Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Channeling Marion?

It's no secret that for the last dozen years, I've continued the "Darkover" series created by Marion Zimmer Bradley. We worked together on the story arc for the first three books before she died, and I've used small bits from her other books, woven into scenes. The most recent release, Hastur Lord, began as a 175-page manuscript she worked on in the final year of her life, so it's a true collaboration.

Marion was often asked, particularly in reference to her most widely-read work, The Mists of Avalon, if she were a medium (that is, did she "channel" the spirits of Avalon?). She'd answer, "I'm not a Medium, I'm a Large." What she meant was that, regardless of how much historical and other research she'd done, her vision of Avalon and its characters was just that...hers. It's fiction. She made it up. (Apparently, she made it up so well and so vividly that many readers insist it is real.)

Immensely generous with "her special world" of Darkover, Marion loved encouraging new writers. We were already friends when she began editing the Darkover and Sword & Sorceress Anthologies. The match between my natural literary "voice" and what she was looking for was extraordinary. She loved to read what I loved to write, and she often cited "The Death of Brendan Ensolare" (Four Moons of Darkover, DAW, 1988) as one of her favorites.

Many readers have told me that the Darkover novels I have written are so close to the original series, they feel as if Marion had written them. I'm delighted to have succeeded so well in staying faithful to her literary voice as well as her world. (And there have been a few amusing reviews along the lines of, "It's easy to tell when Bradley left off and Ross began..." when I had in fact written the whole thing!) But am I channeling Marion?

In short, no. Look, I loved Marion and respected her highly. We were friends and colleagues for many years. She was as close to a writing mentor as I've had. But careful attention to the established world of Darkover is very like doing historical research, and continuity of style, authorial voice, and the values and attitudes of Darkovan culture are not "channeling." They are doing a professional job. (Which is, in the end, the best way of honoring her vision.)


  1. A new Arthurian tv show premiered recently, featuring Morgan Le Fay as an evil sorceress, and I actually witnessed a few people stating stuff like "That's bullsh!t, Morgaine isn't a villain at all, they got it all wrong!"" Such is the power of Marion's creation.

    And yes; I think that, of all the collaborators Marion tried over the years, you're the most close to the true Darkover. The other collaborations, while wonderful books -- Margaret Alton is my favorite female character --, lacked a certain "feeling".
    Yours were the first that made me feel home again.

    -- Andre.

  2. Andre, that's one of the wonderful things about archetypal material--you can do so many things with it. Marion's version of an Avalon-that-never-was-but-should-have-been was so vivid and so true to the deep psychological resonances that it overshadows most of the rest.

    Thank you also for your kind words. The Marguerida Alton books had lots of interesting ideas and characters (I loved the haunted house in THE SHADOW MATRIX), but imho, they weren't Marion's Darkover. Not every writer is suitable for every shared-world project.