Marion Zimmer Bradley,
The Mists of Avalon
(Del Rey, 1982)

The Mists of Avalon is one of the more controversial books in Arthurian fiction. Readers either love it or hate it: lukewarm seems not to be an option. There is no way any fiction book can get across the reality or unreality of the Arthur saga, however, I feel that this book certainly remains true to the point of view.

Rather than Arthur, Morgaine is the focus of the book. Generally known in legend as the fairy queen who is the enemy of Arthur, in this book she is his sister and a priestess of Avalon. Morgaine is the primary focus, with the secondary focus being the other women around Arthur -- his mother, Igraine, his wife Gwenhyfar, Morgause, queen of Lothian, and Vivienne, Lady of the Lake. All of these points of view weave to tell a tale less of chivalric honor and more of the stresses between the Druidic and Christian religious factions which seek to control the throne of Britain.

Morgaine, for me, is a very sympathetic character. She often feels buffeted by fate, and does her best with her information and the training of a priestess. Her status as a priestess and independent woman makes her dangerous in the Christian court of Arthur, despite Arthur's vow to be a king to all the people of Britain. Morgaine reminds him of this vow, not always to her benefit.

Morgaine also inspires me, because she is a priestess and independent. As she relearns her connection to the her faith during her years in Wales, I identify very strongly with her desire to once again be close to the Goddess.

Arthur is portrayed in an interesting manner. His strength and weakness are in many ways the same. As Morgaine realizes on page 621: "'I like that everybody be happy,' Arthur said, and she knew that this was really the key to his nature; that he did indeed seek to make everyone happy down to the least of his subjects."

Arthur is beloved because he wants everyone to be happy, and will do all that he can to make them happy. Unfortunately, a King cannot make everyone happy and still be true to the land and himself. In his efforts to please Gwenhyfar, his pious Christian wife, he betrays Avalon and the pagan people he has sworn to protect. Because he loves so much, he cannot stop the scandal caused by his wife and his best friend.

Ever since reading The Once and Future King by T.H. White, I've always felt sorry for Arthur, and The Mists of Avalon heightens that feeling. Here is a man who is High King, does the best that he can, but because he is a good man, he cannot be the ruthless politician that a High King must sometimes be. The conflict of private person vs. High King is an echo of the Avalon vs. Christian friction; and this strife dooms both the private Arthur and the lost world of Avalon.

Despite the love/hate reactions surrounding the book and the massive length (876 pages), it is worth reading. Some may enjoy picking it apart, but this is a work of fiction and does not pretend to be anything but a story.

[ by Beth Derochea ]

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