|Mists of Avalon cover; Del Rey|
By Marion Zimmer Bradley
The stories of King Arthur could almost get their own section in a book store or a library. Everybody has had their voice heard, Merlin, Arthur, Mordred, and in Bradley's case the women of Camelot tell their sides to the story. Besides retelling the Arthurian legend from another pair of eyes, this book takes a look at religious dissension and the power of women in a society that is slowly being dominated by men.
Morgan Le Fey, the lead protagonist, is the latest in a long line or Priestesses of Avalon, recipients of the Goddess and protectors of magic and ancient secrets. She inherited the title from her mysterious aunt, Vivienne and recounts the life of King Arthur and eventual fall of Camelot.
All of the usual points in the Arthurian legend are present in the novel, Arthur's birth at Tintagel from his mother Igraine and father, Uther; his marriage to Gwenyfahr and her affair with Lancelot; the conception of Mordred; and of course Arthur's death by Mordred's hand. However, they are given well-rounded perspectives that characterizes all of Camelot's cast of characters into interesting perspectives. For example, Arthur's conception is less of a magical form of trickery and deception of Merlin, than it is the ultimate fulfilling of a prophecy and a chance to give Igraine a sense of free will from her tyrannical husband, Gorlois.
Each character is given a new perspective, but none more strongly than Morgaine AKA Morgan Le Fey. The half-sister of Arthur, Morgaine has usually been portrayed as an evil seductive witch sleeping with one knight after another, in some versions, her half-brother. Bradley instead sees her as one of the few remnants of a dying race. A woman desperately clinging to her pagan faith as it becomes swallowed by Christianity and the warfare around her. Morgaine is a strong-willed character trying to fight against the prophecies that are written and the Second Sight that blesses and curses her, each time falling into the predictions no matter what choices she makes.
Morgaine is also given a romantic nature, which she reveals in her encounters with Lancelot, Kevin (a bard who is destine to be the next "Merlin"), and Sir Accolon, fighting her role as a studious priestess and a hot-blooded young woman searching for true love.
Morgaine becomes a symbol for the pagan faith, particularly in her scenes with Gwynefahr. Morgaine feels the connection from the Goddess and nature, while Gwynefahr prays to the Saints and Jesus inside stone chapels. Morgaine struggles to keep Goddess worship alive while fighting with Vivienne; while Gwynefahr clashes with her husband's pagan background and her own lustful feelings for Lancelot. The two women vie in their spiritual pursuits, and their own claims to Camelot's legacy.
Mists of Avalon gives a fresh perspective of the world of King Arthur that opens the reader's eyes to a deeper perspective of the legend.
Links for Further Discussion and Activity Suggestions
The Camelot Project at the University of Rochester -As I said the legends of King Arthur could fit in their own section of a bookstore or library. Browse through this site for a few minutes. Do you see familiar patterns describing the characters and plotlines? What are some specific versions of the legen
legends of King Arthur that you have seen or read over the years? Are there any particular striking images or portrayals that stick with you?
Encyclopedia Mythica- The place to go if you want to learn more about myths and legends. What other legends can you find besides Arthurian? How are these tales similar and how are they different?
What specific stories are your favorites? How would you portray the story and in whose eyes would you tell it? Think of different ways and points of view a familiar story could be told.
Questions for further discussions
1. Mists of Avalon tells the story of King Arthur from the perspective of the female characters, particularly Morgan Le Fey and Gwynefahr. What other books tell a familiar story through another point of view? How do they comment on and contradict the actions in the other story? How do these books enhance the familiar tale and do they change your perspective of that tale? How do works like Mists of Avalon and others, alter the ideas of heroes and villains?
2. There is a strong theme of spirituality, particularly from women. How do the female characters like Morgaine and Gwynefahr represent their faith and rebel against it? What familiar elements from Pagan and Christian faiths, as well as other religions are present in the book? How do such pagan beliefs attract women and what do they say about women? What does Christianity say about women?