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The Mists of Avalon Paperback – May 12, 1987
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Even readers who don't normally enjoy Arthurian legends will love this version, a retelling from the point of view of the women behind the throne. Morgaine (more commonly known as Morgan Le Fay) and Gwenhwyfar (a Welsh spelling of Guinevere) struggle for power, using Arthur as a way to score points and promote their respective worldviews. The Mists of Avalon's Camelot politics and intrigue take place at a time when Christianity is taking over the island-nation of Britain; Christianity vs. Faery, and God vs. Goddess are dominant themes.
Young and old alike will enjoy this magical Arthurian reinvention by science fiction and fantasy veteran Marion Zimmer Bradley. --Bonnie Bouman
"[A] monumental reimagining of the Arthurian legends . . . Reading it is a deeply moving and at times uncanny experience. . . . An impressive achievement."
--The New York Times Book Review
"Marion Zimmer Bradley has brilliantly and innovatively turned the myth inside out. . . . add[ing] a whole new dimension to our mythic history."
--San Francisco Chronicle
"Gripping . . . Superbly realized . . . A worthy addition to almost a thousand years of Arthurian tradition."
--The Cleveland Plain Dealer
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Top Customer Reviews
Imagine if Saruman the White had been the major character in LoTR, complete with loves, beliefs, mistakes and triumphs. Morgan le Fay is that character in The Mists of Avalon, though a redeemed and lovable heroine at the book's end.
MANY, many liberties are taken with the more or less traditional "The Once and Future King" story, but because so much of what we understand about King Arthur is embellished over 15 centuries of poetic license, I suppose the author must be forgiven; and it's a dang fine tale she tells. You better learn to put it down or else skip work or school for a week and keep the espresso coming.
There are two things I liked phenomenally about this book. First is the interplay of the incoming Christian faith (I'm a reborn Catholic) and the Celtic or Druidic faith that it was slowly replacing. I'm uneducated about the realities of Celtic or Druidic beliefs, so I can't address the likelihood of the author's presentation. Ms. le Fay is of the old beliefs and a priestess of Avalon. A nicely believable story weaves the impregnation of Mordred to le Fay by her half-brother, Arthur. It was part of an old-believers ritual for king-making, and neither Morgan nor Arthur knew what was up until it was over. The views of le Fay about the incoming Christianity develop beautifully during the book. At first the warts, superstitions, and darkness of Christianity are all she sees. It makes me want to find a history of religion for the 1st thru 6th century in Britain. Repeated about 30 times in the book is "all Gods are one". (Check out my article, "The Lord is One" at dandelionsarefree.wordpress.com, which I wrote years before reading this book.)
The contrast I took away from Bradley's portrayal of the 2 belief systems was that while Avalon adhered to a "natural law" (such that natural sexual attraction and its follow-thru was not a sin, nor a lot of other things), vows to the Goddess and faithfulness to that world view were things that MUST not be broken, and there was no forgiveness. The late 5th century Christianity painted a whole bunch of things as sinful, but forgiveness was always available. Reminds me of a dating a girl taught by nuns at Catholic high school ... real life. Avalon had hardly any concept of grace and personal improvement was only earned, likely thru successive improved lives one might live. Justification by faith seemed to them non-sensical because it appeared to easy.
The other thing I liked most about the book is its ability to place me in the geography of the time. I've never been to the UK, and certainly have little idea of things like Glastonbury or Tintagel. Digging a little into other sources of the history of the area shows that the author could not have been very far off at all.
I see she's written a bunch of other Avalon books. I'll give at least one more a shot, but not right away. As in the case Orson Scott Card, you can only ride the same horse so long before it's become skin and bones.
Morgaine is the main protagonist. And unlike in most retellings, she’s not an evil sorceress. Instead, she’s an initiate of Avalon, a mythical island that’s home to a sect of Goddess worshippers trying to stave off Christianity’s growing influence over Britain. Bradley includes the familiar love triangle between Arthur, Gwenhwyfar, and Lancelet (a.k.a. Lancelot), but the contest of religions is the core struggle in The Mists of Avalon. Viviane, Lady of Avalon when the story begins, places Arthur on the throne so that he may serve his Christian and non-Christian subjects alike. But Gwenhwyfar convinces him to become ever more Christian, and Viviane and Morgaine consider this conversion a betrayal of the oaths he swore to win the crown. In the years that follow, Avalon sets itself against Camelot and grows intolerant in kind.
Not everyone is as narrow-minded about religion, however. Morgause has little use for gods or goddesses, while the druidic Merlins (plural, in this version) believe all deities are one. Such a diversity of viewpoints is also present in how Bradley portrays the different spheres of influence available to women in her historical fantasy of early Britain. In Avalon, Morgaine and Viviane lead a matriarchal society. In the North, Morgause defies convention and rules as a queen who takes lovers as she wills. But in the South, Igraine and Gwenhwyfar (mostly) accept their priests’ advisements that they should be content to stay in their castles and make children and clothing for their husbands.
The overall story is more philosophical than I’m used to for a tale of King Arthur. It’s also slower; The Mists of Avalon spans generations and glosses over the usual knightly contests and heroic deeds. But if you want a Camelot that makes you think, Bradley’s seminal work is worth a read.