Marion Zimmer Bradley was a child abuser – says her own daughter

Mists_of_Avalon-1st_edEvery so often, the question of a writer’s life versus their work comes up – specifically, whether the value of the work mitigates, or even has any legitimate connection with, the wrongs they committed, endorsed, or sympathized with in their life. For instance, does Pablo Neruda‘s position as a poet of the people excuse his apologetics for Stalinism? Does The Faerie Queene excuse Edmund Spenser‘s plans to exterminate the Irish? Should William Burroughs have been jailed for shooting his wife? Conversely, should Ezra Pound‘s contribution to world literature have spared him incarceration for his collaborationist antics during World War 2? And there are dozens of examples, from every shade of the ideological spectrum, or every kind of crime. Knowing what they did, can you still read unswayed what they wrote? Will your judgment of the words on the page or screen be influenced by what you know about them?

Well, for those who argue that the biography or rap sheet doesn’t matter, and that literature is indifferent to the actions and morality of the creator, here’s a test for you. Marion Zimmer Bradley, celebrated science fiction and fantasy author, recipient of the, cofounder of the Society for Creative Anachronism, posthumous recipient of the World Fantasy Award for lifetime achievement, has just been revealed by her own daughter Moira Greyland as a repeat child molester, who not only countenanced her sometime husband Walter Breen‘s relationship with an underage boy, but also violated her own daughter,  and other children, of both sexes, repeatedly, over many years.

I apologize to anyone this offends, but this is already public information and I am simply repeating it. Walter Breen’s convictions are a matter of public record, and reinforced by Bradley’s own public statements on the subject. This goes far beyond any notion of Fifties homophobia. And also, I apologize to Moira Greyland if sharing this upsets her further, but her statement is already being shared elsewhere, and I’m just adding a little more exposure on top of what’s already going on – with some good purpose, I hope. And I apologize if this article title for one moment appears to call into question what she said, but I’m adding it in case TeleRead needs a fallback position and I’ve been wrong all along. But so far it looks like anything but.

Here’s what Moira Greyland actually says about what her mother did:

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.

I hope no one thinks that Moira Greyland is making this all up. All the evidence, including actual legal evidence in Breen’s case, points against it. The context for this was a blog post by Deirdre Saoirse Moen in response to a birthday piece on about Bradley. Tor later took the piece down, and Moira Greyland responded to Deirdre with her email. There is no substantiation at present beyond the links and quotes I’ve included here, but these come from solid sources, and more and more validating comments are coming up on Facebook and elsewhere almost by the minute.

And is there any point beyond pure prurience in repeating all this stuff? One at least, I hope. I can cite the case of British artist and typographer Eric Gill, who according to his own diaries had incestuous relationships with two of his daughters, and used them as models for some of his nudes. I may be wrong in this, but I remember accounts of his life involving defenders of his actions, including one Roman Catholic priest, who excused and mitigated them on the grounds of his spiritual and artistic gifts. “Gill is too good an artist, too ferocious and intrepid a controversialist, to be protected and glossed over. We need to see him whole,” argues Gill’s biographer Fiona MacCarthy.

Is anyone out there who knows an Eric Gill or Marion Zimmer Bradley-type creative figure making the same excuses for them right now? Well actually, they are, and they didn’t waste time any about it. You can already read very lengthy (and anonymous) defenses of Bradley in the comments section of Deirdre Saoirse Moen’s blog post, saying how Bradley shouldn’t be blamed because her acts took place in the context of  “multiple personal, biological and otherwise ‘material’, as well as legal and political forces,” and because her work was “TREMENDOUS”. So there you are. The apologetics, mitigations, and excuses have already started. Hell really does lie in the comments section.

So should the SCA and the World Fantasy Awards disavow Bradley? Will you have a problem reading a single word she wrote again? I know I will. How do you all feel about it?

77 Comments on Marion Zimmer Bradley was a child abuser – says her own daughter

  1. Thank you for spreading the word on this.

    I didn’t know about Gill. Gill Sans is one of my all-time favorite typefaces.


  2. There are some sins I can’t forgive, and that is one of them.

  3. Some time ago I purchased Mists of Avalon digitally with the plan of rereading a favorite book. I came across the above info about Bradley when I researching backstory info on the book. I deleted the files within seconds of knowing.

    I refuse to use any font that I know Gill had anything to do with but I don’t remember when I first heard about him.

    All my paper books by William Mayne ended up in the trash bin. It seemed very wasteful but I couldn’t bring myself to donate them.

  4. He should be sent packing with no awards, no respect and made an outcast of his community of peers. Disgusting.

  5. Paul Mackintosh // June 11, 2014 at 4:04 pm //

    Just to settle any doubt, Deirdre confirmed via email that those were Moira GreyIand’s actual words.

  6. TunaforThursday // June 11, 2014 at 7:22 pm //

    I don’t see why the choice presented here is to either let a person’s work excuse their wrongdoings or write off both the person and the work. Unless the work itself excuses or perpetuates abuse then I think the art should be separated from the artist. It’s possible to both think that what Marion Zimmer Bradley did was awful and think that her work was significant. It’s even possible to still enjoy her work. Obviously, a person’s work should not be used to exempt them from punishment, however.

  7. “It’s possible to both think that what Marion Zimmer Bradley did was awful and think that her work was significant.”

    I concur. I can’t bring myself to read her any more (but I never was that much of a fan). That said, I don’t think the art stands separately from the artist.

    Here’s my dilemma: if we erase the works because we want to erase the artist, then we’re still erasing the victims, just like being silent about abuse we know about. I honestly don’t know the right answer, but I don’t think conspiracy of silence is it.

    And I’ll be looking for something that appeals to me to replace Gill Sans. Fortunately, I’ve bought a lot of fonts recently.

  8. I think it’s naive to think that art can be separated from its creator. Creative work is in significant part a product of the creator’s ethos. If that ethos allows them to countenance and perpetrate sexual abuse, then i would find it extremely surprising if the ethos had no impact on their creative work.

  9. Eric, if you really believe that art cannot be separated from its creator, then you are the one who is being naive.

  10. This seems to be an exceedingly complex case–

    –and I’m not sure that any of us have the specialized skill or inside knowledge to disentangle it. Regardless, I agree that it’s difficult to wholly separate an artist and her work. What I find odd is the idea that this principle should only apply to artists who have committed crimes.

    How many of us authors here can declare ourselves to be entirely upright? How many of us have lost our tempers and screamed at our partners, or have hurt our loving parents, or have broken a promise to a good friend? Surely our own misdeeds have made their way into our writings, whether or not we realize it.

    If we’re lucky, our Muses will reshape our misdeeds into writings that bring good to the world. One thing I do remember (because I was reading this very passage when this news hit): one of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s most famous characters is an abuser of youths who confesses to his past atrocities, and who does his best to amend for what he has done.

  11. I found this, read the daughter’s words, then read the court testimony of her husband’s case last night. The problem with this sort of situation is that anyone who says they don’t fully believe the daughter looks like an asshole, but honestly, I’m not sure. This is NOT to say I think MZB is blameless or not abusive, or that I think the daughter is lying. MZB fucked up so bad so many times that it would be easy to see why her kids might hate her–she turned a blind eye to her husband’s shenanigans for YEARS.

    But at the same time…her daughter, where are her thoughts at? Through what filter is she seeing the events of her childhood, and is it a true one?

    For instance, paganism can involve going skyclad in ritual, sexual rites, and often draws followers looking for a more open and honest sexuality (including sexually aggressive women, who are often demonized in mainstream culture). Being skyclad in ritual or witnessing a sexual rite as a child is considered molestation by law. And yes, any child growing up in a household like that would feel threatened if denuded or watching sex, even if they were never touched (and this is not to trivialize her feelings because I well recall how horrifying it feels). But on the flip side, an average therapist or other mainstream professional, upon hearing about pagan rites, would see them as abusive, even in a healthy household (which this was not).

    The fact her mother simply let her walk away at twelve also begs questions, since pedophiles tend not to take no for an answer, and abusers punish defiance harshly.

    And there is the question of how much she HATES her mother, the woman who failed to protect her and the other kids? Because the single word “pedophile” will tear down a reputation faster than anything.

    Again, her mother FUCKED UP. I do not doubt FOR AN INSTANT she was neglectful, willfully blind, and possibly abusive. Nor do I doubt that her daughter is telling the truth as she sees it. But I am also uncomfortable with how much her daughter’s letter sounds like the testimony of “abusees” at the height of the Satanist scare in the eighties. And having been through therapy, I know for a damned fact how most normal (especially budget rate, like we had to go to) therapists would react to a pagan household. They wouldn’t be able to separate religion or different lifestyle from truly threatening behaviors, and would see them all as abuse. And most people listen closely to professionals.

    I am also wary of the “22 rapes” she cites, because most pedophiles can’t get away with that many, not and hope to keep doing what they’re doing. Ed Kramer of DragonCon only had six, and even Michael Jackson with all his money and power and fame topped out at 17. Part of molestation is “grooming,” that time it takes to build that power-tripping-relationship with the child to the point they won’t run tell. This takes contact and time.

    Breen seems to have had four to six known, and yes, possibly more unknown (all the mentioned men probably did). But 22? Unless he was throwing slumber parties and was a master mental manipulator, chances are he couldn’t have gotten to and adeptly controlled that many boys. And since the cops, despite being told of 22 incidents, only prosecuted for one, it makes me wonder if many of the other incidents didn’t pan out to be what she had initially thought they were (this is taking into account that some probably were abuse and the boys or their families wouldn’t talk).

    The testimony I read had MZB doing some serious backpedaling and butt covering, showed a skewed set of social morals and a WOEFUL lack of knowledge of what sexual abuse really was. But, from my own experiences, a lot of her testimony rang very true. At one point she stated she trusted her husband around a young man because she believed him to be impotent–my family went through this. My mother couldn’t figure out why her husband couldn’t get it up for her, well, it was because he’d found “another woman.” She didn’t want to believe it was her kid. I also recognize the covering for bad behavior (my mom did it), the turning a blind eye (my mom did it), not thinking too hard about her abusers actions (we all did it, it was the only way to survive), and multiple other behaviors that were revealed by MZB in her testimony. And the thing is, my mother was as abused as we were, so looking at how MZB mirrors her behaviors in the same situation makes me…it makes me wonder where the author lies on the spectrum, abuser, abusee, or both?

    Again, I have no doubt the daughter was abused. I have NO DOUBT she believes everything she said. And I have no doubt MZB did so much wrong that she was up to her neck in her own shit. But I am cautious about this “revelation” because it feel there might be more going on here.

    I’ll tar and feather the authoress any day for her part in all this, but I’d like to be sure when I do cry pedophile, I’m dead certain I’m right. Because I have seen abused women get painted with the brush of their abusers far too often–yes, even by their own children–and when someone finally backpedaled and said “no wait, things weren’t quite like that” (and back that with proof, obviously) it was too late. The genie was out of the bottle and a life, or a reputation, or a legacy, was soiled forever, facts be damned.

    But, you can call me a pedophile apologist or someone just trying to protect a favorite author (though actually, I wasn’t fond of most of her writing) if it makes you feel better. I expect someone will. So many abusees are unfairly disbelieved (and don’t even get me started on rape victims) that it’s taboo to have doubts these days. It’s just the way it is.

  12. Here’s a page of Gill Sans alternatives for anyone interested. None of them quite do it for me, so I’ll keep looking.

  13. NellieBlyArmy // June 12, 2014 at 1:27 pm //

    Ichi –

    I’m curious as to why you say “most” pedophiles have fewer than 22 victims. In “Sexual Assault of Young Children as Reported to Law Enforcement: Victim, Incident, and Offender Characteristics” by Howard N. Snyder, Ph.D., it was found that male pedophiles who prefer male victims have an average of 150 victims. Do you have a different citation?

    Don’t forget that Breen was first caught and sentenced in 1954. Assuming he managed to get caught with his very first victim, 22 victims means one victim every 1.63 years. Or maybe Greyland meant 22 victims she had firsthand knowledge of. Start the clock at 1970 (Greyland said she was first raped by Breen at age 5), and that’s a smidge over one victim a year. Either way you count, that’s plenty of time to groom. Assuming that was, in fact, his pattern. And it might not be. Molesting a child does not actually require an extensive amount of grooming or a ton of time. It can, but that’s not the only pattern.

    Furthermore, the abuse described cannot be explained by benign neo-pagan rituals that were taken out of context. In the court documents you read (assuming you read what was on Stephen Goldin’s site), Elisabeth Waters said that Bradley tied Moira Greyland up and threatened to rip her teeth out with pliers. I am unfamiliar with that neopagan ritual. Waters also said that Greyland told her Bradley had followed her into the shower and groped her breast. She said that Bradley brushed it off by saying “Kids don’t have erogenous zones.” Outside of the court documents, Greyland describes Bradley trying to drown her in a bathtub. Those incidents bear no resemblance to a well-meaning but naive therapist misunderstanding what it means to be skyclad.

  14. It is interesting that no one has brought up the case of Anne Perry, prolific writer of mysteries. Her birth name was Juliet Hulme and she was convicted as a teenager of helping her best friend to bludgeon to death the friend’s mother. The trial took place in New Zealand in 1954. When released from prison, Juliet Hulme changed her name to Anne Perry. If you google Parker Hulme murder case, there is a lot of source material available from New Zealand.

  15. I have read the comments with interest, and just want to say I will never, ever purchase anything by Marion Zimmer Bradley again, and I will stop my children from doing so. I have spent the last 10 years of my life as an investigator with a Sheriff’s Office as a Sex Crimes against Children investigator. I have sent dozens of predators to prison, and I sleep well at night for that. If MZB and her perverted husband had been in my county, I would have worked the case against them with joy. Sexual offenses against children, are in some ways worse than murder. A murder victim dies once, a sexually abused child dies every day for the rest of their lives. Think about that before you start all the apologizing for the pathetic perverts who take sick and sadistic delight in destroying the lives of children. We say that for every victim we know about there are 5-10 we do not know about. The worst I ever had was one victim, and it later came out this sick degenerate had molested over 300 children. My Sgt had one that later confessed to 5,800 victims over his career. And yes, they do keep count, and they keep trophies of their victims.

  16. Paul Durrant // June 14, 2014 at 2:26 pm //

    That’s 10 books gone from my TBR pile, and several more from my wishlist.

    I’m astonished to find that her complicity in her husband’s abuse of children was public knowledge for so long. I wish I had known this ten years ago, before buying any of her ebooks.

  17. Sandra K. Williams // June 14, 2014 at 4:20 pm //

    Thanks, Paul and Deidre, for writing about this horrible mess. People who abuse children and who enable child abusers need to be called out.

    How many people knew this stuff about MZB and covered it up? The silence regarding her actions is absolutely shocking.

  18. “Grooming” (seducing) a too-young person is often only necessary for the first assailant. A repeatedly sexualized young person will see their sexuality as a power they have. A power to get attention and affection as well as other things they need, like food and shelter if that’s not always there for them. Our welfare state is still quite imperfect, so you don’t need much imagination to think about how big the holes were 20, 30 40, 50 and 60 years ago.

    Don’t imagine for a moment that this is a one-time thing for most, it’s not. In a household like MBZs, sexual access to a child or children is an every-day thing for many many years.

    I have spent time with foster parents who specialized in, or were handed, sexualized pre-teens. It is very very weird to receive a come-on from a cute 9-year old; especially the first time, when you don’t fully appreciate what’s happening. Having now seen it dozens of times, I have no difficulty believing Moria Greyland’s “22” number. It was probably much lower then the ones for which she knew she didn’t have legally sufficient proof.

  19. Naomi Rivkis // June 14, 2014 at 6:17 pm //

    Ichi: there are enough incidents in Greyland’s accusation that even if it’s possible to raise questions about a few of them, the rest would be plenty to damn a perpetrator, regardless of their talent. Bradley is not merely someone who covered up her husband’s crimes; her own are pretty significant. She was convicted of child pornography back in the fifties (before she met Breen, AFAIK). She admitted explicitly to tying up her daughter Moira and threatening to pull all her teeth our with a pliers. Moira’s claims aren’t merely of being nude around nude grownups; she makes specific allegations of specific types of touch, including groping her breasts when she was 9 (yes, some 9-year-olds do have them) and more. Bradley didn’t deny that one either. I think you’re putting up a credible defense against the accusations that *might* have been made against her, but not against the ones which *were* made.

  20. Paul Mackintosh // June 15, 2014 at 4:16 am //

    Sandra, amen to that. And as I outlined in my follow-up article, I have a huge beef with those who enable or cover up for child abusers (or criminals and abusers of many other stripes) merely on the grounds that they are creative people and therefore somehow entitled to special privileges, tolerance or protection. That’s one type of enablement I really wanted to nail to the wall here.

  21. Ichi, thank you for the frank and personal take on this. I am not going to question any of that, nor your theories about therapist overreactions to paganism, but I am curious about the statement “I am also wary of the “22 rapes” she cites, because most pedophiles can’t get away with that many, not and hope to keep doing what they’re doing.”

    The number of people reporting abuse by him now stands at over 500…

  22. Theoretically, art *can* be separated from its creator, I believe; sometimes the creator is just a vehicle (IMO) for something greater than they are. In my belief system, that “greater” thing is the Divine.

    On a somewhat more practical note, I think art should be evaluated and judged both within the context of its creator’s personal life, and sans that context; it should be evaluated both ways. I think that’s a job for professional art critics.

    On a personal note, I was never a big MZB fan; I enjoyed “Mists” but think people got way too caught up in the fantasy. And I will not be able to enjoy anything by her ever again, because I am not a professional art critic, and I cannot read her words without thinking of this appalling, disgusting, and inexcusable acts.

  23. I am not as eloquent as some previous posters to this situation, so I will keep it simple. Even though MZB apparently was never openly Pagan/Wiccan herself, at keast I believe that to be the case. She is going to get lumped right into our community, and yet here is another pervert we have attached to the overall energy body of our faith. I just don’t get it how is it we attract these pervs into our ranks depending once again how encompassing you view our ranks to be. And why do some people want to go to the defense of these sick fucks? My feelings is that if you try and defend that which has no defense then (I) think maybe just maybe you have some serious skeleton’s in your own closet-just sayin.

  24. Not openly Pagan/Wiccan?

    Her sister-in-law Diana Paxson would beg to disagree. “Marion Zimmer Bradley and I started the first Spiral Circle, Darkmoon, in 1978.”

    Speaking as a member of the Pagan community (for whom I do not speak at large): we have humans amongst us, and some of those humans are just as monstrous as the world at large.

  25. It’s absurd to say that literary contributions are so important that it mitigates criminal activity.

    A writer is no more important to the world than an architect, bus driver, janitor, farmer or fisherman.

    There are plenty of authors out there who DON’T rape children. THEY can keep literature alive. More stories go untold than told. Hundreds of thousands of authors are rejected every year, and not because their books are no good; merely because there are only so many authors that publishers can publish.

    Literature won’t vanish if we incarcerate and eternally despise pedophile authors.

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