Rachael Sherwood's Reviews > The Mists of Avalon

The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley
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Aug 14, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: 2011

When I was about a fourth of the way through The Mists of Avalon, I glanced at some reviews on GoodReads and was disheartened to see that the consensus of many reviews was that the book ended on a FEMINISMRULESMENDROOLSCHRISTIANITYSUX message. Thus far I had found the book to be more complex than that, but I could see that ending coming, as MZB is not always the subtlest of writers. However, at the end I happily conclude that seeing such a reductionist message from the text is a failing on the reader, not the author.

The Mists of Avalon, for those who are not familiar, is a retelling of the Arthurian saga from the women’s point of view. Most notably, it follows the women of Avalon, traditionally regarded as witches, crones, and villainesses. Morgaine (Morgan Le Fey) is not evil sorcercess intent on destroying the good Christian king, she is a devoted priestess to the Goddess who wants to make sure that her religion is not destroyed by the Christian conversion of the lands. The decline of the pagan religion is symbolized quite literally, through their holy Isle of Avalon. There was a time when any man or woman could find the Island, but as more and more converts abandon the old ways, Avalon fades more into the mists. Morgaine’s foil is Gwynhefar, the passionate young Queen who wants to remake Britain in Christ’s name. Both Morgaine and Gwynhefar are I think what you could fairly describe as religious fanatics, and they both struggle with what they must give up to push their agenda. The Merlin of Britain, leader of the Druids, occupies a middle ground in this religious debate, saying merely that all Gods are one and that it does not matter what form men see them in. In the end, the book’s conclusion lies closest to the Merlin’s, and even Morgaine comes to embrace the Christians and sees her Goddess in the Virgin Mary and Saint Brigid. I think this book is a great starting place for a bigger discussion of the place of feminine spirituality within a patriarchal driven religion.

Although the book is largely concerned with matters of religion, it is also a saga of family and love and is filled with fascinating characters. It’s hard for me to say who I’d recommend it to, or not. For me it was a totally immersive and exciting experience, I suspect for others it would drag. I would NOT recommend it for someone looking for an Arthurian story, this is a postfeminist story about spirituality. If that interests you, go for it. ;) I think possibly it’s best audience would be teenage girls; I really enjoyed reading it as an adult, as a teen I think I would have just loved it.
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Reading Progress

August 14, 2011 – Started Reading
August 14, 2011 – Shelved
August 14, 2011 –
page 171
August 17, 2011 –
page 335
38.24% "I love this book. I can recognize its flaws as I read, but even those are kind of endearing, like the flaws of loved ones"
August 21, 2011 –
August 21, 2011 – Shelved as: 2011
August 21, 2011 – Finished Reading

Comments (showing 1-5)

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message 5: by Katie (new) - added it

Katie I'm excited to see what you think of this one! Its such a classic, and I have a copy(!), but I've never read it.

Rachael Sherwood This is a longass book, haha! So far I'm enjoying it a lot.

message 3: by Esmeralda (new)

Esmeralda I don't see how anyone who finished the book could call it anti-Christian. The book had its flaws but I really enjoyed it.

Rachael Sherwood I agree. It's bizarre to me. I guess people will look for what they expect to see?

Maggie Most enjoyed your review--I think you hit the nail on the head. Most people approach this book expecting a fast-paced Arthurian epic but despite its length, the epic struggles lie in the realms of the spiritual, psychological, and familial. As someone very much intrigued by questions of gender role and spirituality, I loved it.

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