Sunday, November 25, 2018

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

Author: Moira Greyland

Pages: 632

Release Date: December 12, 2017

Publisher: Castalia House

I had this review half finished when I realized, in going into the pasts of both Marion Zimmer Bradley and Walter Breen, I had inadvertently made them seem at least a bit sympathetic. The problem with that is, no matter how horrible the abuse they dealt with when they were younger, that in no way excused the utter horrors they perpetrated with so many

Marion Zimmer Bradley was a wildly popular, well respected icon of both Science Fiction/Fantasy, having written The Mists of Avalon, as well as a feminist icon. She was also a monster who horribly abused her children and either aided and abetted or turned a blind eye to the abuse her husband, noted numismatist Walter Breen, committed to both the children and to many young people, most boys. This book, an unflinching look at the life their daughter, Moira Greyland, and the abuse she suffered at the hands of people that should have loved and protected her, casts light onto the dark, dingy corners of sci-fi fandom, as well as showing the lengths people will go to sweep the misdeeds of their idols under the rug.

Starting with a look at the history of both her parents, Moira details the abuse they both dealt with as children and young adults. This abuse, from a variety of sources, led them to make questionable personal decisions throughout their lives, and left them with moral compasses that had no north to point to. This ended up leaving them a philosophy that they could do as they pleased, regardless of the consequences their actions had on other people. Walter's abuse of children, especially boys, is covered in painful detail over a number of years, and Marion's willful ignorance of the extent of the early abuse is also detailed. Moira also details her own sexual abuse at the hands of both Walter and Marion, in scenes so vivid it both horrified me and left me in tears.

Moira also details the results of the years of abuse. Her struggle with her own sexuality, as her mother insisted that being a lesbian was a necessity, and punished her when she showed any traditional feminine traits. This even included interfering with the way she walked! Moira details her pattern as she got older of falling into bad relationships, being sexually assaulted several times by people not her own family, since she had no filter to determine who was a threat to her, it having been destroyed by years of abuse. She struggled with her feelings in various relationships, since she felt drawn towards men, even though her mother pushed her towards a lesbian lifestyle as the only "natural" lifestyle. This all led to a critical breaking point, when Moira had to make the most life changing decision of her life.

That decision was to turn her father in to the police over his abuse of boys. What followed was a long, traumatic experience, as her mother was also dragged into the light as, at the very least, turning a conscious blind eye to what was going on, if not actively covering for him. Walter ended up convicted of multiple counts, and ended up dying in prison. Marion would slowly decline with dementia over a number a years until her death.

After years of struggle, Moira found a measure of  happiness, meeting her husband and finding solace in religion. After years of following in her mothers footsteps with Pagan religions, she discovered Catholicism was what worked best for her, giving her a measure of peace not known before in a spiritual sense.  She would continue her life long love of the harp, performing and teaching it to others. 

This entire book is a testament to the power of human will to overcome even the most horrible of circumstances.  It is also a condemnation of a large chunk of the SFF community of the time, who chose to overlook and ignore the clear warning signs that all was not right in the Breen/Bradley household, including a big name sci-fi author married to one of Moira's uncles, who did nothing to end the abuse. Written in an stark, engaging, matter of fact style, it is a page turner, even as you read of the horrors detailed within. The last chunk of the book is the court transcript from the Breen abuse trial, which shows Marion's indifference and complicity, and frankly, warped world view, which allowed this all to continue. Although a difficult read due to subject matter, it is also an important read, and I highly recommend it.

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