EDIT: Since writing this post, I’ve learned about the author’s history of child molestation and abuse. I can no longer support MZB’s works or this book. You can read more on that here.
That’s the length of Marion Zimmer Bradley‘s magnum opus, The Mists of Avalon. It’s a retelling of Arthurian legend that tells the story of the women around and influencing King Arthur. The book itself, takes the tale back to its Celtic roots and to many, makes for a feminist shift in a traditionally patriarchal tale.
To me, 876 pages was by the far the lengthiest book I’d picked up by the beginning of 8th grade. It was daunting to hold this massive paperback in my small hands. It wasn’t the normal 4.33″ x 7.01″ size I was used to, but instead, it was the size of a hardback book. What some would call a “doorstop” of a book.
At age 13, I wasn’t a feminist. Honestly, I didn’t really know what a feminist was other than the fact that my father “hated them” and blamed them for the fall of Christianity in the United States. When Pat Robertson said that feminism was the “socialist, anti-family, political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism, and become lesbians,” my father believed him.
One of my best friends at the time (who was both a feminist and an atheist—my father was crapping kittens!) encouraged me to read this book to gain some perspective “from the other side“—something other than the indoctrination from my childhood.
This book changed my life, but not because it was leading the feminist movement or anything so grand. When I read the story, I only saw strong characters who stood up for themselves. Strong characters who defended others against those who would harm them. That they happened to be women, meant very little in terms of the story. But it meant everything in terms of my own viewpoint.
I’d always been taught that the patriarchy was everything. That my role in life was to marry a man, make him food, clean his house, and give him children. The idea that I could lead my own life, whatever that might be, was eye opening. Liberating, if you will.
I can’t say I was a feminist overnight or that the ideals of my father were shaken off in this sudden gust of wind, but The Mists of Avalon took hold of my self and gave me the courage needed to find me.
I went on to explore other works by MZB and eventually, when I released my first musical album in college (Walls, Boxes, & Jars), I titled one of the tracks after Marion Zimmer Bradley (you can listen to it here). She died the year I wrote that particular piece. Something about it reminded me of her. Of the battle authors like her fought long before I was old enough to hold a pencil or click a mouse.
Science Fiction and Fantasy was, for a very long while, a man’s world. Female authors used male or male-sounding names to get published (Alice Norton used Andre Norton, Andrew Norton, and Allen Norton for example). Or they used their initials. (C. J. Cherryh used both her initials and added the “H” at the end because her editor said her last name, Cherry, sounded too much like a “romance writer.”) All because no one would believe it possible for a woman to know anything bout writing, much less science or science fiction.
Here we are, many years later, and women can use their names. Women can write science fiction and fantasy. Women can do whatever they set their minds to do.
Want to read other Flashback Fridays? Click here to see the list in this series.