Marion Zimmer Bradley’s ‘The Mists of Avalon’ is by no means a new novel – but it was one I hadn’t yet read. I consider myself a life-long Arthurian fiction fan – from Sir Thomas Malory’s ‘Le Morte D’Arthur’ to Jack Whyte’s brilliant ‘A Dream of Eagles’ series, to Mary Stewart’s ‘The Crystal Cave’, I have devoured every piece of Arthurian fiction I have encountered (though I admit that there are many I have as yet not touched.)
But Marion Zimmer Bradley’s take was different. The proud Arthur, the noble Lancelot, the mysterious Merlin, the pure Galahad, the dark Mordred – always Arthurian fiction has been a broad, sweeping epic, devoted to the powerful and nearly holy seeming men of the myth. The Mists of Avalon opened up a whole new avenue of inquiry – what were the women like? Always has Guinevere been the holy queen – but here she is a sinful backslid Christian hedonist, tormented by her inability to produce a son. Morgan le Fay, Queen of the Fairies, was always the darkest and most evil of characters – in many instances, she intentionally deceived Arthur as to her nature and lay with him to produce that darkest heir, Mordred, to bring him down, an evil pagan bringing sin and plight on the most good and holy of Christian kings. In this tale, she is merely a girl who unkowingly takes into her arms her own brother – and is shattered by the knowledge, frantic to rid herself of the babe he gets on her.
I found it to be a beautiful and incredible ride – tragic in the correct amounts, and riveting. I felt Gwenhwyfar’s longing for a child – and Morgaine’s spiritual conviction. I knew what it was to tread the lands of Fairy, lost out of this world and time to the ministrations of those fey folk.
The grandiose nature of Arthurian fiction was brought near to reality by Bradley’s down-to-earth explanations – Morgaine was no sorceress, but a priestess, and skilled in herb-lore. The Merlin was not a single man, but a position – and those that filled the position were neither all-powerful nor all-knowing. And Arthur will come again to the people, for he can never be one of the once-born.
All in all, I found ‘The Mists of Avalon’ to be an incredible story, with good attention to detail, but not a trace of pedantry to it. The language is archaic but understandable, and might stoke a literate fire in anyone’s soul – a good, rounded read, tragic and heartwarming in the correct amounts.
Hardcover worthy : Yes, absolutely. I would gladly put this on my shelf and take it down to read once a year – ‘The Mists of Avalon’ will definitely be in my library.