My Favourite Books: The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley

Title: The Mists of Avalon
Author: Marion Zimmer Bradley
Publisher: Ballantine Books (reissue edition – May 12, 1987)
Released: 1982
Pages: 912
ISBN-10: 0345350499
ISBN-13: 978-0345350497

I have been a fan of Arthurian legend and medieval history since I read one of the definitive books of all time on the subject at least 20 years ago. That book was the late feminist, Marion Zimmer Bradley’s classic, The Mists of Avalon. There is something about the romance, mysticism, adventure and chivalry of this time period that resonates with me deep in my soul. I am quite sure I’ve had several previous lives in countries of Celtic origin and to this day my ancestry is Celtic.

This story is told from the female main characters’ perspective: Morgaine (a.k.a. Morgan Le Fay) and Gwenhwyfar (Welsh spelling of Guinevere) who are engaged in a battle for power during the reign of King Arthur’s Camelot; a time when Christianity is spreading like wild fire throughout the Kingdom of Britain, threatening the old Pagan/witchcraft ways that are taught on the magical isle of Avalon which is hidden from the rest of the world by a great mist. Dominant themes encompass the difficulties that arose with the evolution of leadership from faeries to Christianity and from goddesses to God. The Mists of Avalon is also a tale of love, religion, war, loyalty and betrayal.

Marion Zimmer Bradley wrote a series of similarly themed books including Forest House, Lady of Avalon, and Priestess of Avalon (with Diana L. Paxon), but none of them are as superb as The Mists of Avalon. The Mists of Avalon was also made into a 2001 television miniseries starring Angelica Huston, Julianna Margulies, Joan Allen and Samantha Mathis that isn’t exactly the same as the book but is definitely a worthwhile rental for fans of this epic story.

Plot Synopsis

“The Mists of Avalon follows the struggle of Morgaine, a priestess of the Mother Goddess, in her struggle against the encroachment of Christianity during the reigns of Uther Pendragon and his son (and her own half-brother), Arthur. When Arthur and Morgaine, neither knowing their relationship to one another, conceive a son, Mordred, the seeds of conflict between Avalon and Camelot are sown. Eventually, the battle between Arthur and Mordred leaves no one but Morgaine alive to tell the tale.”

Reviews

“There is no such thing as a true tale. Truth has many faces and the truth is like to the old road to Avalon; it depends on your own will and your own thoughts, whither the road will take you.” The Mists of Avalon is a story of another time and place. It’s the legendary saga of King Arthur and his companions at Camelot, their battles, love, and devotion, told this time from the perspective of the women involved. Viviane is “The Lady of the Lake,” the magical priestess of the Isle of Avalon, a special mist-shrouded place which becomes more difficult to reach as people turn away from its nature- and Goddess-oriented religion. Viviane’s quest is to find a king who will be loyal to Avalon as well as to Christianity. This king will be Arthur. Gwenhwyfar, Arthur’s Queen, is an overly pious, fearful woman who successfully sways her husband into betraying his allegiance to Avalon. Set against her is Morgaine of the Fairies, Arthur’s sister, love, and enemy – and the most powerfully believable person in the book – who manipulates the characters like threads in a tapestry to achieve her tragic and heroic goals. The Mists of Avalon becomes a legend seen through new eyes, with details, majestic language, and haunting foreshadowing that hold the reader through its more than 800 pages.” ~ Gloria Bauermeister

“A monumental reimagining of the Arthurian legends…reading it is a deeply moving and at times uncanny experience…An impressive achievement.” ~ The New York Times Book Review

“Masterfully plotted and beautifully written, The Mists of Avalon sheds new light on old characters – especially Morgan of the Faeries, Merlin, Lancelot, and Guinevere. An epic novel of violence, lust, painful loyalties and haunting enchantments.” ~ Publisher’s Weekly

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One comment

  1. Bookpusher (Sharon) · February 18, 2010

    You have written a great review of this now classic book. I also first read it about 20 yrs ago and loved it then, it made a lasting impression. I have given it to my teenage daughter to read, it is waiting in her TBR pile and I look forward to her response to it. Great post.

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