Sunday, November 16, 2008

Darkover, World of the Red Sun

It's getting to that time of year again, when I go to DarkoverCon in Timonium, Maryland just north of Baltimore, on Thanksgiving weekend. This will be, believe it or not, the 31st DarkoverCon. It started in 1977 as just a one-day meeting in July in Brooklyn, and reached its height in the 80s and 90s in Wilmington, Delaware and then in the Baltimore northern suburbs. Now it has declined to a three-day party for a group of friends, crafters, gamers, musicians, and fantasy fans. 

Marion Zimmer Bradley was the focus of the convention, which was started by fans of her popular Darkover series. While she was still active and writing, the convention thrived. I was, during the '80s, kind of the "house artist" for Darkover fans. I also did four professional book covers for Darkover books published from 1981-1984. The image posted here, painted in 1980, is not a book cover, though it is the shape of a book cover and I thought perhaps I could sell it as one (but didn't). 

Darkover as Marion conceived of it was a world rather like the fantasy of 19th century Scotland, as visualized by Pre-Raphaelite and Art Nouveau artists and racy Victorian novel-writers. It was full of heroic tartan-clad warriors and bodice-straining wind-tossed babes. There was plenty of swordplay and lots of magic and glowing special effects. Red-haired people had the most magical gift; flame-red hair was an obsessive motif in the books, hence the heavy use of hair dye among Darkover fans (myself included).

There was plenty of sex, too. Marion's plots usually included young hotties who were somehow prevented from consummating their passionate loves, whether in straight or gay relationships. The girl in my painting looks underage, and is probably 16 in the story, although Marion described her as looking even younger than her age, due to evil magical sex-retarding techniques (I am not making this up). This does not prevent her from eloping with the red-haired hero. Eventually she ends up in a "marriage for four," a polyamorous paradise which was tried many times among the fans with almost always disastrous results. The knife-wielding disaster about to happen in the picture is the girl's brother, who doesn't approve of her forbidden liaison. 

Marion Zimmer Bradley (often referred to as MZB) lost her health in the 90s and was barely able to make it to her own convention. In her later years she was a sad sight, unable to walk or even eat comfortably, but her fans stayed with her to the end. She died in 1999, but her convention lives on, specializing in fantasy writing exclusively by women authors.

Image: "The Bloody Sun," painted in 1980, acrylic on masonite, 10" x 18".

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