltd., the publisher of Bradley’s digital backlist, donated all the profits to the British charity Save the Children. Author Janni Lee Simner donated the money she earned from sales to MZB to the American anti-sexual assault organization Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network. Other writers chose to keep the money they earned.

In person, Mrs. Bradley came across as a brusque woman. One doesn’t succeed in a male-dominated industry by being all lilies and laces. She was the sort of person whom someone might describe as outspoken, only immediately to have someone else quip “by whom?”

She prided herself on being the fastest rejection slip in the west.

She was one of the cofounders of the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA), and is credited with coming up with the name for the group.

She was awarded the World Fantasy Award for lifetime achievement in 2000 posthumously.

After her death, she was cremated, and her ashes, appropriately enough were scattered on Glastonbury Tor, in Somerset, England.

Her influence as a writer will last so long as her stories are in print. Her influence as an editor continues to spread, as the writers she mentored are now mentoring a further generations of writers.

Susan Macdonald
Susan Macdonald

Susan Macdonald is the author of the children’s book “R is for Renaissance Faire”, as well as 26 short stories, mostly fantasy in “Alternative Truths”, “Swords and Sorceress ”, Swords &Sorceries Vols. 1, 2, & 5, “Cat Tails” “Under Western Stars”, and “Knee-High Drummond and the Durango Kid”. Her articles have appeared on SCIFI.radio’s web site, in The Inquisitr, and in The Millington Star. She enjoys Renaissance Faires (see book above), science fiction conventions,  Highland Games, and Native American pow-wows.