Marion Zimmer Bradley, Abuse, and Cautionary Tales

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[Trigger Warning: This post discusses the sexual abuse of children.]

When I first embraced modern Paganism I read “The Mists of Avalon” by Marion Zimmer Bradley, and it was considered essential reading by many Pagans I met at that time. Plus, in the pre-Internet age this revisionist Arthurian drama that introduced feminist and Pagan themes was widely rumored to be written by someone who was, if not Pagan herself, deeply enmeshed with individuals from the Pagan community (and this turned out to be true). So, as a consequence, Pagans widely considered Bradley to be “one of us.” This was further reinforced more recently when I started interacting with the West Coast Pagan scene, and various individuals would privately tell me about their own interactions with the author. When Bradley died in 1999, few could deny the huge impact she had, down to the individuals who tattooed themselves as the priestesses and priests did in “Mists.”


However, right after Bradley’s death, a document was published by fantasy and science fiction author Stephen Goldin that shocked many. The publication, which included a sworn deposition from Bradley, alleged that the author aided and abetted her late husband, Walter Breen, in the sexual abuse of children. 

“Marion Zimmer Bradley was a noted science fiction and fantasy author, with best-sellers to her credit and a large number of adoring fans. But MZB, as she was often called, had far less savory aspects to her as well. Most notably, she actively aided and abetted her husband, Walter Breen, in the sexual abuse and molestation of children. Before people cast too many tears over her death, they may wish to learn some of the harm she helped perpetrate in the world as well. […] In the excerpts you’ll see that MZB admits having deliberately covered up her husband’s involvement in activities she knew were illegal and harmful. She took some pains to tell Walter not to molest her own children, but she didn’t care in the least what he did to other children. Readers will be able to judge for themselves the sort of moral character this woman possessed.”

For those who weren’t knowledgeable about the charges, the depositions by Bradley where she admitted knowing about Breen’s sexual abuse of children, came as an immense shock. Defenders of Bradley counter-argued that she was not aware of the abuse that took place after their marriage, that she acted appropriately when she found out about the subsequent accusations, and was too deathly ill towards the end of her life to properly litigate her innocence (it should be noted that allegations regarding Breen and debate over Bradley’s knowledge of those allegations had been around since the 1960s). This back-and-forth over how much Bradley knew, when she knew it, and what exactly happened, seemed to create enough of a fog concerning the matter that many decided to simply let it drop. Especially since both Breen and Bradley were now deceased.

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Stephen Goldin’s page on MZB.

Now, a recent article celebrating Marion Zimmer Bradley’s birthday (since pulled), has reignited the conversation, and prompted Moira Greyland, the daughter of Bradley, to come forward describing the abuse she says she received at the hands of her mother.

“The first time she molested me, I was three. The last time, I was twelve, and able to walk away. I put Walter in jail for molesting one boy. I had tried to intervene when I was 13 by telling Mother and Lisa, and they just moved him into his own apartment. I had been living partially on couches since I was ten years old because of the out of control drugs, orgies, and constant flow of people in and out of our family ‘home.’ None of this should be news. Walter was a serial rapist with many, many, many victims (I named 22 to the cops) but Marion was far, far worse. She was cruel and violent, as well as completely out of her mind sexually. I am not her only victim, nor were her only victims girls.”

The full emails, and two poems Greyland wrote concerning her experiences can be found, here.

When allegations and discussions came up before, they were often isolated. Either by geography, fear, or by the nature of the early Internet, where different groups tended to circulate in a limited number of forums. Now, with the highly social nature of today’s media, and with these new statements by Greyland, the topic has gone viral, and many fantasy authors have been speaking out. These include Jim C. Hines, Colleen DoranCatherine Schaff-StumpNatalie Luhrs, and Janni Lee Simner, whose work appeared in two of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover anthologies.

“I read and reread her daughter’s words this week. I read, too, portions of MZB’s own court deposition (from her husband’s trial, also for child abuse) that I hadn’t read before. Then yesterday I took a deep breath, and I added up the advances from my two Darkover sales, my Darkover royalties, and (at his request) my husband Larry Hammer’s payment for his sale to MZB’s magazine. And then we made a donation to the anti-abuse charity RAINN for that amount. I’ll donate any future Darkover royalties, as well.”

Goldin, who initially published the depositions in 1999, commented this week that he sees the current discussion about Bradley as a “cautionary tale.”

“Think of it as a cautionary tale. There are altogether too many people who think someone is trustworthy simply because they’re famous/talented/rich/powerful and, because of this, the parents will trust that person far beyond the normal bounds. Marion (and by extension, Walter) is one example. Another was Michael Jackson. By telling this story, Mary and I hope to instill a little a little more skepticism into parents and maybe save future children from becoming victims of sexual predators.”

Perhaps these allegations coming up in the here and now can serve a purpose in our community, to serve as a cautionary tale, so that we do better in recognizing and preventing abuse in the here and now. For some further ideas on how to do this within the context of the Pagan community, please see Cat Chapin-Bishop’s excellent guest-post she recently wrote for this site.

I have been searching for a way to wrap up this piece. A piece that, due to my own personal triggers, I’ve had a hard time writing. So let me simply say that I hope some sense of healing and closure can come from Moira Greyland speaking up now. I also hope that these latest revelations can lead us towards a healthier place, a place where we do concrete work to ensure it never happens again.