What a dense but well-written book! Flanagan compares and contrasts various aspects of the "manifest image" (the traditional view of the world, the soWhat a dense but well-written book! Flanagan compares and contrasts various aspects of the "manifest image" (the traditional view of the world, the soul, immortality, and ethics as exemplified by traditional Western religion and by the "perennial philosophy") with the scientific image in a balanced and respectful way. He comes down on the side of the scientific image and argues that the fears of losing cherished ideas about the soul and about morals are in many ways misplaced. The arguments are deep and well-reasoned, and whether you agree with his thesis or not, this is a challenging and stimulating book that more than recompenses the time and effort needed to think carefully and critically about his positions. Not that it's not fun to read--his writing, dense at times when he delves deeply into philosophical premises, is also at times delightfully limpid. Some have criticized Flanagan for appearing to favor Buddhism over Western religion, but I for one do not find that attitude borne out by the book. I highly recommend not only the text of the book but also the bibliographic-essay section at the end of the book; this section is a great springboard for further reading even as it is daunting in its reach!...more
Even before the revelation in 2014 by Marion Zimmer Bradley’s daughter Moira of more details of the horrendous physical and sexual abuse that MZB andEven before the revelation in 2014 by Marion Zimmer Bradley’s daughter Moira of more details of the horrendous physical and sexual abuse that MZB and her husband Walter H. Breen perpetrated on a long list of underage victims, reactions to “The Mists of Avalon” were all over the map. All that you have to do is to look at the Goodreads reviews from that time; some loved the book, whereas others absolutely could not stand it. But after Moira’s revelations, leading authors and many readers immediately distanced themselves from her actions and, just as importantly, from her books. After all, the reasoning went, how can we support the work of such an odious human being? And how could the evil of such a person not seep into her novels?
I recall J.R.R. Tolkien’s take on this kind of reasoning:
“I do not like giving ‘facts’ about myself other than ‘dry’ ones (which anyway are quite as relevant to my book as any other more juicy details). Not simply for personal reasons; but also because I object to the contemporary trend in criticism, with its excessive interest in the details of the lives of authors and artists. They only distract attention from an author’s works (if the works are in fact worthy of attention), and end, as one now sees, in becoming the main interest. But only one’s guardian Angel, or indeed God Himself, could unravel the real relationship between personal facts and an author’s works. . . .
“But of course, there is a scale of significance in ‘facts’ of this sort. There are insignificant facts (those particularly dear to analysts and writers about writers): such as drunkenness, wife-beating, and suchlike disorders. I do not happen to be guilty of these particular sins. But if I were, I should not suppose that artistic work proceeded from the weaknesses that produced them, but from other and still uncorrupted regions of my being. Modern ‘researchers’ inform me that Beethoven cheated his publishers, and abominably ill-treated his nephew; but I do not believe that has anything to do with his music.”
One can argue that incest and pedophilia are far from “insignificant” facts, but the question remains: To what extent did these evils seep into “The Mists of Avalon”? There are definitely scenes (although they are few) that in retrospect seem to reflect MZB’s personal life; or do they? More importantly, was the novel condoning incest or other sexual taboos by the appearance of these scenes? Few people make this accusation against, say, George R.R. Martin, mainly, I think, because his personal life hasn’t come under fire. Unless something truly scandalous comes to the fore, most people don't care. That’s precisely Tolkien’s point; the work should be judged independently of the details of the author’s life. As much as I deplore what Breen and MZB did in their personal lives, I just don’t think that “The Mists of Avalon” condones or promotes sexual predation. It indeed is Not Suitable for Children. But now that I’ve read it, I think that those who attack it for a variety of reasons are missing the point and that many of their reviews reveal more about the reviewers than about the book reviewed. Sure, there’s sex, plenty of it, and not just between Lancelet and Gwynhwyfar. Certainly “Mists” reflects a post-1950s perspective on sexual mores and feminism and religion. To what extent it is feminist can be debated. And although MZB did her homework concerning the historical and religious settings, there’s actually very little known with certainty about pre-Roman Celtic religion in Britain. It may also be that the tension between the Druidic and the Christian perspectives did not become so pronounced until hundreds of years later, if at all. But this is after all a retelling of the Arthurian legends, which themselves have the most tenuous connection with history! Caveat lector; don’t take as history everything that you read! Morgaine herself warns in the prologue that “there is no such thing as a true tale. Truth has many faces and is like to the old road to Avalon; it depends on your own will, and your own thoughts, whither the road will take you . . .” The real truth of this or any other tale is in the insight that it gives into the human condition, cognitively and emotionally. On both counts, this novel connected with me. Morgaine, Igraine, Viviane, Morgause, Gwynhwyfar, Raven, Nimue, Niniane—all came alive, and in rich detail, externally and internally, for me. So did the men—Arthur, his knights, Taliesin and Kevin (the successive Merlins of Britain), and the priests. And I for one thought that the tension between paganism and Christianity was always portrayed in "Mists" as an inability to see “sub specie aeternatis”—from the perspective of eternity. This story is more meaningful the more that you know about the many versions of the Arthurian legends, but it can also reward the novice reader. It succeeds for many of the same reasons that the original story did: It addresses universal concerns. And this particular version provides the heretofore unspoken voices of women. They are powerful and touching voices.
I can ask no more of a book than for it to absorb me into its pages and to engage me and to make me sorry to reach its end. “The Mists of Avalon” did all this and more for me. Even knowing what I now know about MZB (I discovered it after finishing Book One of the novel) didn’t diminish my involvement in the tale. I encourage any potential reader to set aside all of your just ire about her personal life and concentrate on the beauty of her language and character development and exposition. This is a moving story, one that deserves continued exposure to as wide of a reading audience as possible. ...more
Just as I had had high hopes for the movie What the Bleep? and was disappointed, I was also disappointed and appalled by the pseudoscience of this booJust as I had had high hopes for the movie What the Bleep? and was disappointed, I was also disappointed and appalled by the pseudoscience of this book. Happily, I didn't waste money on it--I just read much of it at bookstores! By all means, read this book if you want and decide for yourself; but be very, very careful!...more
Excellent for its window into Tibetan Buddhism and for its relationship (the nature of which can be endlessly debated) with current reports of near-deExcellent for its window into Tibetan Buddhism and for its relationship (the nature of which can be endlessly debated) with current reports of near-death experiences....more