The Mists of Avalon — Marion Zimmer Bradley
The Mists of Avalon is an oldie but goodie, one I read almost 15 years ago. (Ug, has it been that long already?) My sister, however, finally got around to reading it just recently and decided to write up a review for my site. For any of you who haven’t read it before and love stories surrounding the tales of King Arthur, this review will give you a better idea of what you will be getting yourself into if you pick up this very large, and magical rendition. –KMR
Morgaine, Gwenhwyfar, Arthur, Lancelot, Igraine and Uther. All of the names are familiar to those who have ever seen or read anything depicting the Knights of the Round Table and King Arthur’s tale. In this timeless classic, Marion Zimmer Bradley recreates the story, weaving a version that gives new depths to these legendary characters.
Bradley’s rendition of the story primarily follows the women, specifically the infamous Morgan Le Fey, or in this tale, Morgaine. She is not the evil witch that other stories would wish us to believe. Instead, she merely possesses the traits that we identify with feminism. She is a strong, knowledge-seeking woman who is not afraid of the rules of society and what others expect her to do. A priestess of the old ways, she has been brought up to believe in the holiness and power of the female spirit. However, having been raised until her tweens as a Christian, she suffers an internal struggle with the druidic beliefs of her tutelage versus the Christian world that dominates her homeland.
The story primarily follows Morgaine and her struggle with her faith and her relationships with Arthur, Lancelet and Gwenhwyfar. The reader bares witness to Morgaine’s successes and failures, her development from a young innocent to a bitter, heartbroken and ambitious woman. I felt every pain, every moment of happiness that Morgaine experiences. She represents strength, endurance, wisdom and yet, also embodies physical and mental fragility and emotion. She is every woman, for she contains all aspects of what a woman represents. Her emotion is both her downfall and her redemption.
In contrast, Gwenhwyfar is selfish, vain, manipulative, fragile, afraid and above all a raging hypocrite. If Morgaine represents everything that is positive in femininity, Gwenhwyfar represents the negative. She is a zealous Christian who manipulates and dominates her husband Arthur while sharing her bed with Lancelot. She spits venomous words of contempt for everyone else who does not live a perfectly Christian life. I honestly wanted to strangle Gwenhwyfar most of the book. She has a few redeeming moments at the end, but when you spent over 800 pages disgusted with her, it is hard to let her into your heart in the last five pages.
I loved Morgaine because I identified with her. She suffers and makes mistakes, but in the end she is a good person, who just made some bad choices in an attempt to follow what she believed was her responsibility, to her faith and to herself. She paid the price, but in the end she evolved and became a better person. Bradley’s portrayel of the story will always be more real to me than any other.
If you love the King Arthur legends and would like a different twist on the tale that comes from the point of view of the women, I would recommend this book. If you love Gwenhwyfar and are attached to the usual portrayal of her being a likeable person, then I do not recommend this story to those readers. I enjoyed it when I didn’t feel homicidal regarding Gwenhwyfar. I will probably never reread it as it is long, as in biblical proportions. However, I think that it was important to read it at least once as a fan of the King Arthur legend.
–Sheilah G. Randall