The Mists of Avalon

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The Mists of Avalon
Mists of Avalon-1st ed.jpg
Cover of the American first edition
Author(s)Marion Zimmer Bradley
Cover artistBraldt Bralds
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
SeriesAvalon
Genre(s)Fantasy novel
PublisherAlfred A. Knopf
Publication dateJanuary 1983
Media typePrint (hardcover and paperback) and audio-CD
Pages876
ISBN0-394-52406-3
OCLC Number8473972
Dewey Decimal813/.54 19
LC ClassificationPS3552.R228 M5 1982
Preceded byPriestess of Avalon
 
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The Mists of Avalon
Mists of Avalon-1st ed.jpg
Cover of the American first edition
Author(s)Marion Zimmer Bradley
Cover artistBraldt Bralds
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
SeriesAvalon
Genre(s)Fantasy novel
PublisherAlfred A. Knopf
Publication dateJanuary 1983
Media typePrint (hardcover and paperback) and audio-CD
Pages876
ISBN0-394-52406-3
OCLC Number8473972
Dewey Decimal813/.54 19
LC ClassificationPS3552.R228 M5 1982
Preceded byPriestess of Avalon

The Mists of Avalon is a 1983 novel by Marion Zimmer Bradley, in which she relates the Arthurian legends from the perspective of the female characters. The book follows the trajectory of Morgaine (often called Morgan le Fay in other works), a priestess fighting to save her matriarchal Celtic culture in a country where patriarchal Christianity threatens to destroy the pagan way of life.[1] The epic is focused on the lives of Gwenhwyfar, Viviane, Morgause, Igraine and other women who are often marginalized in Arthurian retellings. King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table are supporting rather than main characters.

The Mists of Avalon is in stark contrast to most other retellings of the Arthurian tales, which consistently cast Morgan le Fay as a distant, one-dimensional evil sorceress, with little or no explanation given for her antagonism to the Round Table. In this case Morgaine is presented as a woman with unique gifts and responsibilities at a time of enormous political and spiritual upheaval who is called upon to defend her indigenous matriarchal heritage against impossible odds. The Mists of Avalon stands as a watershed for feminist interpretation of male-centered myth by articulating women's experiences at times of great change and shifts in gender-power. The typical battles, quests, and feuds of King Arthur's reign act as secondary elements to the women's lives.

The story is told in four large parts: Book One: Mistress of Magic, Book Two: The High Queen, Book Three: The King Stag, and Book Four: The Prisoner in the Oak. The novel was a best-seller upon its publication and remains popular to this day. Bradley and Diana L. Paxson later expanded the book into the Avalon series.

Contents

Plot

Summary

The Mists of Avalon is a generations-spanning retelling of the Arthurian legend, but bringing it back to its Brythonic Celtic roots (see Matter of Britain). Its protagonist is Morgaine, who witnesses the rise of Uther Pendragon to the throne of Camelot. As a child, she is taken to the Holy Isle of Avalon by High Priestess Viviane, her maternal aunt, to become a priestess of the Mother Goddess and witnesses the rising tension between the old Pagan and the new Christian religions. At one point, she is given in a fertility rite to a young man she will later learn is Arthur, her half-brother. Unbeknownst to Arthur, Morgaine conceives a child, Gwydion, later called Mordred, as a result of the ritual.

After Uther dies, his son Arthur claims the throne. Morgaine and Viviane give him the magic sword Excalibur, and with the combined force of Avalon and Camelot, Arthur drives away the invading Saxons. But when his wife Gwenhwyfar fails to produce a child, she is convinced that it is a punishment of God: firstly for the presence of pagan elements (a stance which Morgaine deeply resents), and secondly, for her forbidden love for Arthur's finest knight Lancelet. She increasingly becomes a religious fanatic, and relationships between Avalon and Camelot (i.e. Morgaine and herself) become hostile.

When the knights of the Round Table leave to search for the Holy Grail, Mordred seeks to usurp the throne. In a climactic battle, Arthur's and Mordred's armies square off, and in the end Avalon and Arthur are magically removed from the circles of the world. It is Morgaine alone who lives to tell the tale of Camelot.

Characters

Bradley on her book

About the time I began work on the Morgan le Fay story that later became Mists, a religious search of many years culminated in my accepting ordination in one of the Gnostic Catholic churches as a priest. Since the appearance of the novel, many women have consulted me about this, feeling that the awareness of the Goddess has expanded their own religious consciousness, and ask me if it can be reconciled with Christianity. I do feel very strongly, not only that it can, but that it must... So when women today insist on speaking of Goddess rather than God, they are simply rejecting the old man with the white beard, who commanded the Hebrews to commit genocide on the Philistines and required his worshippers daily to thank God that He had not made them women... And, I suppose, a little, the purpose of the book was to express my dismay at the way in which religion lets itself become the slave of politics and the state. (Malory's problem ... that God may not be on the side of the right, but that organized religion always professes itself to be on the side of the bigger guns.) ... I think the neo-pagan movement offers a very viable alternative for people, especially for women, who have been turned off by the abuses of Judeo-Christian organized religions.[4]

Reception

The Mists of Avalon is lauded as one of the most original and emotional retellings of the familiar Arthurian legend. Bradley received much praise for her convincing portrayal of the main protagonists, respectful handling of the Pagan ways of Avalon and for telling a story in which there is neither black and white or good and evil, but several truths. Isaac Asimov called it "the best retelling of the Arthurian Saga I have ever read", and Jean Auel noted "I loved this book so much I went out and bought it for a friend, and have told many people about it."[5] The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction calls the book "a convincing revision of the Arthurian cycle," and said that the victory of Christianity over the "sane but dying paganism" of Avalon "ensures eons of repression for women and the vital principles they espouse." It won the 1984 Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel and spent four months on the New York Times best seller list in hardcover. The trade paperback edition of Mists of Avalon has ranked among the top five trade paperbacks on the monthly Locus bestseller lists for almost four years.[6]

TV series adaptation

The Mists of Avalon was adapted for television into a TNT miniseries in 2001, directed by Uli Edel.

Extended Avalon series

Bradley, along with Diana L. Paxson, later expanded the book into a series, including The Fall of Atlantis, Ancestors of Avalon, Sword of Avalon, Ravens of Avalon, The Forest House, Lady of Avalon, and Priestess of Avalon. J.S. Morgane's The Spirituality of Avalon discusses the religious aspects of the Avalon series and gives insights into a modern Western understanding of spirituality and its construction in epic fantasy fiction.[7]

Release details

References

  1. ^ "Book review of The Mists of Avalon (video)". BlueRectangle.com/Pacific Book Exchange, LLC. 2007. http://bluerectangle.com/book_reviews/view_one_review/2126. Retrieved 2010-06-24.
  2. ^ Bradley, Marion Zimmer (1982). The Mists of Avalon. New York: Ballantine Books. p. 19. ISBN 0-345-31452-2.
  3. ^ Bradley, Marion Zimmer (1982). The Mists of Avalon. New York: Ballantine Books. p. 11. ISBN 0-345-31452-2.
  4. ^ Bradley, Marion Zimmer (1986). "Thoughts on Avalon". Marion Zimmer Bradley Literary Works Trust. http://mzbworks.com/thoughts.htm.
  5. ^ Critical praise ~ ReadingGroupGuides.com
  6. ^ Arthur Through Women's Eyes: The Mists of Avalon ~ Space.com
  7. ^ Morgane, Judith S (2010), The spirituality of Avalon the religion of the Great Goddess in Marion Zimmer Bradley's Avalon cycle, München AVM, ISBN 3-89975-768-8

Further reading

External links