Tuesday, June 22, 2010

mists of avalon

I just finished The Mists of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley. I think it took me a month; this book is a monster. 876 pages in this Del Rey paperback fantasy from the 80s. This story definitely has some legs--it was made into a television movie with Anjelica Houston and Julianna Margulies in 2001--as it re-imagines the Arthur story from the point of view of the women in the story.

Bradley pulls the Lady of the Lake out of the water, and sets her on the ground, albeit, near the lake, and tells her story, as well as the stories of Gwenwyfar (Guinevere), Morgaine (Morgan le Fay), their sisters, mothers, daughters, and ladies in waiting. Arthur, Lancelot, Sir Gawaine, and the other knights of the round table are more like arm candy in this story, driven by not only their will to do what they feel is best for their newly emerging kingdom in England, but what they are driven to do by their love for, or obligations to, these strong willed and proud women.

Bradley takes many of her clues from historical facts, such as Druidism, and other early religions in the British isles, and popular theories of matriarchal societies in early Celtic traditions, to anchor the story more to reality, resulting in a book that reads more like historical fiction than the archetype mythical story of male-dominated chivalry. Throughout the narrative runs the thread of the struggle between the Roman Catholic Church (in the form of Bishop Patricus) and the Druidism and paganism of the time, which was being driven out, and with it: man's ability to access the Isle of Avalon. An island which exists and is as real as any other, but only to those who believe that it can. Avalon, like the religion it is home to, and the very goddess they worship, slowly fades into the mist as believers lose their faith in its reality. And isn't that what happens to all religions that lose its followers?

This one was fun, well thought out and done with a fresh viewpoint that I think anyone who is tired of the male-centric stories of this era would enjoy.

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