Christian Response to Scandal Re: Marion Zimmer Bradley

ShatteredChain2I’ve blogged about my love for Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover lately, and even started a Facebook page dedicated to the cristoforos of Darkover— a Catholic derived sect on the imaginary planet. And if both hadn’t been utterly ignored so far, I’m sure I would have been asked for my response to the scandalous accusations about Marion Zimmer Bradley.

The scandal is this: Mrs. Bradley’s husband, Walter Breen, was convicted of the sexual abuse of children and imprisoned. Now, 15 years after MZB’s death, an accusation was made that not only was MZB complicit in her husband’s sex crimes against children, but that she committed such crimes on her own. The Guardian: SFF Community Reeling after MZB’s Daughter Accuses Her of Abuse

Some of the responses in the blogosphere are so extreme that they not only demand that no further reading of MZB’s books should happen, there is the suggestion that the books should be burned. (Imagine what these book-burners would have said if conservatives offended by the homosexual characters in some of the Darkover books had held a book-burning because of that.)

I don’t believe that’s the appropriate response. As a Christian I believe that we are all sinners. We have all violated God’s moral law. And any violation of God’s law— from a simple bit of cruel gossip to serial killing— is bad enough to cut us off from God. So therefore we must respond to any accusation— or conviction of a person with the knowledge we ourselves are also guilty sinners. Only the death of Jesus Christ on the cross made it possible for any of us to be forgiven.

I read the Psalms of David in the Bible. This is what David once did: he spied on a woman bathing from his rooftop, and instead of turning his eyes away he sent for that woman and seduced her. And when the woman became pregnant, David sent her soldier-husband out with sealed orders that the man be sent on a suicide mission. This happened, and the man died, murdered by the king he served.

Can any decent person read the writings of a man so vile as to commit such a wicked crime? I know, David said he was sorry— after God sent a prophet to admonish him for his secret crimes. But we all have sinned, and fallen short of the glory of God, and so we keep the Psalms of David in our Bible— not even Martin Luther, who wanted to expel James and Revelation from the Bible, suggested that— we read the Psalms of David, and we use those Psalms, along with Psalms by other authors, as the basis for Christian prayer and worship— in the Mass and in Protestant services, in the Divine Office prayed by priests and religious, and in Psalm-based hymns.

Christianity not only points out our sins— even the sins we didn’t think were so bad— it provides a cure. And it is even possible that Marion Zimmer Bradley experienced that cure. I started reading her because, as a Neopagan at the time, I’d heard MZB was some kind of Neopagan or Wiccan. But I heard that later in her life, MZB attended an Episcopal church. So there is the possibility that MZB repented her sins— whatever those were— before her death, and received God’s forgiveness. And if God can forgive child abusers and serial killers, maybe we should be more forgiving as well?

MZB’s fictional world of Darkover is flawed, as all such worlds are, but it has brought intense happiness to Darkover fans. I intend to keep reading and to buy the new Darkover books being written by Deborah J. Ross, even though they don’t compare to the MZB-written earlier books.

Question: what would YOU do if your favorite writer did something very wicked, or was accused of it? Writers: what if YOU someday commit a notorious crime— is it fair if your books are tarnished because of it?

Planetary Romance: The Darkover Series

Fighting a catman.

Fighting a catman.

At some point in the mid-to-late 1980s, I discovered my true home— a planet under a red sun. A planet called Darkover. Darkover was the brainchild of the late Marion Zimmer Bradley. It had its seeds in fantasies she wrote in her girlhood. The series became popular enough that she continued writing them all her life, and with the help of a co-author, after her death as well.

The Darkover series is, technically speaking, a sub-genre of science fiction called ‘planetary romance’. This is romance not in the modern sense of a love story. lust story or sex story, but in the older definition: “A work of fiction depicting a setting and events remote from everyday life.” In the planetary romance, the remote setting is on another planet. (Christian readers might be interested to note that C. S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy is also considered planetary romance.)

Many of the later Darkover novels were published with the word ‘fantasy’ on their spine, but the series was never fantasy except in the sense that science fiction is a subtype of fantasy. The ‘magic’ of the Darkover series is laran, which is the word for natural abilities in telepathy and telekinesis— abilities which are presented as scientifically verifiable.

Darkover is a planet you can get to without resorting to magic. It was settled when a starship out of Terra crash-landed on the way to a colony world. The survivors, with a touch of help from a mysterious humanoid race, the chieri and some hindrance from the hallucinogenic Ghost Wind, make a life for themselves on Darkover and develop a distinct culture. Since the world is metal-poor and has a fragile ecosystem, a technology based on the use of laran is developed.

A chieri and two trailmen meet a human woman.

A chieri and two trailmen meet a human woman.

In the later era of Darkover, the planet is rediscovered by the Terran Empire and incorporated into the empire, causing massive culture shock on both sides.

When I first discovered Darkover, I was a Neopagan. I’d given up on Christianity because of some uncaring people and some unanswered prayers for guidance. Through the Neopagan grapevine I heard that author Marion Zimmer Bradley was allegedly a Wiccan, though of course she couldn’t admit it in public. And so I started reading the books. The main religion of Darkover is polytheistic and thus appealing to Neopagan sensibilities. And the Free Amazons (later called Renunciates) of Darkover appealed to my emerging feminista side.

But now I’ve gotten mature. I’ve learned that ‘Question Everything’ applies to feminism. I’ve had experiences that lead me to embrace the Catholic faith and all its teachings. But the Darkover books don’t now make me cringe. In fact, there is still a place for me on Darkover.

In the book ‘Darkover Landfall’ which tells the origin story of the Terran starship crash-landing on Darkover, there is a priest, Father Valentine, of the ‘Reformed Catholic’ church. ‘Reformed Catholic’ sounds like a schismatic or break-away group (like the Protestant groups who broke away during the ‘Reformation’), but it seems like plain ordinary Catholic— the priest brought a Saint Christopher medal with him and the religion becomes known as the cristoforo faith. In one of the most recent books, written after MZB’s death, the cristoforos are demonized as anti-gay haters, but in the books written by MZB they always get credit for preserving knowledge in their monastery and for being good educators.

I think that is the genius of MZB and sci-fi writers of her era. They may have been involved in ‘progressive’ ideas, but they were writing for a mass audience and they knew it. They made room in their worlds for non-progressive character groups that weren’t necessarily villains, in order to give certain of their readers something to identify with.

Facebook Page: Cristoforos of Darkover – Marion Zimmer Bradley This is a very new page I’ve started to try to connect with fellow Darkover fans. In particular with those of us who for one reason or another appreciate the cristoforos. Since I’m sure that people like me aren’t very welcome in the standard progressive/feminista Darkover fan circles.

Don’t forget our BLOG HOP! The Saturday Spec-Fic Snippet is for writers of speculative fiction (science fiction, fantasy, horror) to share a few lines from one of our works, and to get to know one another. Read about it here: https://myantimatterlife.wordpress.com/2014/07/30/new-saturday-spec-fic-snippet-blog-hop-hosted-here-specficsnippet/