Marion Zimmer Bradley, prolific author of science fiction and gothic novels whose most famous work was the best-selling "The Mists of Avalon," spinning the legend of King Arthur from a woman's point of view, has died. She was 69.
Bradley, who also wrote the much-loved, 21-novel sword-and-sorcery Darkover series, died Saturday in Berkeley of a heart attack. She had suffered from heart disease for several years.
In addition to writing about 75 novels, often under pseudonyms, Bradley used profits from "Avalon" to establish Marion Zimmer Bradley's Fantasy Magazine, which she edited until her death. She was also a writer and editor for similar publications, such as for Daw Books' annual anthology "Sword and Sorceress."
When asked why she described the Arthurian legend through the eyes of the king's sister Morgaine and wife, Gwenhwyfar, Bradley said: "I had always wanted to get inside the head of someone living in the Dark Ages, and I thought: You hear so much about what the men were doing, but never the women."
A medieval historian reviewing "Avalon" for The Times in 1983 wrote: "Bradley's story is primarily about conflict between the old religion of the Celtic tribes and the new one, Christianity. . . . When Bradley . . . tells her story, the novel comes to life.
"The visual sense of the book is well done," the reviewer said. "The reader has no difficulty seeing the Welsh hills or the foggy lakes around Glastonbury. Meticulous research has been done on the dress and architecture of the period, as well as food and herb lore."
In 1984, "The Mists of Avalon" earned Bradley the Locus Award for best fantasy novel.
The author subjected history and legend to the same feminine prism in 1987 with "The Firebrand," in which she described the Trojan War through the eyes of the prophet Kassandra.
Interested in educating readers about history, myth and religion, Bradley explained the strength of the science fiction genre in the 1985 photo album titled "The Faces of Science Fiction." She was quoted opposite her own picture as one of those faces: "SF encourages us to explore . . . all the futures, good and bad, that the human mind can envision."
Bradley explored futures at length in the Darkover series, which began in 1984 with "Planet Savers: The Sword of Aldones" and ran through "Exile's Song" in 1996. The series depicts the Terran Empire's late 21st century discovery of its own lost colony on the distant planet Darkover, and the contrasts in the development of the same civilization on the two separate spheres.
"The Darkover novels test various attitudes about the importance of technology, and more important, they study the very nature of human intimacy," wrote Rosemarie Arbur in Twentieth Century Science Fiction Writers.
"By postulating a Terran Empire the main features of which are advanced technology and bureaucracy, and a Darkover that seems technologically backward and is fiercely individualistic," Arbur continued, "Bradley sets up a conflict to which there is no 'correct' resolution."
Bradley believed in exploration of her own mind, as well, particularly in the area of religious thought. She professed a lifelong interest in the occult and in the early 1980s described herself as "neopagan," explaining her faith as one that "rejects the Christian belief in man's dominion over the earth."
She said she also believed in clairvoyance, extrasensory perception and reincarnation, and helped set up the nonprofit Centre for Nontraditional Religion in a carriage house on her Berkeley property. The center hosted meetings of such alternate groups as Wiccans.
But by 1997, Bradley told an interviewer: "I just go regularly to the Episcopalian church. . . . That pagan thing, I don't object to it, but I feel that I've gotten past it. I would like people to explore the possibilities."
Born in Albany, N.Y., Bradley studied at New York State College for Teachers (now the State University of New York at Albany) and earned her degree in psychology at Hardin-Simmons College after her first divorce 15 years later. She also did graduate study at UC Berkeley.
Twice divorced, Bradley is survived by three children, David Bradley of Oakland, Patrick Breen of Denver and Moira Breen Stern of Sparks, Nev.; a brother, Leslie Zimmer of East Greenbush, N.Y.; and two grandchildren.