Everyone has heroes. Fictional or otherwise, our earliest heroes shape our perceptions of right and wrong, good and bad, love and hate. I was formed by my love for Batman, Prince Philip (of Sleeping Beauty fame, not British royalty), and Captain Kirk. And of course, my father, who introduced me to all of these and more, through our mutual love of reading SciFi and fantasy.
A family move during high school left me deeply unhappy. Everything and everyone I knew had been left behind and I found myself isolated, confused, utterly baffled and forced to make my own way through high school and puberty without any familiar landmarks.
I needed an anchor. I found one on Darkover, in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Worldwreckers. I can’t explain why Cottman Four, Regis, the Chieri, and matrix crystals anchored my soul in a way that no other world had, but from that point forward, I became obsessed. I wrote my first fan fiction, although in the early seventies I didn’t have a clue that was a thing. I spent decades scouring used book stores wherever the Navy sent me. I tracked down European editions, fan-written anthologies. My first cosplay was as a tower keeper.
Along the way, I learned that sexuality was a spectrum, that love didn’t look at gender. I learned tolerance for ‘the other.’ I learned about environmental causes, political issues, freedom from religion, found families.
I learned that women could write science fiction, too. I happily devoured Andre Norton, James Tiptree, Ursula Le Guin, Joanna Russ, Anne McCaffrey, Tanith Lee, Mercedes Lackey. All of these authors taught me about life, but still, nothing was as impactful as the universe inhabited by the beings on Darkover.
I cried when Marion Zimmer Bradley died. Her death shattered something inside me, and I couldn’t bring myself to read obituaries, the tributes about her contributions to the genre. If I saw her name trending, I got off line. I continued to search for the last two titles I was missing from her catalogue. One of the highlights of my trip to England in 2010 was finding both books at a used bookstore off Portobello Road. I thought it odd that so many of her books were available. The bookseller gave me such a look when I gushed about completing my collection.
I brought them home and slid them into a bookshelf devoted to those books I would rescue first if the house caught on fire. Three shelves, devoted to the woman whose writing had so influenced my life.
I decided to do a complete re-read in Darkover chronological order instead of release date. I googled it to make certain my chronology was correct.
There’s a line in Gordon Lightfoot’s The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald about turning minutes to hours. I don’t know how long I stared at that Wikipedia entry. I convinced myself it had been hacked, and checked every other source I could think of. My brain, my heart could not absorb the information that a woman who shaped my worldview was a monster. I got up from my chair, drove to the dollar store and brought home a pack of banker’s boxes. The shelves were emptied one by one.
The boxes sat in my living room for a couple weeks. I couldn’t bring myself to sell them although the secondary market was still booming. I didn’t want to donate them. I finally decided to recycle them, and carried them out to the bin. I went back in the middle of the night and pulled them out.
The Harry Potter books are gone. It is easy to avoid Johnny Depp, and I never liked Roman Polanski moves either. I stopped watching football and don’t miss it at all. Amoral politicians who promise good things don’t get my vote. I don’t travel to places which have encoded racial oppression for the sake of some romantic fantasy of history.
And the previously empty shelves are filled with other books and Star Trek figurines. The boxes sit in a little used closet, and I can forget about them and her for months at a time. I will probably never be able to read those books again.
I can’t change the person I became because of her writing.
I miss Darkover.