Rachel's Reviews > The Mists of Avalon

The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley
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Jul 20, 08

bookshelves: science-fiction
Read in January, 1998

OK I admit, when I told my college Arthurian Lit professor that I'd read and enjoyed this book, he proceeded to give me a quick-before-the-next-class-comes-in lecture about how Marion Zimmer Bradley's "interpretation" skewed wildly from the genre.

But I don't care. It's a difficult book (long and utterly depressing,) but it takes the first in-depth look at both women and the pagan Celtic religion of Britain, which Christianity usurped around that time. Evil sorceress Morgan Le Fay is transfered into multi-faceted Morgaine, a woman deeply committed to her family, especially her aunt, Viviane, half-brother, Arthur, and cousin, Lancelet. Gwenhyfar, the simpering Christian princess, was my least favorite, but even she had some complexity, an unhappy childhood, inferiority complex made worse by her bareness, (and obvious jealousy-issues with Morgaine concerning the womens' relationships with Arthur and Lancelet.) Perhaps the most dour of Morgaine's familial ties is that with her son, Mordred, the illigitimate heir of her brother, whom she foolishly put up with her aunt Morgause, easily the most shallow and greedy woman in the entire book.

Religion-wise, I found it impossible not to root for Morgaine's Avalon, not only because I knew it was destined to recede into the mists, but because it was matriarchal, and so much more comforting to me than the expansionalist, narrow-minded and mysoginistic version of Christianity prevalent during those times. At the end, Morgaine herslf shows the most tolerance and versatility for diverse cultures- she outlives most everyone else, and grows to accept that her mother goddess is now worshipped as the virgin mary. Quite the contrast from the crone-like Morgan Le Fay, whose only purpose is to destroy the kingdom of Camelot.
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Comments (showing 1-6 of 6) (6 new)

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Carolyn Overall I think your review echoes what I liked about the book - but I wanted to comment on you Arthurian Lit professor - what a jerk! The whole genre is based on oral history anyways, and one of the things I loved the most at the point I read this book was that is *was* told from totally different viewpoints on the same myth.

One of the things I have found in my research and readings in the 25 years since I first read this book is a pair of interesting facts.
1) Le Morte d'Artur by Thomas Mallory is the first written version of a story that had been carried for generations in an oral version. Not an original story - his version of the story he heard.
2) Many scholars who have researched Mallory and his various writings have determined him to be a misogynist - hated his mother, etc.

So, if a misogynist writes a book which then becomes the canon/template for all other versions of the myth, it is not surprising that every single female character in it is either a witch, a bitch, or a harlot.

Thank god for MZB's retelling of the myth which depicted the women of the story as *people* - with all their attendant complexities, rather than as shallow stereotypes and characters to mention (and dismiss) quickly so as to get back to the 'real' story.

Rachel I think that my professor and I were just looking for different things. Medvieval literature was not so much into complex character development, I find. It's an interesting worldview but I'm more with you- I'd rather flesh out the people (*all* the people) than the society at large.

I appreciate what you have to say about Mallory but unfortunately, bigotry of all sorts is not hard to find in early writings. "Political correctness" was not en vogue. :P Sometimes one can look past it to get something out of the stories and sometimes not, I suppose.

Camille Lancelot, lol.

Rachel I went with the name spellings that Marion Zimmer Bradley used in the book. :)

message 5: by Camille (last edited Aug 24, 2014 02:27PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Camille Rachel wrote: "I went with the name spellings that Marion Zimmer Bradley used in the book. :)"

I am a fan of the original Arthurian cycle, not the ones Zimmer-Bradley wrote. And I hate Guenievre (Gwen's name in French).

Virtuella Your professor is plain wrong. The Arthurian stories have been retold over and over at different times ion history, always expressing something that was important to people at that time. Mists of Avalon does exactly the same and is therefore perfectly in tune with the source material.

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