Marion Zimmer Bradley from the Perspective of an Incest Survivor

Triggery triggery triggery triggery mctriggery from trigger town.

Hey. I was having lunch yesterday with Lisa and Dan, two of my closest friends. Bryon was also there.

You know that I have been sort of off blog because of the whole finish your novel thing, and Lisa let it slip that Jim Hines had written a blog about Marion Zimmer Bradley, Walter Breen and their abuse of their daughter. So many people have weighed in on this. Jim does a fine job of providing links, documents, and substantiation.

I said to Lisa and Dan and Bryon that obviously I was going to have to say something. Let me say it.

First of all, Moira, I don’t know you, and I don’t know if you will ever read this, but I am you. You are me. I am so proud of you talking about it, and I am so proud of you surviving and becoming the person that you are in spite of your parents.

Next, Mists of Avalon was a pivotal book for me as a young college student. I will be purging it from my collection. I’d like to find a way to use my autographed copy to get a donation for RAINN or Bikers Against Child Abuse International. I am torn. I don’t know if I can stomach the idea of selling that book to someone. I’m still thinking this through.


When I was a teenage girl, I was a student in Upward Bound, which is a college program for underprivileged kids. It helps them academically, as well as socially. In some ways, Upward Bound saved me. It was the first chance I had to live out of dysfunction, and I spent three summers away from home before I went to college, actually learning to talk to people. By this time in my life, my father had raped me. My abusive experiences stopped at thirteen, about the time I started having a period, but the ripples and repercussions of these events follow me still, and at sixteen, wounds were still stigmata in my soul.

There was another girl at Upward Bound. Her name was Pauline. She was a special needs student, and very odd. Another girl, older than me, Candy, was from the same town, and one night, Candy told me that everyone in her town knew that Pauline was being “bonked by her old man.”

I was incredulous to hear her say this. I said, “You know, and you don’t do anything?” My question was so loud and so startled, that Candy backpedaled and tried to continue to make it out like it was no big deal to make fun of it, like the family were those people, that they were the weird ones. Since I was beginning to get my social bearings, without telling Candy about my background, I let her know exactly what I felt about that silence. We never talked about it again.

I wanted Pauline to go to the counselors, but I couldn’t get her to. And I didn’t realize quite yet, due to my own background, that I could have gone for her. I know that there are several organizations that would condemn me for this attitude. At any rate, I didn’t go.


I have been very open about my abuse, and to a lesser extent, my brothers’ abuse, at the hands of my parents. As I look back, I wonder how many people in our town knew about my family’s secret. One of my neighbors told one of my friends when he stopped at my house to make a call that, “he shouldn’t go to my house, and the next time he needed anything, to come to hers.” My younger brother had a friend that was no longer allowed to play with him suddenly. These look like the signs of people knowing, but people not doing anything. I can’t know that. I mean, we were dirty, and my mother had a whole ‘nother set of problems, but were these people worried about their own children having something happen to them because of my father? And if that’s the case, why didn’t anyone save the three of us?

I can remember being at a party with my parents. The woman hosting the party had rented her house, and the previous tenants had left it a wreck. She mentioned to my mother the papers she found, court papers accusing the father of sexually abusing the daughter. I swallowed the lump in my throat. See, back then, I thought my mother didn’t know. What would her friend think of me, of my mother, if she understood what was happening in my family?

Of course, through adult eyes, I see so many things so differently. My mother was complicit. I always wondered why she never batted an eye when my father bought me the exact same sexy lingerie he bought her the Christmas we returned from Scotland, after the rape. And why, when my brother Ken finally explained things to her, she said that my father said he hadn’t really hurt me when she confronted him. It turns out she really hadn’t talked to him at all.

And the entire town wasn’t complicit, of course not. But there were those who had to know. It was a family problem, and perhaps no one wanted to get involved in a small Iowa town in the 1970s. Oh well. They aren’t your kids who need saving.

These days, we have mandatory reporting. If a teacher sees something, we report it. Police, firemen, all of us on the state dime. We don’t always see it. When I taught junior high, the principal came into my classroom one day during a free period to tell me that one of my students would not be returning because her stepfather was raping her. He left, and I punched the stone wall. You see, I thought I would have some innate way of knowing, of understanding. I didn’t. At least someone at the school took steps.


The question I have for you is this one: would you save a child? Even if you weren’t sure, would you take action? Of course, the answer for me is yes. I’d rather have one irate parent who is innocent than one child who possibly lives with horror and abuse.

Imagine. Never knowing when it’s going to happen. Almost choking on your father’s penis because you are a tiny child. Afterwards, your father will distract you by giving you a penny, but you will try anything to avoid going upstairs with him. Watching your father penetrate your brother and thinking that’s your fault somehow because your brother asked you the wrong questions, not knowing that your father had been doing this to him before he’d been doing it to you.

Usually, when a fandom issue comes up, I get all professorial and I talk about logic, the wisest courses for organizations to protect their constituencies, and so on. With this issue, I have no distance to do that. It’s very easy for me to say that anyone who is a child molester is guilty not only of sexual harassment, but also of a cruelty and narcissism that keeps them from understanding that the child is affected and has emotions. In short, they are bastards.

I used to excuse what my parents did as an insanity, and intellectualize it. Now, I am on a slow, angry burn for the rest of my life. Of course they were insane. They hurt me. And you know what? I am a victim and a survivor, but I am also an avenger. I safeguard the future for those like me who come after, as do all my fellow victims and survivors. We will not be silent. We do not want your kind here, whether you are the lowliest fan or the highest celebrity. And if you defend these kinds of people, I suppose I could eloquently sum up my thoughts as these: “Fuck you.”

Today, I celebrate Moira Greyland, who will always live under the shadow of her parents’ cruelty, but who has the courage to speak out and change the world.

Author: Catherine Schaff-Stump

Catherine Schaff-Stump writes fiction for children and young adults. Her most recent book, The Vessel of Ra, is the first book in the Klaereon Scroll series. She is currently working on its sequel, as well as penning the middle grade adventures of Abigail Rath, monster hunter.

11 thoughts on “Marion Zimmer Bradley from the Perspective of an Incest Survivor”

  1. I’m an adult survivor of a different stripe, and I found this post powerful and true. Specifically, I know that slow, angry, lifelong burn. Thank you for telling your story. I hope it brings healing to others and to yourself.

  2. Likewise, Joe, I wish hope and healing to you. It’s a long journey. It makes me sad others are walking this path, but I am also glad to have the company of people like you.

  3. I have been staring at this screen for almost an hour now. Trying to type a thank you for this post, this sharing, this fierce vulnerability.

    Type, erase, type, erase, as each time I got started, my own story tried to take over. I don’t think this is the place for it, and so…

    Just, thanks. From another who has been there, and carries the furnace inside too.

  4. Oh, Cath… I don’t even know what to say, other than thank you for sharing this heartbreaking piece. Continue to heal and avenge.

  5. Thank you. I appreciate that offer deeply. Maybe, in a few days, if I still feel that need. But I don’t trust my impulses right now.

    Best of healing to you also, and to all the others with us on this path.

  6. I’m so sorry, Cath. There are just too damn many of us out there, aren’t there? (Though in my case it wasn’t incest — I was the victim of a child pornographer). The more it gets talked about, the better, and I’m really glad that you’re talking.

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