The Case of Marion Zimmer Bradley

Marion Zimmer Bradley was a paedophile abusing her own kids. She should have been put into a prison. The readers don’t need to boycott her books necessarily, assuming that the incomes are to be given to NGOs fightning paedophilia. The sad and alarming thing is that some friends of her claim that they didn’t observe anything wrong in her relations with children. And that her second husband was a damned paedophile, too. The dubious things might be actually some descriptions in her books — a rapist bastard avoiding any legal punishment in Two to Conquer, a brother having a crush for his sister in The Winds of Darkover and Stormqueen! as well. Or the strange repulsion towards sex during pregnancy (some transfered remorse?). It might be connected with the terrible things she did, or might not.

These things should be important if we’re discussing this problem.

However, I don’t see the point of some claims, especially on Goodreads and especially concerned with The Mists of Avalon. Marion Zimmer Bradley wasn’t a sexual criminal because she was a feminist/non-heteronormative/sceptic about Christianity/was writing about extramarital sex. Ursula K. LeGuin was an atheist-feminist. Does it mean she was a paedophile? E. M. Forster was a gay depicting some religiously sceptic characters in A Room with a View. Does it mean he was a paedophile? Balzac, Marquez, Sigrid Undset, Boccaccio—they all wrote about extramarital sex a lot, even if their descriptions weren’t as explicite as at Bradley’s. Some of them were anticlericals of sort as well. Does it mean they were paedophiles?

Nope.

My Numerous Problems with Darkover Series – Part One

Imagine a planet with cold giant sun and mysterious native species. Imagine people of Celtic and Spaniard origin colonizing it and establishing a feudal society. Imagine nobility and social prestige based on psi powers. Welcome to Darkover.

My Adventure with Darkover

Having read Mists of Avalon I wanted something else, something new by Marion Zimmer Bradley. I excepted that Darkover would be a stunning mix of Celtic and Spanish-like motives, of fantasy and science fiction. I had been waiting four years until I managed to buy books. I was delighted by Thunderlord and by Two To Conquer. I was dissapointed by the earlier books in the series (like Star of Danger and The Planet Savers). I enjoyed the two sequels to Traitor’s Sun, but I found the book itself irritating. Anyway, the whole series did not meet my expectations. I was expecting something more feminist and more compassionate towards commonfolk. Bradley was considered as a feminist, wasn’t she? I thought that feminists shouldn’t be conservative about social classes and feudalism issues. Usually, they are liberal or socialist at such matters. I thought that in feminist’s books rape culture and patriarchy should be explained, but not justified.

In a nutshell: I expected another Ursula K. Le Guin. I was wrong, and I found Darkover books problematic on many levels. Let me explain, why.

NOTE: Maybe I should not publish this post at all. For twenty six books in the series, I’ve read sixteen (adding Stormqueen!). I am not able to express my opinion about the whole series. I have not read Heritage of Hastur and Sharra Exile, which are often considered as the most important ones. I have not read books about Renunciates and some cooperations by Deborah J. Ross. If these unread books somehow contradict the issues I’ll mention below, let me know.

False Feminism and Inconsequent Patriarchy

If you think that Bradley’s books were feminist from the very beginning, you are wrong. In Star of Danger there is no female character at all, except one random leroni (a female term for a person wielding psi laran powers) dealing with weather issues. An elf-like chieri met at the end of the book, as a hermaphrodite, shouldn’t count, I suppose. As long as we are not searching for any non male character. Instead we have two adolescent boys from Different Worlds, a guest from the Earth and a Darkovan aristocrat. They have a Lesson of Survival, they Learn from Each Other and they establish a Frendship Despite Prejudices. Sooo original. Twain did such motives better, Bradley.

But it is not the point. We have one book without any female characters. Do you think that the first published book in the series (1958), The Planet Savers, will be better? Nope.

Let’s meet Kyla. She’ s Darkovan Free Amazon, a Renunciate, a mountain guide and a warrior in the patriarchal world. The main character, doctor Allison, describes her in such words:

Her nose was snubbed and might have looked whimsical but was instead oddly arrogant. Her mouth was wide, and her chin round.

To Save a World omnibus, p. 40

So what we have here? Stereotypical mixture of childish appearance (snubbed nose and round chin) of a woman and provocative interpretation of that appearance. Really, describing women as kids is awful enough. It indicates that men prefer childish women, obedient and innocent, over the independent and experienced ones.

The further, the worse. Allison and Kyla are going on an expedition to find a treatment for a very dangerous Darkovan disease. Except Kyla the guide the whole party is male. Allison thinks that Kyla may provoke these men to rape only by her very presence. She assures him that she will not make any trouble. Yeah, it is described in that way. Rape culture so much, and all that bad on so many levels.

It doesn’t matter that the men from expedition should be accustomed to Renunciate’s as Darkovans. It doesn’t matter that Allison is from more progressive Terra and yet he holds such opinions. It doesn’t matter that victims should never be to blame. It is not your behaviour or presence which cause rape.

I know, I know. This book was published over sixty years ago. I know that science fiction writings were quite male-centered and sexist at these times. Maybe just popular fiction missed entirely decades in comparison to the classics who had been able to write about convincing female characters (like Emma Bovary or Anna Karenina) even in the 1800s. Oh yes, there was hidden misogyny in these books also. But this book was written by a woman and this woman was considered as a feminist some years later. I was hoping that The Planet Savers would outstand sexist undercurrents of these times. I was wrong.

In The Bloody Sun it is indicated several times that the Darkovan women have better position than the Terran ones. Children get the surnames according to parent’s rank in the society, not to the gender. Leronis from laran Towers can have sex casually and are not obliged to stay virgins (except the Keepers). What Bradley forgets to mention is that these questions applies only to small part of the Darkover’s population. Not many people have laran and most of women is bounded by expectations and limitations of medieval-like world. They cannot inherit before men, choose a job or rule independently (as a full ruler instead as a consort). Bradley points out all these matters in later books but even then she justifies patriarchy. In Traitor’s Sun the Darkovan patriarchy is justified by… high children’ mortality rate. Really. Something like “We needed kids on hard-climate planet, and that’s why we were overprotective towards women.” In our history there were many societies where conditions where as harsh as on Darkover, and yet women enjoyed much more rights. There were many queens (like Elizabeth the First from England) who ruled independently. In Celtic Ireland the dominant position in the household was based on wealth, not on the gender. In medieval Norway, the first son got the main estate and the title, but all other children had rights to other goods and estates from both parents. In early modern Netherlands, daughters from the first marriage inherited before sons from the second marriage. In all these places, I suppose, mortality rate of children was not any better than on Darkover. Besides, Darkovan patriarchal and war-centered culture does not make sense anyway. With all these psi powers, laran-wielders should rule here, and knowing that women have these powers as well as men… Looking at it logically, they shouldn’t be discriminated!

What is the most false feminist-like is the attitude towards sex described in the Forbidden Circle omnibus. We have there four main characters: a Terran Andrew Carr, a laranzu Damon Ridenow and the Alton twin sisters, Callista and Ellemir. Altons and Ridenows are prominent noble houses. Andrew rescues Callista the virgin Keeper from Evil! Catmen (I am going to describe racist undercurrents towards native Darkovan species later) and marries her. Damon marries Ellemir who is about twenty years his junior. It turns out that Callista is afraid of sex. So, after quite dangerous try, she proposes Andrew to sleep with Ellemir. And guess what? It is Darkovan custom. If a wife is pregnant, ill or unwilling, a husband can take her sister as a lover. And we can stumble upon on that in other Darkovan books as well. Could you explain me where there is damned feminism here (except that the wife wouldn’t be raped)? Such a custom is rather typical for a patriarchal society where sex is seen as a need for men and a duty for women. You know, a man must have sex, otherwise he’ll be dead. If wife cannot grant him sex, then it must be some other woman. It reminds me of how Henry VIII treated ladies-in-waiting (and not only he). Anyway, in such societies men were allowed to be infidel (discreetly or openly). What is more, on Darkover patriarchal prejudices also follow. No woman enjoy sex during pregnancy; really😅? These great laran – wielders do not know how the women’ body works?

You know, that custom wouldn’t be so bad if women were allowed to do something similar – for instance, taking a lover when a husband is ill or far away for months. But, as you’ve probably guessed, they are not. Double Standard rules!

My Numerous Problems with Darkover Series – Part Five

NOTE: In the previous parts, I examined the questions important for particular worldview and set of values. I tried to prove (but this was by no means my main goal) that Darkover series is not as progressive as some people would think. That it is not feminist by the modern standards, that it has many classists and racists undercurrents, and so… But now I’ll examine such questions like insonsistent worldbuilding and literary cliches, which are issues regardless of the reader’s worldview.

Inconsistent and Illogical Worldbuilding

From the current perspective, the science background behind the Darkover books is not up-to-date. The planet orbits a red giant sun, is colder than the Earth and the orbital period counts for about 1.25 Terran years. And gravitation is about 0.95 the Terran one. All that information, put together, seems to be contradictory. There is a red giant star, and yet orbital period and gravity are quite close to the circumstances on Earth? Ok, maybe the star has roughly the Sun’s mass (it is possible), but still, the red giants are much more luminous than our sun. People wouldn’t be accustomed to such luminosity, and what is more, the planet would be fried. But OK, the series started in 1958, before all these researches about habitable zones and so. Well, when it comes to gravitation, gravity circumstances might be met, but what bothers me more is the planet’s climate. Darkover is said to be colder than our Earth, with roughly Norway-like climate conditions on its equator. And yet there is a great sand desert with Dry Towns, and this desert is by no means far away from other lands; it should be in the same climate zone in which the other parts of Darkover are! And yet it is hot at day and cold at night, like typical earth-like desert in Africa or Asia. Assuming that in our world there are no sand deserts in boreal and cool-temperate climate zone (which Darkover would suit into), the Darkovan desert shouldn’t exist at all. And, besides, green plants on a planet with red sun are not so obvious. But, again, the first books were published over sixty years ago, when nobody cared about hyphotethical mix of plants’ colour and received light.

Maybe I shouldn’t be nitpicky about some plot flaws and inconsistencies as well. Maybe I shouldn’t care about Cleindori and her two different biological mothers (it depends if you read The Bloody Sun or The Alton Gift). Maybe I shouldn’t care about Kermiac Aldaran and his daughter Thyra, who would be roughly about one hundred-and-thirty and ninety yers old in The Heritage of Hastur, if we took Rediscovery seriously. Maybe I shouldn’t care about how few information we have about Darkovan judical and tax system. Maybe I shouldn’t care about language mix leading to guys called Fransisco Alvarez and Gwyn-Alar Aldaran leaving in a very close neighbourhood. About talking that cahuenga language resembles pure Gaelic, and yet the given samples do not resemble it at all. About fashion mix when you have jerkins, vests, tunics and hooves in roughly the same period. Ok, I shouldn’t. Because there are other inconsistent universes like Middle-Earth and Hain of Le Guin, and yet I love them. Because not everybody is damned philologist like Tolkien. Because if I wrote a fantasy book, the fashion mess would be the same. So… Ok. Let’s don’t care about all these inconsistencies.

Literary Cliches

Having read The Bloody Sun, The Winds of Darkover and The Forbidden Circle omnibus, I noticed a pattern. The main Terrans characters are all male with some kind of a military or agent past. Their relationships with (often numerous) women used to be brief and trivial until they would meet a Darkovan True Love, usually a bit younger girl from an aristocratic family. Thanks to such a woman, our male protagonist finds a True Home on Darkover. In later books, we have another pattern – a rebellous, go-ahead girl from the commonfolk and a shy, unsure aristocrat like Domenic or Gareth. Honestly, even if this is also some kind of a cliche, I would still prefer such relationships to Experienced Men and Beautiful Virgins in the previous books. Maybe it is actually Deborah Ross’ merit? I found Thunderlord and The Children of Kings much nicer than some original books, so… Thunderlord is also a bit predictable – you have Different but Loving Sisters, a Marriage Shift, a Loyal Servant and Related Rivals. And yet it is more climatic and optimistic than Stormqueen!, and Edric is by no means a Toxic True Love, and even Gwyn-Alar has only one particularly stupid action. And what is more, finally the resolution for wife’s infertility (or, at whole, for marital problems) is not that Darkovan custom of sanctioned male infidelity! So, really, this is nice, easy and readable stuff. Also, at last we don’t have any stereotypical Womanizers-Bastardmakers like Bard di Asturien, Esteban Lanart or Mikhail and Kermiac Aldaran (maybe in this family it is some kind of tradition?).

The books about modern Darkover have some other cliches as well. In Part Two of my essay I’ve examined Regis Hastur as typical Mary Sue. I mentioned Lew Alton, too. He would be quite interesting as a Broken Ruler (really, this trope is very rare in fantasy), but instead he is typical foreground Broken Man character. He had had problems with drinking, he lost his arm due to Sharra’s outbreak, he feels guilty of Deeds From the Past, he is a widower… And Marguerida remembers him as a difficult father, when she was a small child. And here I have a problem. From Sharra’s Exile summary it seems to me that unconscious Lew had been raped by Thyra Darriell, and then Marguerida was conceived. Bradley? Do you really think that a man couldn’t be raped? That he couldn’t feel humiliated? That he might find difficult to love a child conceived of rape? Marguerida is by no means to blame. Yet I think that Lew had reasons, very terrible reasons to have some problems with instant and paternal love towards his child. Although Traitor’s Sun and The Alton Gift are full of retrospections, this particular question is never mentioned.

From these books we can soon acknoweladge that Regis is not the only Mary Sue in this universe. Marguerida is a talented composer, a local feminist and a capable Chatelaine at once, brought up out of Darkover. She has rare golden eyes (the Cullens send approval) and she is always loving and understanding towards her kids. She has shadow matrix imprinted into her hand, and thanks to their Great Love, she can work with Mikhail together without any real matrix stone. In The Alton Gift, the vaccine for dangerous trailmen fever is produced almost only by Marguerida’s effort. Her first son, Domenic, was conceived in The Other World, and he is able to sense the whole planet by his laran, which is Very Unique. And do not forget that he doesn’t want to be a Ruler, that he is always compassionate towards the commonfolk. And that he was a strange and aloof child. Well, I smell two Mary Sues. Not to mention stereotypical villains like Belfontaine or Embittered Old People like Javanne Hastur.

The problem with Darkovan characters (except from some early books like The Planet Savers, The Star of Danger or The World Wreckers) is not that they are really poorly written. They are usually quite believable and very often likeable. Some – like Melora or Gareth – are even original, at least by the series’ standards. But then these characters have very stereotypical Trauma, or they do something apparently too great for one person, and it is so Mary Sue-like.

Conclusion

Maybe it is my whole problem with the series: some things are interesting, fresh, considerate and vivid. And then, when you expect a consequent and consistent work, all the bias, discrimination and stereotypes attack from supposedly feminist and progressive books.

It is not like that I despise all the series. Thunderlord and Two to Conquer are ones of my favourite fantasy books. Darkover, cold, montainous and feudal, is a fascinating place itself. I’m just aware that this series begun as poorly written, typical “sword and planet” stories, and that they are many more progressive writers like Ursula K. Le Guin or China Mieville. If you want to read Darkover books just because you’ve heard that Bradley is feminist, then, well, you’d better pick up something else. If you just want some kind of science fantasy and dynastic family saga without class and racial issues highlighted, then these books would be perfect.

My Numerous Problems with Darkover Series – Part Four

Illusion of Full Understanding towards LGBT People

At first it seems to be that Darkover series is very progressive about LGBT people. Even in the books from the seventies – like The World Wreckers and The Forbidden Tower – you have homosexual and bisexual positive characters. You have Regis and Danilo, you have Andrew and Damon, who love not only their wives, but each other, too. You have hermaphrodites chieri. You have emmasca (people usually of half-chieri origin) whose sex would stay neuter or came out during puberty. In later books you have lesbian marriages among Renunciates and the pairing of Roderic (Marguerida’s second son) and Niall, his friend from the Guards. Pretty progressive? Not as much as you think. Ok, we should appreciate that Bradley portrayed non-hetero and non-binary people without any visible bias. But from modern perspective, many of her LGBT characters are quite stereotypical. Except Regis and Danilo, other non-hetero relationships often suit into seme-uke cliche.

In The World Wreckers one of the main themes is the love between Terran David and chieri Keral. Keral is one of the youngest in xir race and never had encounteted humans before. Xe is hermaphrodite, but during the time of sexual arousal xe changes into a female of course. And then gots pregnant. Xe is shy and delicate, and never had had sex before. Innocent Virgin and an Experienced Man from harlequins so much. Or uke and seme. Anyway, it is just stereotypical. I have two main problems with this relationship. At first, even if David declares that he loves Keral no matter what gender or sex xe is, they have sex as a male and a female. Can’t David be pan- or bisexual? At second, it seems to me that in this book Bradley wasn’t able to imagine a non-stereotypical love relationship with a non-binary person. Keral is described as beautiful, shy and delicate like a very stereotypical female character. The same applies to xir first sexual experiences, and xir pregnancy. Non-binary people do not need to resemble exactly men or exactly women. Not to mention that women are so shy and inexperienced only in some victorian-age fantasies. Can’t Keral just be brave and talkactive, or anything not ukeish?

In The Forbidden Tower there is a bit similar pattern. Andrew is a big and strong man, firm and decisive. He had worked on many planets as a some kind of bodyguard or a soldier. At first, he is scarred of being attracted towards men, too. Damon is thin and not tall. He is described as a man with scholar look, and he had never been good as a warrior. So, you see, we have a strong one and a weak one, a big one and a small one. Seme and uke so much.

When I’ll read The Heritage of Hastur, I let you now if similar cliches are present in relation between Regis and Danilo.

And what about The Alton Gift, and Roderic and his boyfriend? They are marginal characters. The main Love Story is the triangle between Domenic, Illona and his moody cousin Alanna (then Alanna – after pages of teenage drama – comes to think that she can’t really love Domenic, and allows him to stay with Illona, besides). And the whole love of Roderic and Niall seems to come down to “I am a homosexual, please parents, accept that I probably won’t have any kids.” And guess what? It is revealed literally at the end of the book. Complex and true portrait of two men’ love so much.

And one more thing, too. Except chieri and emmasca, there is no non-binary people in the books. I have problem with it because both these group are born non-binary. What Darkover series lacks is a wholly human character who would discover xir non-binary identity on xir own, who wouldn’t be incined to it by biology.

Racism Hidden and Explicit

I don’t think that there is an obligatory to put all the human races into your universum. Do not misunderstood me. I think that non-white people – after centuries of colonialism and discrimination – deserve complex and interesting portrayal. That is why I enjoy Earthsea and Seven Kennings so much, with their mixed cultures and unobvious inspirations from many civilisations and historical periods. But I think that some authors – like C. S. Lewis and David Eddings – just should not have put people of color into their books. Because they did it in stereotypical and harmful way. And to some extent, it applies also to Darkover series. Not to mention even that colonists were only of Celtic and Spaniard (only Spanish, not even South American) origins.

In the whole series, they are only three non-white characters, from Terra. They are all black, and only two of them is somehow important. One appears in The World Wreckers and two in Rediscovery, the cooperation with Mercedes Lackey (maybe people of color were Lackey’ idea?). And of course red-haired and light-skinned Comyns (racist and Aryan race undercurrents so much… Really, it does not look just only as inspiration by stereotypical Celtic redheads) are sooo much surprised seeing brown-skinned people in Rediscovery. And what we have in this particular book? The only significant non-white character is Ysaye Barnes. She is thirty-years-old virgin and computer maniac from fanatically religious family. This mix is just… Strange. Maybe Bradley intended to make a non-stereotypical character, but somehow all the queerness of Ysaye is a cliche, too. Besides, I don’t like Rediscovery because of all its inconsistencies (Marguerida’s mother would bear her somehow at the age of ninety, if we consider this book’s chronology reliable) and because of Kermiac Aldaran. Stereotypical, damned womanizer. Among all the womanizers depicted in fantasy books, only Guy Gavriel Kay’s characters did I find more irritable.

The second black-skinned character from The World Wreckers falls in love with a half-chieri, mischevious former prostitute, and that is the main plot about him. No comments.

Racists undercurrents (even if equally unawared) are present also when it comes to the native Darkovan species.

Chieri, as some kind of local elves, are often portrayed as superior and more subtle to the people. All the other natives – small trailmen, bird-like Ya-men, cralmacs, Catmen, Forge Folk- are portrayed as inferior to humans, and often as the hostile ones. This hostility is especially highlighted in The Winds of Darkover and in The Spell Sword (part of The Forbidden Circle story). In the first book, people from the Alton lands are fightning against Ya-men. But the most important part of this book is the seizure of the Storn castle by a bandit called Brynat Scarface (I can’t stop seeing him as Tony Montana, sorry). Brynat’s people are evil, ugly and terrible. And guess why? Because they are of mixed origin. Poor aristocrats seized by people of mixed origin… Gone With The Wind so much. And if you are curious, dangerous and mysterious Sharra is the goddess of the Forge Folk. The same Sharra who, trapped in the matrix, would destroy Caer Donn city in The Heritage of Hastur. Remember, beliefs of the natives are vicious!

In The Spell Sword, we don’t acknowledge anything about Catmen’ culture. They are only depicted as the main antagonists who torment the Altons’ lands and who must be defeated. They are Evil! because the had kidnapped Callista and because they want to use the matrix powers independently.

And poor trailmen. They are described almost as monkeys. They are furry and they live on trees. They are afraid of fire and then the Good Illuminated People (in The Star of Danger) teach them how to make it and how to controll it. And in The Planet Savers there is not only rape culture, but pure nazism too. The trailmen are – indirectly – the cause of fever which streak Darkover for each 49 years. And our lovely doctor Allison suggests exterminating trailmen, and there will be no problem. No, his is not considered mad or evil. Only neurotic and not especially nice. Allison? You are fascist, racist asshole.

And there are kyrri, too. They serve at Towers because they like serving people. Oh yeah…

And cralmacs… At least they are described with a bit of compassion in Stormqueen!, as they are the result of laran genetic experiments. But such compassion is nothing in comparison to the all racist, pro-colonialist, patronizing and negative descriptions of other non-human species in Darkover books. It might be better that non-humans are rarely featured in the later books. At least, there is no additional bias to the previous ones.

Maybe Catmen just wanted their land backs. Maybe humans were more cruel towards the natives than it was admitted in the series. But not, the whole issue of different species and races is described in Darkover books usually from only one perspective. From perspective of white privileged humans.

My Numerous Problems with Darkover Series – Part Three

Lack of Intersectionality and Gender Issues

I am well aware that feminism has changed a lot during recent decades. That probably explains why in earlier Bradley books we have hippie-like described questions of free love or polyamory, and then (in The Alton Gift or inThe Children of Kings) we get supposedly emancipated, but monogamical relationships (Mikhail and Marguerida, Domenic and Illona). That explains many other things in the series.

Why, then, should I demand intersectionality in the books in which the feminist undercurrents first appeared in the mid seventies? Because that would prove that Darkover Series is somehow outstanding. Well, it is not. And what is more, intersectionality is not a question of recent ten or twenty years. Published in 1995 Four Ways To Forgiveness by Ursula K. Le Guin copes with this question, showing how slavery and patriarchy are connected, and how the slave women are more endangered by sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination than the free ones. And guess what? Of course Bradley does not see that feudalism and patriarchy are connected, that one hierarchy creates another one. She criticises only patriarchy, but not the hierarchical social order. For her, these themes are completely unconnected. (Besides, the only book concerning more deeply commonfolk’ problems is The Heirs of Hammerfell. The peasants from Hammerfell are endangered by losing of their rural grounds, and the Lost Heir promises them to find another lands. And that is all. Oh, yeah, and we have also a help for everybody in the times of cholera epidemy in The Alton Gift. Bradley? It is not enough. By the way of feudal questions.) From her books, we don’t see how common women are exposed to the violence from the privileged ones. In Two To Conquer Bard di Asturien made harm to soooo many women, but yet the most highlighted cases were of Melisendra (a leroni from one of minor noble houses) and of Carlina, the king’s daughter and the Bard’s wife. There was also Lysandra, a servant girl, but her plot seems to be designed only to show How Vicious Bard Was. Do not misunderstood me. It is great that Bradley showed that every type of rape is evil (marital also, damn!). But she didn’t describe how some groups of women would be more endangered. What is more, Bard didn’t receive any official punishment for his actions. He should have been out into the darkest dungeon, damn! But not, he experiences all his terrible deeds from Carlina view, and for Bradley, it is enough. And then he rescues his sonny from a fire, so he is A Good Man now, and we shouldn’t punish him. But still I like this book, because it is more climatic than the most Darkover series, and we have an Evil One as a protagonist, and Melora (Melisendra’s sister) is just… Super.

Anyway, in Darkover books problems of common women are rarely mentioned. When they are, they are usually cut to a perspective of a leroni or a Renunciate who benefits of the new life, because in the previous one she would be just married off and soon got a pack of kids. It is also often inclined that such women’ husbands tend to be abusive. Do you really think then that there is no domestic violence among the aristocracy? *Facepalm*

We can find another troubles with intersectionality in Traitir’s Sun. Not to mention that the whole intrigue and secret political meetings are performed by men. Not to mention that Hermes Aldaran, one of the Good Guys, is almost as good in cheating his wife as Michael Corleone. Not to mention that Marguerida (supposedly equal to her husband, yes?) is involved only in the final battle. There is some much more darker aspect in this book.

Dyan Ardais, Illona’s father, is described as a guy with terrible reputation who is not willing to marry, and who has entirely a dozen of illegitimate children with commonfolk women. In The Alton Gift he is shown yet in another way: as a Poor Outsider being forced to marry by the society. I can’t see him as a man longing for love, deserving compassion. What I rather see is another Esteban Trueba raping helpless peasant women. Assuming that Dyan is privileged and that Darkover is a feudal society, I can hardly imagine that all (or the most) of his relationships were the voluntary ones. Do you think that I am exxagerating? That landowners, nobles, plantators didn’t use to rape peasant women, serving maids, slaves? It was terribly common. Ok, maybe The House of Spirits is too leftist for you? Well, you can as well find similar proofs in Absalom, Absalom! or in Crime and Punishment. I suppose that these books are not especially subversive, at least when it comes to political matters. Anyway, the point is: Dyan is probably a rapist bastard. And nobody cares about it.

Themes of gender roles are rarely touched, too. Do you know why I like Le Guin’s Tehanu so much? Because Tenar orders his son to wash the dishes. Seems to be unimportant, but yet… Really, do you think that we will be emancipated without equal share of house duties? Such daily matters are actually the core of feminism. And in Darkover series we do not see it much. Marguerida performs traditional Chatelaine duties while her husband is a regent. The same with Regis and Linnea. The only guy taking care of a small kid is Hermes Aldaran (and it is only mentioned), but he lived on Terra back then. It seems to that on Darkover the only subversive, non-masculine role for a man is being a monk or a laranzu. If a woman wants an independent life, she has only two choices: Renunciate or laran Tower. But, oops, laran is usually inherited…

What is more, in so-called feminist books gender roles are almost never discussed. The only conversation close to it is in Two to Conquer. But even then it is a bit exxagerated. Melora? Believe me, a man does not need to wear a skirt to cook something.

Illusion of Shelter

Dragonriders of Pern, Knights of Jedi, Heralds of Valdemar, laranzu-in and Renunciates of Darkover, and many other fictional orders/groups/institutions have one thing in common. They are some kind of an enclave, of a shelter in often feudal or unjust universe. You can join them thanks to your gifts or abilities, not because of your priviliged social position or connections with aristocracy.

But such a shelter is an illusion. When we look at laran-wielders, we’ll soon acknowledge that it is quite elitary institution. The most important Tower in Arilinn takes only candidates from Comyn. What is more, many hidden laran talents would never get the chance, because are from the commonfolk, and it is found unnecessary to search among ordinary people. This change only in The Alton Gift. Former tries of Damon Ridenow and his forbidden Circle had had only one long-term effect: the Keepers no longer needed to be virgins.

When it comes to the Renunciates, it is not also very optimistic. Being a Renunciate is an escape only for women who like war and fightning. What should do a low-born woman – laranless and uninterested in being a warrior- dreaming about her own, independent job? Or about an equal marriage or relationship? What should do a clever and laranless child who is poor and cannot have a decent education? She or he has no solution, she or he cannot escape from patriarchal and feudal rules. So, the Renunciates and laranzu-in are very narrow paths to escape.

Attitude Towards Technology

In The Bloody Sun Jeff joins the Circle of Arilinn. The Circle meets with Pan-Darkovan League of merchants who demand mining of industry resources. The same – with machines – was proposed to them by Terrans. And then we have all the Comyn talking that Darkover does not need industry, that people would be only abused in factories. Feudalists warn about capitalists. How cute. This is exactly my problem. Darkovan people are already opressed by feudal system. And, besides technology and industry can be very useful for them and improve their lives. What is more, maybe thanks to the laran damage to the environment could be avoided? In some books (The World Wreckers, Traitor’s Sun) ecological issues are important. Thoughtless capitalism is obviously evil and leads to disaster for natural environment. It is good that Bradley points it out. But Darkover would be able to improve its inhabitants’ live without any ecological crisis. And this possibility is never fully used. Eternal Iron Age with occasional laran-made aircrafts for the Wealthy Ones is not good for anybody. But, of course, any major progress would mean some social changes, and social changes – as we’ve learned from Traitor’s Sun – are Evil!

It is directly connected to some conversation that Damon Ridenow and Andrew Carr have in The Forbidden Tower. Terran Andrew finds being a servant as something humilating. And guess what? Damon thinks that working with a machine in Terran Base is humilating, because you are submissed to a computer. And that servants should be actually grateful because such mansions as Armida provide them a job. *Facepalm*

Damon, my dear? Your servants do not need aristocrats. Aristocrats need servants, because they don’t like rushing their own asses, and they have houses so big that these houses cannot clean themselves and so. And they are, of course, bothered with such severe activities like hunting or balling.They are privileged and wealthy, so they can afford themselves a hell bunch of servants. And believe me, if there were no aristocracy, the commonfolk would be probably richer so that many people wouldn’t need to leave their homes and seek for a servant’s job. And besides, I’d rather prefered a submission to a computer than to any feudal lord. Because the computer cannot beat you, rape you or harm you in any similar way. And the whole submission to it comes to some hours behind a desk.

My Numerous Problems with Darkover Series – Part Two

NOTE: I do not expect that every writer (or even the majority of writers) would have pro-democratic/liberal/socialist/moderately conservative worldview. I do not expect that every fantasy book would promote democratic values. But I can see that most fantasy literature is quite thoughtless, naive or conservative, when it comes to question of social classes, governing and so. What I only want are some books more progressive in these matters. Darkover series is denifinitely not, and in this part of essay I am going to explain why. Anyway, portrayal of feudalism, monarchy and social inequalities in fantasy (and science fantasy, when it comes to Darkover) books is a good theme for another essay.

Strong Leadership Illusion

Thinking that people can’t manage without Strong Leader and that they cannot govern themselves is typical for ultraconservatives, no matter – in medieval times, at 1800s, thirty years ago or nowadays. It indicates that common people are stupid and weak, and that they need aristocracy over them. It justifies feudalism and social inequalities, and inclines that people need the rules of heavy hand, a whip over them.

Do you think that Bradley would go so far? Well, not entirely. But in her books she tends to idealize and justify archetypical Strong Leaders who are by no means ruling in democratic way. Anyway, according to her, Darkovans do not need democracy. About it – later. Now let’s examine Strong Leaders figures on Darkover.

At first, let’s look on Esteban Lanart, the father of Callista and Ellemir, and – which is the most important – the Lord of Armida and Altons’ lands. He finds Damon Ridenow not masculine enough (as a laranzu instead of a warrior, and Damon is really unhappy about that) and he threatened his oldest son to death, even if indirectly. And he treats his another son – an illegitimate – as a servant. Despite all these faults, Bradley tends to describe Esteban as a bit bossy but loving Pater Familias. I can’t stop seeing him as Esteban Trueba, to be honest. You know, the name, a similar personality, and even a Vengeful Bastard trope would match.

Why I am writing about him? Because through Esteban we can see what Bradley wasn’t able to realize – that too much power in too few hands means trouble, and that Bossy Fathers can really harm their children.

When Esteban got ill after a serious fight, there is nobody to replace him – because he had not trained anybody nor he had had somebody to co-rule or to help. Eventually, Damon becomes the commander of royal Guards (this task belongs traditionally to Altons) and the lord of Armida. The whole situation reveals how hard is to find a new ruler or commander when the whole method comes to one-person-rules. But Bradley sees only that there should be somebody as good as Esteban there – not that the whole system tends to be messy and inpredictable.

And when it comes to Bossy Fathers… Allende will do it better some years later. Well, you do not need even to look at magical realism. Magic’s Pawn by Lackey is enough. Esteban humiliated Damon, threatened his oldest son to death, made a frustrated monster of his bastard child. But nooot, he is so poor ’cause he’d become paralyzed and lost yet another son, and he is sooo good for Ellemir and Callista.

Bard di Asturien from Two To Conquer is another example of Strong Leader in Darkover Series. We’ll got him later, when we come to question of Darkovan feudalism. Okay?

Now let’s examine the most important and profound example – Regis Elhalyn y Hastur (yeah, they really have this Spanish naming custom). He was the only heir to the role of the Regent of whole Darkover. He took part in medical expedition which then would save Darkover. He made chieri cooperate with people again. He could use laran without matrix stone. He wielded legendary Sword of Aldones and for a while, he became the Lord of Light himself. After that, he aged greatly and his hair turned white. He was a homosexual forced literally to inseminate women due to have a heir. He rescued his True Love, Danilo Syrtis, from an Evil Pedophile. He loved Danilo all his live, but he was soooo good towards his own wife, Linnea. Well, I smell Tragic Mary Sue.

What is more, in the books it is constantly repeated how all the good ones admire and love Regis and how embittered ones (like his sister Javanne) and Evil Ones (like Terranan Station Chief Belfontaine) hate or despise him. I haven’t read some crucial books about Regis, but even from The World Wreckers or Traitor’s Sun (he dies then after a stroke) we can make out many things.

What this character lacks is some kind of demythologization. It would make Regis a fictional character written in a better way. Talking that he’d aged a lot ’cause of laran powers, and that he was so helpless after a stroke is not enough. I do not demand another Simon Bolivar from The General in His Labyrinth (although I would read willingly some fantasy evocation of him and his times, knowing that South America is so rare in fantasy fiction. But please not in interpretation of Guy Gavriel Kay! With him, I can easily imagine tons of creepy sex and talking about Destiny all the time). Why I mention here The General in His Labyrinth? Because of two things. At first, Marquez demythologized Bolivar. He showed him sick, ill, frail, embittered and inconsequent. At second, he revealed all these persons behind Bolivar’s success – his friends, military commanders and poor, constantly being betrayed Manuela Saenz (why did you stay with him!?😱Okay, I shouldn’t ask ’cause he is my waifu too).

In Regis’ case, we have none of these two things. His sickness or too-early-ageing is rather romanticized than naturalistic. His consort is shown mostly as a Loving Anchor, not as a political partner, and the same often applies to Danilo. His friends… Actually, Lew Alton is a good example of demythologization, but he is King’s Buddy, not the King himself. And – as I mentioned before – what we need here is a deconstruction of a ruler. What is more, when it comes to these friends, we are repeated how much they want Regis back not only as a person but as The Best Regent too. It applies to his successor Mikhail and his wife Marguerida, to her father Lew, and to her son Domenic (some kind of local John Snow, I would say). It is normal that we are longing for our friends and relatives. It is normal that we may feel insecure on a new and very important post. But all that talking that Regis was the best and that actually nobody could equal him just makes me sicks. Again, the problem of too much power into too few hands. And of something more petrifying. The good ones in Bradley books believe that Darkover would collapse without one-person-rules. Bradley likes Regis so much that she naively believes that feudalism and some kind of absolute monarchy (restrained only by aristocrats from Comyn Council) are good for people. Do not dare to dream about democracy or collective rules. Regent is a Regent and without him there would be only Evil! Terran agents and Evil! revolutionists. And this drives us to another question – portrayal of feudalism in the series.

Feudalism sucks? Not!

This question actually touches the core of our history and of all these democratic changes which have been taking place for the last two hundred years and so. Beware, ’cause I am going to make Evil! pro-democratic propaganda here!

You see, it seems to me that democracy is just better than any kind of dictatorship and any kind of absolute monarchy. If in all these past times there was so much of extreme poverty and inequalities, it was not only due to low medicine level or lack of advanced science. Some people were considered better because of their race, wealthy, sex or nobility. Some other people were treated as Undermenschen. Yes, I am using this fascist term on purpose. Because, believe me, all these concepts of social hierarchy, the better ones and the worse ones, have much in common with fascism. Much in common with slavery and with feudalism. Peasants, burghers, black people, Native Americans, women, religious minorities, Jews, LGBT people and many more – they were all treated as the worse ones because of different kinds of prejudices. And what is more, they were persecuted, enslaved, exterminated, they had not any political rights. Also, many of these groups didn’t use to receive any kind of education, because they were found unworthy of it. It was all thanks to blessed concept of hierarchy and social order.

And, besides, feudalism was nor fair nor worked well. Peasants were suppose to pay a rent or do a serfdom due to use the grounds. Knights and nobles didn’t use to work. They just owed grounds or they were going on a war with a king. And don’t miss all these feuds and so. During all these conflicts, peasants were not protected. Their villages were destroyed by foreign armies, they were killed and women raped. Often it was better to hide among forests than to hide in a castle. And please remember that in all these hierarchical societies, peasants women and serving maids were endangered by rape and sexual harassment. Well, all these things apply to Darkover.

And guess what? Many characters in Darkover series are also damned feudalists. And the whole point of these books seems to be the freedom of the planet from the Terrans, but not the freedom of commonfolk from the Comyn.

Most population of Darkover is illiterate and does not benefit from work of laran Towers – the laran-wielders are mostly preoccupied with mining and sending news from Tower to Tower. And please do not tell me that peasants or craftsmen do not need to know how to read and write. Education is always useful and gives people an opportunity to break the chain of social hierarchy and classism. But, of course, the great Comyn lords have exactly no interest in giving the commonfolk a chance. Oh, yeah, Marguerida Alton has founded two schools in the capital city of Thendara, and she has some friends among craftsmen. And she is considered the most progressive and the most compassionate. Because of these two schools in the biggest Darkovan city. Marguerida is no damned great philantropist, and – on a broader scale – there is nothing crucial in her doing. It is not question of politics but question of simply human decency – to help the less privileged ones.

It probably shows us what problems we have here. Except laran psi powers, Darkover is medieval-like, feudal world. Ordinary people have exactly no representation in the governing Council. Ok, it is even not medieval. In medieval times – in Scandinavia, in english House of Commons, in city-states republics – commonfolk usually had some kind of representatives, even if not numerous. On Darkover, there is nothing like that. The whole power – originally based on having psi powers – goes to the Regent and to the aristocratic Comyn Council. But even in the times of The Forbidden Circle (decades before Regis Hastur is born) most of the aristocracy is laranless. It reminds me of Early Modern Period, when the nobles ceased to be knights, but feudal privileges continued to exist.

What is more, we are repeated that Darkovans are not ready to have democracy. After Terrans departure (described in Traitor’s Sun) the Keepers join the Council (The Alton Gift) but not anybody of the commonfolk. During one of the Council session, Gabriel, Marguerida’s brother-in-law, admits that Darkover needs changes. But he states also that democracy is a corrupted form of governing. Gabriel? I want to kick your ass. On the other hand, there is no wonder that a guy from privileged class – afraid of losing his privileges – is talking like that. Democracy won’t be established on Darkover not because of harsh climate or preindustrial conditions. It won’t be established because the Comyn does not need it. The same applies to common education and other social changes.

Darkover series is nor pro-democratic nor pro-commonfolk. In the Two To Conquer (centuries before the main series), among numerous conflicted Darkovan kingdoms, we have a small state of Marenji. There is no king there and the people choose a ruler themselves. Team Marenji! And guess what? Bard di Asturien conquers it, and it is inclined that it only makes the Marenji people good. Arrrgh… Not to mention that Bard’s father is overambitious, and that Bard is a brute and a rapist bastard himself (but then his raped wife shows him by laran how Evil he had been, and he is converted to the Bright Side). So, remember: independent commonfolk is unnecessary commonfolk.

Bradley goes much further in Traitor’s Sun. In this book there is a group of revolutionists who want to establish a democratic government without Comyn. And guess what? They are lead, of course, by Evil! Terran agents. They are described in an overblown way, and they are Evil! ’cause they hate the Comyn.

To my mind, there is no wonder for such hate. Darkovan commonfolk scarcely benefits from the Towers’ work, Darkovan commonfolk must pay for the aristocracy and lives quite poorly. But not, of course revolutionists must be portrayed as the Evil Ones, as the collaborators and traitors. Bradley? You are closer to Mr. Edmund Burke than to any kind of liberalism or socialism. It is quite funny, because in questions of women, ecology or LGBT people these books are quite progressive (I’ll explain later why quite and not very) but when it comes to social classes and governing, ultraconservatives undercurrents approach. Here we have that typical ultraconservative thinking that commonfolk should nor govern itself nor fight for its rights.

Ordinary people are also not closely portrayed in these books. Terranan protagonists marry aristocrat women or turn out to be connected to the Comyn themselves (Larry from Star of Danger and Jeff from The Bloody Sun). Among native Darkovans, ordinary people have their POV’s in prologues and so, or they have no voice at all. Most stories are told from the Comyn perspective. Love of Domenic Alton-Hastur and Illona, a Keeper from the commonfolk (but even she must be a bastard child of the Comyn) does not change anything. The same applies to the relationship of Gareth Elhalyn (Regis’ grandson) and Rahelle, daughter of a tradesman. These love stories are mainly plot devices made up to show that Darkover is Changing.

It is also worth of notice how the aristocracy is portrayed in the series. It is often shown how poor the noblemen are, because they have So Big Responsibilities, and they cannot Marry For Love. Such a way is quite typical for Making Aristocracy More Human in the literature. You know, show that they are dreaming about True Love and normal life, and so. But what Bradley does not see is the privileged position of her characters. What she does not see is the poverty and humilation of ordinary Darkovan people. She seems to think that Darkovan traditions are good traditions, and she can’t realise that tradition could be toxic itself. Yes, a feminist writer does not see that when it comes to some particular questions.

And one more thing. Usually, aristocrats were not the only social group which couldn’t marry or choose a profession freely. Arranged marriages were common in every social class. Peasants had to look after the grounds, burghers – after developing and sustaining a family business. A wealthy marriage was a good way to achieve such a goal. Parents decided for children, and the same applied usually to the job. Boys were supposed to follow their fathers’ profession, girls – to marry profitably. Since Darkovan society is feudal and patriarchal, too, I suppose there is no big difference. Poor Comyns are not the only ones who cannot Follow Their Hearts or have A Dream Job.