Tuesday 7 March 2023

Review: The Last Closet: The Dark Side of Avalon by Moira Greyland


Castalia House 2018, 528 pages

I am sure everyone who is into fantasy and science fiction will know the name of Marion Zimmer Bradley, winner of the World Fantasy Award for Lifetime Achievement and author of The Mists of Avalon and numerous Darkover novels and stories, as well as editing the Swords and Sorceress anthologies. During her lifetime she was one of the biggest names in the genre, and even had a long-established magazine named after her: Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Fantasy Magazine.

Rumours of a darker aspect of the author’s life arose even during her lifetime, though, especially in regard to the activities of her second husband, world class coin expert Walter H. Breen who was banned from some science fiction conventions in the States from as early as the 1960s for his unwelcome interest in some of the young boys who attended them. He was first charged for these kind of offences in 1954, though back then he only received a probationary sentence. Later, his continual pursuance of vulnerable young boys who came within his sphere of influence resulted in his imprisonment.  

Not only was Moira Greyland’s father guilty of openly indulging in sexual activity with minors, so did her mother, who molested her from when she was three to twelve.

The narrative contains a fascinating if horrifying insight into the lives of people who saw themselves as living alternate lifestyle from the hippy heydays of the 1960s in west coast America, with drugs, alcohol and sexual “freedom”. Just as Charles Manson exposed one dark side of this, so the Bradley/Breen lesbian/homosexual household revealed another. And despite Bradley’s success as a best-selling fantasy writer, the children of that family were exposed to activities and people that left them broken. Herself a fervent feminist and lesbian, Marion Zimmer Bradley was openly disappointed that her daughter, Moira, did not follow suit. In the end Moira freed herself from the narrow vision of life which her “free-thinking” parents tried to imprison her in and carved a life and career of her own as a harpist, actor and writer. As much as The Last Closet is an expose of the warped worldview of her parents, this is the saga of a girl who managed to keep her mind intact and broke free from the indoctrination her parents tried to impose on her. It’s the story of how Moira Greyland managed to survive her warped upbringing and rise above it.

“In my family the slightest dissent amounted to complete, unequivocal betrayal.”

The true horror of her family was the freedom of expression and tolerance for beliefs which her mother and father demanded for themselves was denied, derided and suppressed for anyone holding views contrary to theirs. In the end, the long-lasting damage her father’s activities were having on the young boys he seduced was too much for Moira Greyland and it was she who finally went to the police, and by doing so saved others from him in the future.

The final two hundred pages of this 528-page book are appendixes of court transcripts that substantiate the accusations against Moira Greyland’s parents and the complicity of Marion Zimmer Bradley in ignoring and, indeed, in condoning her husband’s paedophiliac activities.

Most biographies of writers tend not to be particularly fascinating but the revelations in this book are quite the opposite and well worth reading, if at the same time it’s disappointing to find that one of the “greats” of fantasy and science fiction could at the same time be such a horrific mother.

Reviewed by David A. Riley


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