189 of 202 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Novel Take On A Classic Tale - Superb!!
Marion Zimmer Bradley's "The Mists of Avalon" is one of my favorite versions of the Arthurian legend. I first read the novel in the early 1990s, right after its publication. I reread it recently and was surprised at how much I enjoyed this extraordinary novel the second time around. I turned the pages more slowly and took more time to savor Ms. Bradley's...
Published on April 23, 2004 by Jana L. Perskie
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Great Story - No so Great Writing
I just finished reading this book. I think it's a great story and a fascinating perspective. I have to agree, however, with the lone reviewer who criticizes the writing. I found the character development very erratic, as if Bradley suddenly tires of a character and decides to move on to someone else. Other than Morgaine, most of the characters do not evolve, although...
Published on July 15, 1997
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189 of 202 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Novel Take On A Classic Tale - Superb!!,
Marion Zimmer Bradley's "The Mists of Avalon" is one of my favorite versions of the Arthurian legend. I first read the novel in the early 1990s, right after its publication. I reread it recently and was surprised at how much I enjoyed this extraordinary novel the second time around. I turned the pages more slowly and took more time to savor Ms. Bradley's excellent narrative and fresh version of the legendary saga of the rise and fall of Camelot. Her take on the classic characters gives them new depth and dimension. She tells her tale from a feminine perspective, and while the King and knights of Camelot dwell on war, battles and keeping their golden city and realm safe, along with focusing on chivalric honor, the women have different priorities and concerns.
The tale is told from the points of view of the much maligned Morgaine, (Morgana Le Fey), Priestess of Avalon and Gwenhwyfar, (Gwynivere), Christian princess and future queen of Camelot. Although most of the events of the traditional Arthurian legend are presented here, it is extremely interesting how the tale, told by men, changes when viewed through the eyes and experiences of a woman. This is also the important story of the political and religious conflict between the new Christianity and the "old ways" of goddess worship. Believers of each religion seek to control the throne, but ultimately Christianity ascends to be the organized religion of the land. Since Morgaine is a Druid High Priestess, it would explain why she received such a bad rap in Christian civilization. The reader also views other famous female characters from a different vantage point, including Igraine, Morgaine's and Arthur's mother,
Ms. Bradley follows Morgaine from childhood to Priestess in her home on the Isle of Avalon, the center of Druidism and goddess worship since the Roman occupation forced the religion underground, where it remained long after the Roman departure. Mists surround this mystical isle, protecting it and its inhabitants from all who do not have the psychic powers to penetrate the barrier. Morgaine has dedicated her life to preserving her ancient religion and tries to defend it against the growing numbers of her countrymen and the Camelot royalty who exchange the old ways for Christianity. She is also a very powerful person and struggles against the stereotypes which expect her to adhere to more traditional "feminine," (dependent), behavior and roles.
Bradley also follows the lovely Gwenhwyfar from the innocence of her girlhood to her rise as King Arthur's Christian Queen. She deeply fears Druid magic and her terror causes her to miscarry a long awaited baby. King Arthur's acquiescence to his wife's pleas to turn his back on the old ways and adopt Christianity is the beginning of the cataclysmic fall of his reign.
This is a most unique novel and Ms. Bradley's innovative fantasy version of Camelot, Britain during the Dark Ages, and the profound changes which took place in the land and among the people during this period had me riveted until I completed the last page. If you are open to a different take on a classic tale, then I highly recommend this wonderful novel.
66 of 70 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The definition of a good book!,
By A Customer
I had forgotten my love for reading after going through so many books that didn't hold my attention. The Mists of Avalon reminded me of my love for a good book and got me hooked on Marion Zimmer Bradley. This book is a perfect blend of romance, action, magic and just plain creativity that binds you to the story and leaves you begging for more. This book tells the Arthurian legend through the eyes of the women around King Arthur's life. It tells the story of the strength of Morgain (his sister), Igraine (his mother) and Guenivere (his wife). It wonderfully portrays the bravery of these women in such a brutal time, without taking away the romance and insecurity's women feel. Beautiful book. Be sure to read the Forest House and Lady of the Lake also, which take place before The Mists of Avalon although Bradley wrote them afterward. I started with the Mists of Avalon and had no trouble at all. Marion Zimmer Bradley was a genious. I'm terribly gratefull to her for giving me something to refresh my mind.
85 of 92 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A man's point of view,
As I sense many of those who posted a review are women, I felt compelled to offer my thoughts.
A little preface: I read this book when I was in my early 30's. I am a college-educated professional, and a married heterosexual. I generally read non-fiction: political and military history and mountaineering literature. This book came up in a discussion with my wife, a published writer, who has read it several times and claimed it was one of her all-time favorites. As this is not slight praise from a woman who thinks Shakespeare was a lighweight compared to John Dunne, and actually argue the point!
So I picked up this book and read the first page. Quite a mistake. Three days later I finished this is not so small work having spent nearly every available non-working moment enthralled in this modern masterpiece. Simply put, it is very well written. It is a great story and it is well told. There is romance, fantasy, religion, war, politics, intrigue, and other elements to keep your attention.
I pity those who are so heavily invested in the "accuracy" of the Arthurian legend as to miss the beauty of this book. Doubly so for those who are too religiously dogmatic.
67 of 72 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars From the Feminine Point of View, Not Feminist,
By A Customer
Many of Marion Zimmer Bradley's books are rather fluffy fantasies, fun and light. This is not the case with the mystical, magical "The Mists of Avalon." This spendid book is a retelling of the King Arthur legend from the point of view of the women involved, principally, Morgaine, King Arthur's half-sister and Priestess of Avalon, and Gwenhwyfar, the Christian princess and future Queen of Camelot.
Although "The Mists of Avalon" has been criticized as being a "feminist" book, I don't think this criticism holds up. Yes, the author chose to focus on the conflicts and emotions of the women involved, but their gender is far less important in the book than is their religion. Morgaine, as a Druid and Priestess of the Goddess, is struggling to keep her dying religion alive against the growth of Christianity and Gwenhwyfar.
The main character in "The Mists of Avalon" is Morgaine and we follow her from childhood to her rise as a priestess on the mystical Isle of Avalon, the home of the druids of the Old Religion, the religion of the Goddess. Avalon, as can be deduced from the book's title, is surrounded by swirling, protective mists that cause it to be invisibe to all but the initiated. Morgaine's life, down to its very core, is shaped both by her desire to serve the Goddess and by her despair at seeing the Old Religion being tossed aside in favor of Christianity, by royalty and the common people alike.
The book also focuses on Gwenhwyfar, and we are privy to her first meeting with Arthur when, as an innocent child, she crosses through the mists of Avalon to the other side. As Queen, she is a guilt-ridden figure who turns to Christianity in her desire to bear a child and begs Arthur to do the same, thus bringing about the fall of Camelot.
While I found Morgaine to be a character of depth, intelligence and tremendous emotional range, Gwenhyfar came off as shallow, jealous and more than a little suspicious. Viviane, The Lady of the Lake, who also plays quite a role in this book, seems to be a little too manipulative, but very interesting, nonetheless.
Anyone interested in Wiccan rituals will find this book extremely interesting. The transformations from ordinary woman to priestess and the effects of the Old Religion on the "modern" world are simply part and parcel of this book's magic.
This is a long book, but don't let its length put you off. It is an extremely fascinating and pleasant read and it's quite easy to find a stopping place should you need to put the book down (though I doubt you'll want to).
Those looking for historical accuracy regarding the rise of Christianity in Britain should look to another book. "The Mists of Avalon" is entertainment, pure and simple. The portrayal of Druidism and the focus on the priestesses of Avalon, descended from the lost island of Atlantis, the frequent visits to the land of the Fairy--all of this places this book squarely within the fantasy genre, rather than the historical realm. And, all to the good.
I found "The Mists of Avalon" to be an all-absorbing book and one that gave me a new perspective on the Arthurian legend. The women involved became more real to me, with many new facets and aspects of personality. I am so glad I read this book. I found it magical, mystical and unforgettable and it's one book I am recommending to everyone I know, whether they are fantasy addicts or not.
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Greatest Book of the Latter 20th Century,
Marion Zimmer Bradley, who passed away last year, left to her readers both old and new, one of the most enduring legacies of modern literature. The Mists of Avalon is a glorious retelling of the Arthurian saga by one of its most maligned characters--that of Morgan le Fay.
To call this book a "feminist fable" is to do it a great injustice, and frankly, lends itself to charges of sexism. No one calls Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur a paen to masculine virtues; historically speaking, Malory's work was greatly influenced by Eleanor of Aquitaine's famous Courts of Love. Any spurious charges of feminism leveled against Ms. Bradley's book merely rise from the fact that the main characters of the book are all the women behind Arthur's throne; Morgan (called Morgaine in the novel), Guinevere (Gwenhyfar), and Viviane, Lady of the Lake.
Morgaine has emerged as one of my all-time favourite characters in literature; she is a complex woman both ahead of her time, and yet greatly of her time. Gwenhyfar is just as complex, and at first reading, is a thoroughly disagreeable character. That is, until one realizes that she too, is as much a woman of her times. Much of Ms. Bradley's genius lay in her ability to fully flesh out her characters, to make them real to the reader.
This novel also introduced many to the idea of a goddess-centered spirituality (i.e. paganism/wicca) without being preachy. To be honest, I found Morgaine's path to be just as trying and just as demanding as Christianity is to its adherents.
A few detractors have claimed that Mists of Avalon was/is a "recruitment guide" to feminist spirituality, and that Christianity was painted as a hateful religion--unfortunately, these people are the victims of their own biases. Much of early Christianity was rather backwards in its views of women (a view which sadly hasn't progressed all that greatly). To be fair, Ms. Bradley once again proved her impeccable scholarship in showing the ties that early Christianity and the pagan faiths of Old Britain shared--the story of Joseph of Arimathea, who supposedly founded the first church upon Glastonbury Tor, and who worshipped alongside the Druids. She wrote of Pre-Nicean Christianity, which did not seem to have any issues with the pagans of Britain. Still, put oneself in Morgaine's shoes--having to defend one's beliefs against ignorance and superstition (though it was that same 'superstition' that many called on when it came to tending the sick because of her vast knowledge of herb lore). Morgaine was forced to defend even the basic freedoms of women (to be learned) against those who felt that women were not 'created' to read and write.
I also see the problem some of the detractors have is in our very Western notion of 'good gys v. bad guys'. Many people like things simplified, and to read a book that doesn't wrap everything up in a tidy little box has got to be rather disappointing. 'The Mists of Avalon' transcended this outdated notion, peopling its pages with characters who are just as 'real' and as multifacted in their emotions as we ourselves are. As I said before, I no longer have the animosity towards Gwenhyfar that I did when I first read the book many years ago. Now when I re-read 'Mists', she has come to earn my pity and my understanding. And in her own way, she too was a very strong and determined woman.
I have read this book about a good 100 times (I'm not kidding), and with each re-read, I come away with more insight into the human condition. This is a novel that should be read and shared and discussed by everyone. It should be judged for the quality of the writing and for the depth of characterization it brings, both which are immense, and a lasting tribute to the brilliant mind who penned it.
29 of 32 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fresh perspective on a familiar tale,
By A Customer
I'm immensely amused by the readers who complained that this novel was "historically inaccurate" and "Arthurian Britain wasn't really like this." We don't know enough about the period, or the historical original of "Arthur," to make such claims (I have a Ph.D. in medieval literature and have researched the subject pretty thoroughly). Nor were Malory and his predecessors writing "history" in the sense we understand it; their versions are just as much a "fictionalization" of an earlier period as this is. Although the Arthurian myths (like other myths) reflect events and characters from an earlier time, they're primarily MYTHS, and every era (and every teller) has given them a different spin.
Bradley is a worthy addition to these ranks: she presents the familiar material from a fresh perspective, creates memorable characters and situations, and weaves an amazing amount of myth (as well as archeological and historical data) into a complex but generally well-thought-out and compelling story. One can find flaws in particular episodes or characters, but in general the book is an impressive achievement. And for those readers who complain that the characters are self-centered or have mixed motives -- well, isn't that the point, that although human beings' actions and perspectives may be deeply flawed, the Goddess sees that it all works out in the end? (I find Bradley's Lancelot considerably more credible than Tennyson's!)
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Masterwork of Storytelling,
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This review is from: The Mists of Avalon (Hardcover)
Bottom-Line: "The Mists of Avalon" is splendid reading, and I highly recommend it. A more in-depth and authoritative recantation of the Arthurian legend is not available.
Like many children, I was raised on the tale of Merlin, Camelot, King Arthur, Excalibur, and the famed Knights of the Round Table. My first introduction to the post-Roman Empire era story was a cartoon in my early youth called The Sword in The Stone, which told the tale of how a teenaged King Arthur was able to pull the magically endowed sword Excalibur from the stone in which it was embedded, and thus win the throne of a newly liberated England.
In later years there would be many a movie made about the boy king and his mystical kingdom that in the end fell into ruin because of human weakness, but none has been as detailed as Marion Zimmer Bradley's, 1982 novel "The Mists of Avalon." Bradley's tome is an ambitious and sweeping interweaving of the oft-told legend of King Arthur and his celebrated Knights of the Round Table; of Merlin and Excalibur; of Camelot; of Gwenhwyfar and Sir Lancelot, all regaled through the eyes and experiences of a heretofore unknown character, Morgaine, priestess of Avalon and half-sister to the king. "The Mists of Avalon" is a masterful exemplar of accomplished historical novel writing. One might well finish this lengthy tome incensed at the oft-time unabashed anti-male, and anti-Christian passages, but one cannot honestly deny the addictive allure of grand tale.
The power of Bradley's prose is in its ability to draw the reader into the story with sharp, intelligent, and engaging narrative, such as this from the prologue:
"Morgaine Speaks...In my time I have been called many things: sister, lover, priestess, wise-woman, queen. Now in truth I have come to be wise-woman, and a time may come when these things may need to be known. But in sober truth, I think it is the Christians who will tell the last tale. For ever the world of Fairy drifts further from the world in which Christ holds sway. I have no quarrel with Christ, only with his priests, who call the Great Goddess a demon and deny that she ever held power in this world. At best, they say that her power was of Satan. Or else they clothe her in the blue robe of the Lady of Nazareth--who indeed had power in her own way, too--and say that she was ever virgin. But what can a virgin know of the sorrows and travail of mankind?"
From that opening paragraph to the closing, I was hooked, drawn in by the conflict between the old world and the new, between Pagan practice and the over-indulgent, self-righteousness binding of Christianity, and the lose of true personal freedoms it represented.
Written wholly from the perspective of the very strong female characters, throughout, within the pages--all 876 of them--of "The Mists of Avalon" we find a retelling of the epic Arthurian rein stripped of Christian moralizing, and replete with the heretofore untold mysteries of a Earth-bound goddess religion, a faith that is as ornate and beautiful--and indeed more fitting to the way in which the Britons lived their lives--as the Roman Catholic faith.
It primarily through the eyes of Morgaine, Arthur's half-sister, trained in the magical rites of the Goddess that this story unfolds like an awakening. Under the tutelage of her Aunt, and High Priestess of Avalon, Vivian, Morgaine is instructed in the arts of foretelling, herbalism self-discipline, and self-denial. Vivian seeing the disquieting influence of Christianity spread among her people uses Morgaine as the vessel to secure an heir inherently worthy of preserving the old religion by claiming birthright to the throne of England. This was the role Arthur, had been designated to fill but, by his conversion to Christianity, fails to adequately discharge. Vivian who at first one might anoint as a villain is instead a heroine; her actions are exonerated by the desire to serve the purposes of a Goddess, one who will not be denied, the mistress of Avalon, the font from which all magic and foretelling find their birthright.
Be forewarned, "The Mists of Avalon" is an adult tome, not meant to the eyes of pre-teens; there are frank sexual situations throughout the book, including rape, incest, as well as same-sex coupling. Violence too plays a vigorous part in the story-telling though we as a society seem to tolerate it much more than the frank discussion, or depictions of sex.
In setting down "The Mists of Avalon", Bradley used her extensive knowledge of history and legends to weave a most detailed and believable setting; at times it hard to separate fact from fiction. The characters she develops are at once likeable--or unlikable--and complex as any human relationship we might develop in their own lives. Morgaine is a heroin, but a deeply flawed one; Lancelot is not as chivalrous and honorable; Gwenhwyfar is not as pure and innocent; nor Arthur as noble of purpose. With the folds of "The Mists of Avalon" Arthur, though he is essential to the telling, is not the central focus of this body of work. It is the woman in his life that take center stage; Merlin and Excalibur are but minor actors in this world of Camelot.
Indeed the Avalon agenda is all-encompassing, with even the Druids of the Merlin's fraternity expected to acquiesce to the whims and wills of the priestesses of Avalon. In this story of Arthur and Camelot, men are a means to an end; women are supreme as dictated by the Goddess; women do not need men except in furtherance of Her will. In this telling of the Knights of the Round Table, men are insensitive and cruel; sex is wasted; men are basically animals to be controlled. And though men rule, they do so with the blessing and consent of the Goddess, and her maiden priestesses on earth cloistered at Avalon. As a man I see essential truths in the lesson, but I abhor the lesson none-the-less.
But more then a struggle for power between men and women, "The Mists of Avalon" is a struggle between the religion that was, and the religion that will be. Paganism (at least as I understand it) was widely practiced throughout Europe during the time when Rome held sway over all the lands bordering the Mediterranean Sea and beyond. But as Christianity swept out of the Middle East into Europe, Pagan practices were pushed aside, often times violently, replacing the freedom of Pagan worship with the restrictive laws of Christianity. Monotheism replaced polytheistic practices throughout the continent. Bradley captures that struggle brilliantly; some may say she is very uncharitable to Christianity throughout "The Mists of Avalon", but I believe she is being as true to actual history as any telling thus far. After all Christianity does enjoy a long history of self-righteous evangelism, a practice that often-times destroyed the society it missionaries claimed to want to save.
"The Mists of Avalon" is splendid reading and I highly recommend it. A more in-depth and authoritative recantation of the Arthurian legend is not available as far as I know (the movie version of this book was abysmal). Bradley's narrative descriptions are verdant without being overly tiresome, whether she is describing wardrobe, setting, battle scenes, religious services, sexual dalliances, or even mundane household items, her prose flows like water over a newly born leaf. The dialogue is imperative and the scenes fluid and not the least bit ill-conceived.
The ending left me chilled and disappointed, but I understood the necessity of the closing. One might walk away after reading "The Mists of Avalon" feeling as though Bradley despised Christianity, but I believe she was just being true to the history of the movement and its long lasting effect on human societies. And though men are oft-times depicted as weak throughout the book, truth be told guys, if we really love a woman to the depth of our souls, and with deepness of heart, we are but putty in their hands to be molded into that which she sees fit to accompany.
21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Camelot's downfall no longer Guinevere and Morgana's fault,
I get really tired of books that "re-write" the story of Camelot. Every year brings a new slew of them. But "The Mists of Avalon" transforms itself into a classic worthy of being grouped with "The Once and Future King".
Mists of Avalon's biggest strength and flaw is that it goes head to head with the morality of the original legend of King Arthur. 13th century society gave us our most lasting legends of Camelot, but those stories are laced with that period's sensibility, namely that women and sex bring the downfall of mankind. Mists re-writes the legend with a modern perspective. Morgana is no longer the evil woman bent on the destruction of Camelot, but instead a priestess of the Druidic religion trying to defend her beliefs against Christianity.
This perspective is interesting because it is true that in the 5th and 6th centuries Christianity was settling into England and facing off with the woman-centered Druidic religion. Camelot would have existed during a time of immense social change, dealing not only with the constant invasions of the Saxons, but also with new ideas of morality.
Some people may dislike this book because of its bias towards the Druidic religion, and its portrayal of Christianity as being dogmatic and anti-woman. But this book is not the feminist, anti-christian pocketbook everyone seems to think it is. King Arthur is still the noble, ahead-of-his-time man we always loved. He is not destroyed by Guinevere's affair, instead he is a man destroyed by the littleness of humankind (both men and women). Morgana is a woman trying to keep the dignity of women intact. All are searching for ways to do the right thing.
This book is unfair in that it puts a 21st century view head-to-head with 13th century Christianity. We are no longer the Christians who pay money to be forgiven of our sins. Our bishops don't go around impegranating hundreds of women. The reformation came and went, and women are not considered so evil anymore. But the legends of Arthur we learn in school are based on this previous version of Christianity. This book stands in response.
Mists may not be fair to Christianity as it exists today, but it is fair to it as it existed during the age of the Inquisition. It reminds us that Camelot should be remembered in legend as a place where women as well as men strived for nobility and grace. The littleness of both is what destroyed it.
Gracefully written and thought-provoking. A book you can't put down. (8 out of 10)
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars King Arthur Lives in The Mists of Avalon,
Desire, mystery, adventure and deception -- these are a few of the many virtues that this epic novel holds within its grasp. The Mists of Avalon is the tale of the Arthurian legends as you have never read them before, from the vantage point of the women. The story is told primarily by Morgaine of the Fairies, Arthur's sister. The glorious tale is of King Arthur coming to power and his life-long struggle between the two religions he is bound to, the old ways of the Goddess and the new Christianity. While reading this book, the reader witnesses first hand everything that the Arthurian legends have to offer, from the crowning of King Arthur to the knights of his round table.
On the cover of the book, The Mists of Avalon is advertised as "the magical saga of the women behind King Arthur's throne", that that claim really does not do the book justice. The story is the magical saga of everyone behind and amongst King Arthur's court. The author does such a magnificent job of describing the characters in her book that it would shortchange them all to mention just the women. The reader gets such a sense that what and whom he is reading about is real and true that one feels almost like he is sitting in Camelot's Great Hall while Arthur and his companions dine on the great feast of Pentacost. Every detail of every event teems with life. Another reason to recommend the book is the thick entwinement of the characters' relationships with each other. While reading this book, one feels such a connection with the main characters as to truly feel their emotions. To get involved with the characters' lives in The Mists of Avalon is truly a privilege that no one who loves to read should miss. The one reason that anyone might disagree with this heartfelt recommendation is that some might think that there is too much detail in the book, that it is too wordy. This thought slanders the very essence of the book and the reason for what makes it so great. The Mists of Avalon is a book to be savored, not devoured. The bottom line is that this book has everything for everyone. If one loves adventure, you will find yourself right along side Lancelot fighting the evil dragon that haunts King Pellinore's lake. If you are a feminist, you will delight in the retelling of a story that historically is a tale of masculine dominance into one that gives the perspective that women will always rule over men, in some way or another. If one loves romance, you will be enthralled by the clandestine love affair between Lancelot and the High Queen Gwenhwyfar. And finally, if you are a person that loves a climactic ending, well, you'll just have to read the book to find out what's in store for you!
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Remarkable Book,
I enjoyed many of Marion Bradley's science fiction works, particularly some of her Darkover series. However I didn't get around to reading this, her most popular title, until recently. Like most other readers, I found this re-telling of the Arthurian Legend to be absorbing and well-told, and I was sorry to see it end.
I was especially impressed by how deeply I came to care about the characters. All of them are deeply flawed and very, very human, and this is what makes them three-dimensional. Rather than a standard heroes-and-villains adventure, "Mists of Avalon" features real people struggling with real issues.
The central conflict of the story is the rapid growth of Christianity, and the struggle of those who follow the ancient Celtic beliefs to turn back the tide and revive the old traditions. The theological discussions are fascinating; although many readers may find the view of Christianity too harsh, there are genuine exchanges of views among the characters. This is not a case of an author using the story to lecture, as Robert Heinlein did so often in his later work.
Bradley is stronger at dialogue than she is at action, and there are places where the story slows somewhat, but these lulls don't last long.
This book has been a bestseller since it was published, and it deserves its reputation. Well worth your time.
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The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley (Hardcover - October 31, 2000)