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Name: Darkover, MZB's Darkover
Creator: Marion Zimmer Bradley, et al.
Date(s): 1958-1996
Medium: novels, short stories
Country of Origin:
External Links: Darkover on wikipedia
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cover of the Darkover fanzine Starstone 4: "The Forbidden Tower" by Terri Windling

The Darkover books are a series of novels and short stories set primarily on the fictional lost colony planet Cottman IV, also known as Darkover. Because they take place on another planet, and canon includes space ships and interstellar travel, these novels are sometimes called science fiction; but because they also involve societies whose main transport is the horse and who rule by telepathic aristocracy, it is also fair to call the series fantasy.

The works in this series were written out of time-order and span several hundred years, and so have many protagonists. Bradley explored several topics that were quasi-taboo at the time, including homosexuality (male and female) and polyamory, and was influential on the role of feminism in science fiction fandom.


an ad from Darkover Newsletter #23 for the famous bumper sticker

Darkover is a planet with a reddish sun and a fairly cold climate, on which humans were stranded early in the history of interstellar travel. The Darkovans quickly discovered that many of their number had laran, a multivariate power, channeled through personalized blue crystals, that manifests as telepathy, telecontrol, empathy, and several other supernormal ways of relating to the world.

The novels cover periods in Darkover history when society has become basically medieval, with warring kingdoms restricted by powerful custom against major (or laran-based) weaponry. Women are historically subjugated, and several of the novels describe how individual female protagonists find their ways in the world: through an all-female guild called the Renunciates, through polyamory, through study and development of laran, and once contact is re-established with other worlds, through space travel.

Darkover Fandom

"Four Winds Tower" is cut and glued paper on illustration board, 11" x 14", winter 1987: "[We] participated in Marion Zimmer Bradley's "Darkover" fandom, which flourished during the 80s. Local Darkover fan groups were organized into "Towers," a reference to the towers in Darkover where the psi-magic users gathered to do group workings. The Tower I and my friends belonged to was called the "Tower of the Four Winds."... This was more than 20 years ago. Darkover fandom has faded away, and our Tower has vanished... I have not seen my old friends in many, many years. The past evaporates like aromatic smoke." [1]

The Darkover fandom was most active in the late 1970s, 1980s, though fading in the early 1990s, [2] and was a touchstone of sorts regarding social politics, feminism, gender equality, and the liberation that many women were discussing and trying to incorporate into their own lives. It is no coincidence that one of the most popular and widely discussed Darkover topics was the Free Amazons, women who had taken an oath not to be under the protection of any man and to live outside mainstream Darkovan society.

The long-running Darkover Newsletter was a meeting place for many fans, some of whom used it to start Guildhouses, households that mirrored those in Bradley's books. [3] The newsletter was also a place for fans to connect with each other in order to start local Darkover clubs called "Towers."

A fan in 2007 wrote:
Darkover! I loved those books when they came out -- still do, and those books are definitely surviving the move. They were my first exposure to fanfic, too, though I didn't know that at the time: I read those anthologies of MZB approved fan stories and loved them. They had a certain quality I couldn't define at the time, but which I now think of as ficcish. Was entranced, but then they seemed to disappear overnight (yes, I now know the whole sad story) and so that fannish lurve faded a bit before it could blossom into fannish commitment. [4]

Darkover and Star Trek

In the 1980 author's foreward to The Keeper's Price, MZB wrote:
Not until women saw Star Trek did they start identifying themselves, just as young children did, with the heroes and heroines of that universe. They were too old to put on Vulcan ears and Enterprise T-shirts and play at being Spock, Kirk, Uhura, and their friends, so they wrote stories about them instead. And, in a wave of amateur fiction, completely unlike any phenomenon in science fiction history, these stories somehow got published in amateur magazines. There were hundreds of them; or let me amend that; there were thousands , though I have only read a few hundred. And when they were sated with Star Trek, many of them turned to Darkover. I don’t agree with Jacqueline Lichtenberg that ‘Darkover is just an advanced version of Star Trek for grownups.’ I was never that much of a Star Trek fan, and not till after I knew Jacqueline did I ever learn much about the phenomenon of Star Trek fandom. Jacqueline, driven like myself, one of those who created her own fantasy world in her teens and transmuted it into a professional series as an adult, used Star Trek fandom, calculatedly (as I used the fanzines built around the old pulp fiction) as a way of learning her craft and getting her early writings in print; she wrote a whole series of Star Trek novels. Then, having found her feet and perfected her craft, she began to speak her own voice and build her own characters, and has now published two novels, and sold three others, in her own world. [5]

Adopting a Darkovan Name

Some female fans of Darkover adopted (formally or informally) the name-structure of the Renunciates/Free Amazons, signifying their independence from the influence and protection of men. This elocution is generally written as Firstname n'ha (daughter of) Mothersfirstname, following the part of the Oath that a Renunciate woman is not known by any man's name, but only as the daughter of her mother.

Marion Zimmer Bradley often commented that one of the most-asked questions about Darkover was "what's my name in Darkovan?" She wrote about a variation of this custom in the editorial for Tales of the Free Amazons: "Some women have actually taken Amazon names, and live by them in the 'real world,' not only at meetings of the Friends of Darkover. I am very ambivalent toward people who change their names and reject their own roots or ethnic background... but Jaida n'ha Sandra or Sharrie n'ha Verana [two authors in this zine] is certainly no more annoying than Josie Anderdaughter or Helen Marychild or Rainbow Winddaughter or Treelight Blossom. What's in a name anyway? Acute Nomenclature is hardly a fatal disease, and it's not limited to feminisim; the hippie movement produced some ghastlies..." Of course, Bradley herself fanned some of this interest herself; "What's My Name in Darkovan" is the very title of an article in Darkovan Language Review, a work that explained in great detail how one's name could be translated to a version that would fit in with her world.

Mapping Darkover

"Darkover is the world made up by Marion Zimmer Bradley, in which fantasy and science fiction co-exist under a red sun. There is magic and psychic powers, but also an interstellar empire and space ships and colonists from Earth. There are alien races, some of them sentient, and there is medieval-style warfare fought with ancient weapons and psychic magic. There's something for everyone on Darkover. This is a scene of a peaceful place on Darkover, where the old castle has not been used for warfare in many years. It's my first "authentic official" matte painting. Photoshop CS4, 3000 x 2100 pixels, about 8 hours work." [6]

MZB never drew a map of Darkover, nor did she want to, citing in Darkover Newsletter many times her reluctance to put its geography down on paper. While she did not condemn the practice of fans mapping Darkover entirely, she also was not supportive.

Walter Breen writes in 1976: "No maps of Darkover have been authorized by Marion Zimmer Bradley. While she does not wish to dispute the validity of maps produced by scholars and friends of Darkover, she feels that no true map of the planet can be made until the Darkover series is completed. Therefore any maps which appear must by their nature be conjectural and partial." [7]

In 1986, MZB responded to a fan who tells her of his Darkover club that meets every Friday evening to talk about the books and draw maps about the books. "I've always refused to accept any maps, first because I dislike filling in 'blank spaces' -- perhaps some day I'll need to put up a city or a forest or a tower or even a lake there. I much dislike fake maps anyhow; maps of non-existent places are just an attempt to map out and colonize a non-existent place in the brain. Leave something to the imagination -- it's what the whole game is about." [8]

Fans of Darkover, like fans everywhere, however, continued to create as they pleased.

Darkover Gaming

While MZB was supportive of fan fiction and the fan art that went with it and cold to fans drawing maps, she was openly hostile to those who were interested in creating or playing Darkover games.

In 1986, MZB had this response to a fan regarding one of her characters in respect to a game he was making with friends:
I do not like or approve of fantasy role-playing games, but if people must play them, they should make up their own characters and not muddle with mine...I finally managed to persuade myself that the idiots who used my character in the fantasy role-playing game were only playing with their idea of the character, not mine, and wrote a couple of other stories about her; but I still think if people don't have enough imagination to invent their own characters, they should play tiddlywinks or chess instead of borrowing someone else's work. I don't mind others writing about my characters -- people who can write, and people who read, are my kind of people and can have anything I have. About people who play fantasy role-playing games, I'm not so sure. Why aren't they home reading a good book? Or writing one? [9]
And when a fan in 1986 wrote: "Since I.F.G.S. deals with fantasy games, a number of Darkover fans in the organization have decided to develop a group of characters using the Darkover theme. Any help that the council can provide wold be greatly appreciated. We are interesting in costuming, language, mannerisms, religion, etc," the editor responded:
We're sorry, but you can not use Darkover in your fantasy game. Both computer and non-computer game rights are already under contract. Probably nobody will pay much attention to what you do in the privacy of your own home, but if you attempt to sell, distribute, or publicly play a Darkover role-playing game, you will be in violation of the copyright laws -- and since Marion personally very much dislikes role-playing games, she is not likely to be sympathetic to your plight. Any questions on this matter should be addressed to her agent [10]

Copyright Issues and Fanfiction Controversy

Darkover fandom and Marion Zimmer Bradley's intense involvement in it has been a long-running cautionary tale of the complications and boundaries that creators straddle regarding their fans.

The Darkover Newsletter is one example of how closely entwined she was with her fans. The newsletter documents Bradley's interest and encouragement in fans' Darkover fiction and describes fan gatherings at her home. It was difficult, at times, to draw a line between her professional life and her private life and how it all related to fans and the creative lines that divided them.

A fan in 2008 speculates on that fine line between the creator and fans, and canon and fanon:
When I was a kid, and lived entirely on books that Zimmer Bradley had either written or edited, I never thought about how extraordinary it was that she published anthologies of fanfiction for her own canon. By today's fandom standards (which seems to be "Eek! The creator! Run and hide!") that's a crazy close relationship with one's own fandom, and feels very classic SF. What I think is especially weird and kind of cool / kind of claustrophobic is how she takes it upon herself to be the gatekeeper of an official fanon. For instance, she says in the introduction to Leroni of Darkover that there are things that she couldn't write about Darkover without losing her intellectual integrity - and then announces that this fan anthology specifically excludes feminist rants. I guess she covered that ground pretty thoroughly in Renunciates of Darkover, but man, I can't imagine that contemporary fandom wouldn't chafe at having what they can and can't circulate determined by the creator of the canon. I can only imagine that there must have been some underground fanzines circulating everything that Zimmer Bradley didn't allow space for in her fanon - or did the fact that there was an official fanon mean that people competed to get into it and abandoned fan-only publication? [11]

In the end, Bradley's declining health, her professional obligations, and complicated relationships came to a head with the publication of the fan novel Masks. The legal fallout and ensuing events led to a controversy that is commonly cited by anti-fanfiction authors to this day.

For more on the various accounts of what happened, see: Marion Zimmer Bradley Fanfiction Controversy. For more recent controversy, see Marion Zimmer Bradley Literary Works Trust and Unauthorized Fanworks.

Darkover Fandom Today

"I have many of the Darkover Novels (old ones), they were my Grandmothers. But I have not gotten into them."[12]

The Darkover fandom was pretty much killed off in the early 1990s due to the Marion Zimmer Bradley Fanfiction Controversy. With the zines no longer being published and the newsletter gone, fans didn't have a meeting place anymore. The threat of legal action against fans was, and is, almost a complete damper on Darkover fandom.[13] A search on fanfiction.net and Archive of Our Own turns up only a small number of fics based on Bradley's work. [14]

In 2012, a fan writes:
Marion Zimmer Bradley's estate is another entity that hammers anybody who tries to publish Darkover fanfic these days. It wasn't always so; she used to actively encourage people to write in her universe(s). But all it took was one fan who wrote a story that MZB read - that was too similar to something MZB was already writing. The fan demanded co-author credit (and $$$$$)... and things got very nasty. The book was never written, which is a damn shame; it's one that would have filled in a part of the series that a lot of people would have loved to read. But after this incident, MZB demanded that no more Darkover fanfic would be tolerated, and if anybody had any stories sitting in a desk drawer at home, we were to either destroy them or rewrite them so they bore no resemblance at all to Darkover. Naturally I mentally told her where she could stuff her (and her estate's) demands on what I have in my desk drawers... but I also keep my Darkover fan stuff to myself, not wishing to incur The Wrath Of Marion Zimmer Bradley's Lawyers. Oddly enough they don't seem to mind the proliferation of Avalon fanfics all over the 'Net, and that series is still in progress! [15]

For a more recent threat, see Marion Zimmer Bradley Literary Works Trust and Unauthorized Fanworks.

Optioned For TV Series

On February 13 2012, two television producers, Ilene Kahn Power and Elizabeth Stanley, announced they had optioned the rights to turn the Darkover series into a television series. Significant funding still remains to be secured and as of 2012 the project is still in the early planning stages.

Fannish reaction to the proposed series:

  • "Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover series possibly being made for TV – wow. I managed to miss the Darkover series, which is one of those things like Anne McCaffrey’s Pern that makes me sad. I have heard there’s a lot of hefty 70′s style feminist type stuff in there, though, and would be fascinated to see how they adapt it, and how much the material has dated. Far more than the George RR Martin series, this intrigues me enough to read the source material and compare to the TV if it gets that far." [16]
  • "Producers are pitching a TV series based on Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover series. I’m not so sure this is a great idea – the books have their charms, but they are incredibly dated." [17]


Also See

External Sources

Meta/Further Reading


  1. Art By-Products by Pyracantha, posted July 24, 2010, accessed February 21, 2012
  2. This may have been due to the problems and publicity regarding Walter Breen and/or MZB's health decline.
  3. one example is the Renunciates Guildhouse of Darkover
  4. Ghosts of fandom past
  5. from the foreward to The Keeper's Price, DAW books, 1980
  6. volcannah at deviantart, and [http://www.pyracantha.com/ Pyracantha
  7. from The Darkover Concordance in 1979
  8. from Darkover Newsletter #31
  9. from Darkover Newsletter
  10. from Darkover Newsletter
  11. In which I get rather meta? by sapote, posted October 2nd, 2008, accessed February 21, 2012
  12. Young fan commenting on Darkover art being posted on Deviantart, dated November 6, 2010.
  13. Fan Fiction and Copyright: Outsider Works and Intellectual Property Protection By Aaron Schwabach (2011). "The fanfic ban had killed Darkover fandom. Although there are several Darkover reference sites on the web, the fanfic ban has prevented the active online life that many other fandoms enjoy ... Darkover has faded from the prominence it enjoyed in genre fiction in the 1970s and 1980s." page 117.
  14. As of February 20, 2012, for example, FanFiction.net only lists 109 stories based on all of Marion Zimmer Bradley's works. Considering the volume of her work, the length of her career and the original popularity of her books, the number is low. A comparable author who began with similar anti-fanfiction policies is Mercedes Lackey who has around 1000 fanworks in her Valdemar universe currently on FanFiction.net. Mercedes recently softened her stance on fan fiction in her universes. Harry Potter has over a half a million stories on FanFiction.net.
  15. The Trek BBS, by Timewalker, posted August 4, 2012, accessed September 11, 2012
  16. Stitching words, one thread at a time: Friday Links Is Hopping on the Train to Earth 2, posted February 17th, 2012, accessed February 22, 2012
  17. Other worlds: Ladies rule the Nebulas, again by Dunc, February 22nd, 2012, accessed February 22, 2012