The Contraband Incident: The Strange Case of Marion Zimmer Bradley

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Title: The Contraband Incident: The Strange Case of Marion Zimmer Bradley
Creator: Catherine Coker
Date(s): March 2011
Medium: online
Fandom: Darkover
Topic:
External Links: “The Contraband Incident: The Strange Case of Marion Zimmer Bradley.”
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The Contraband Incident: The Strange Case of Marion Zimmer Bradley is an academic paper by Catherine Coker.

It was published in Transformative Works and Cultures in March 2011.

The paper addresses the Marion Zimmer Bradley Fanfiction Controversy.

Abstract

The late Marion Zimmer Bradley once said of her own most famous fictional world, "I didn't invent Darkover, I discovered it." Unlike most authors, who at best enjoy their admirers' activities, and at worst try to end them, Bradley and her sizable community of fans collaborated in the publication of a large body of work fairly harmoniously for over two decades. However, this collaboration came to an abrupt end in 1992 with an event that can be referred to as the Contraband Incident. As this overview will explain, it is a cautionary tale which illustrates how fan activity can do real emotional and monetary damage to the creator-author. “The Contraband Incident: The Strange Case of Marion Zimmer Bradley.” [1]

Excerpt

The truly remarkable thing about Bradley and her sizable community of fans, especially the group called the Friends of Darkover, is that they not only collaborated in the publication of a large body of work but did so fairly harmoniously for over two decades.

This collaboration ended abruptly in 1992 when a fan named Jean Lamb wrote a novel titled Masks, starring one of Bradley's minor characters, Danvan Hastur, and published it in an issue of a fanzine called Moon Phases, edited by Nina Boal. The custom at the time was to send Bradley a copy of such a fannish work; Bradley wrote a response to Lamb, commenting on what she thought worked and what didn't, and closed saying she had enjoyed the novel. Reportedly, Lamb felt spurned, and when Bradley announced the forthcoming publication of her next Darkover novel, tentatively titled Contraband, she threatened to sue, saying that Bradley had stolen material from her fan novel. Nervous, Bradley's publisher dropped her contract, and Contraband was not published. Heartbroken, Bradley moved to dissolve the Friends of Darkover as well as other, less organized fan groups, and fans ceased trying to professionally publish their Darkover fan fiction. Currently, the DAW anthologies are out of print, possibly due to lingering legal issues. In November 2009, I interviewed Nina Boal, who edited Lamb's novel. She described Lamb as feeling "convinced Marion wasn't paying enough attention to Danvan. And it was like he was a real character, a person" whom she had to rescue from the author in order to "do right by him." As this overview of what can be called the Contraband Incident will explain, this cautionary tale illustrates how fan activity can do real emotional and monetary damage to the creator-author.
After DAW Books announced its decision to cancel the publication of Contraband, Bradley wrote several summations of events in consecutive issues of the Darkover Newsletter, and fans continued to discuss them for several months in that venue. Early letters were particularly passionate in championing Bradley and in offering her support. Later letters published in the zine focused more on the legal ramifications of the incident, such as fans no longer being able to send Bradley fan works and she no longer being able to read them. Ann Sharp, then the editor of the Darkover Newsletter, directed those fans still publishing zines to send them to Boston University, where Bradley deposited her manuscripts; a bright side of the incident is that a number of fanzines that might not otherwise have been collected are thus now in library holdings.
In the past decade, the incident has periodically come up in discussions of fan activities, but Bradley is now usually seen as being as much at fault as Lamb. This evolution of attitude is notable given the period of time involved, and it will be interesting to see how it will continue. Since the attitudes of most authors toward fan works have been largely (if not entirely) shaped by Bradley's example, the admission that even beloved authors can be as culpable in events as their fans may continue to change how we think about fan works. Recent developments such as Napster and YouTube have fundamentally shifted the public's idea of how artistic work should be treated, and transformative works are becoming increasingly accepted. In 2008 the unpublished draft of Stephenie Meyer's work in progress, Midnight Sun, was leaked and placed online by fans. In retaliation, Meyer announced that she was killing the book and posted a copy of the text on her own Web site. In 2010, Diana Gabaldon posted (and subsequently deleted) a lengthy blog entry decrying fan fic and asking fans not to write or publish it. However, an increasing number of authors, many of whom once read or wrote fan fic themselves, see fan works as a phenomenon that simply exists, neither good nor evil. Perhaps that is the best way to view it.

References

  1. ^ “The Contraband Incident: The Strange Case of Marion Zimmer Bradley.”, by Catherine Coker