Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Mists of Avalon

The Mists of Avalon
By Marion Zimmer Bradley
Knopf, 1982. 876 pages. Fantasy

Marion Zimmer Bradley tells the classic Arthurian tale with a unique twist: it is exclusively told from the perspective of women. It follows Igraine, Arthur's mother; Vivaine, the Lady of the Lake; Gwenhwyfar, Arthur's wife; and Morgaine, his half-sister; and tells the story of the rise and fall of Camelot from their conflicting viewpoints. A masterwork of new-wave feminism, it explores the sexuality of the Arthurian women, from Gwenhwyfar's suppressed longing for the forbidden Lancelot to Morgaine's open celebration of the "life force." It also places the Arthurian legend at the turning point in history when religion was teetering between the ancient druidic customs and the new worship of Christ. The title refers to the fact that the isle of Avalon, where druids and priestesses of the old religion are schooled, is receding further and further from the rest of Britain, hidden behind a literal and metaphorical veil of mists. Arthur is pulled back and forth between ancient Goddess and Christ, and it is the women that surround and influence him that ultimately must make the decision of faith for all of Britain.

As my lengthy summary might demonstrate, this is definitely a book of epic proportions, both in content and in size. It can definitely be slow going at times, too, with long, lagging periods between scenes of action. Despite this, the book is absolutely worth reading. It’s a provocative piece of literature that makes you question the basic norms of morality by turning religion on its head. It throws light on the contradictory powerful/powerless role of women, both in and out of the bedroom. Though written in 1982, its messages are directly applicable to today and make every page a worthwhile investment.


1 comment:

Liz said...

The Mists of Avalon is one of my all time favorite books! I recently was recommending it to a friend. It is an epic book- 876 pages is nothing to scoff at. But despite some slower parts, all the action scenes, relationships, and pseudo-history throughout the book is enchanting. Bradley creates a complete world with power struggles, love triangles, family drama, religious upheavals, wars, schemes and all the parts you'd expect from a great Arthurian tale. If you appreciate epic stories with strong female characters, which I really do, then this book would be perfect for you.