Monday, August 6, 2012

The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley

Title: The Mists of Avalon
Author: Marion Zimmer Bradley
Publication Date: 1984
Length: 876 pages

Warning: This book brings out the politics in me, so this review might offend you! Turn back now if you are easily offended by Pagans who are fed up with religious intolerance. :) (No offense is meant towards other religions.)

The Mists of Avalon is a retelling of the King Arthur story, told from the perspectives of the women involved. As a result, it's very different from any other Arthurian legend. There are pretty much no battle scenes, and Morgan is a wise high priestess, rather than an evil sorceress. Morgan's story ties the book together, as it follows many people's lives and stories, starting when Morgan is just 3 years old and covering most of her life. In this story, we see the events of many decades unfold through the eyes of many women, with wildly different motivations, resulting in an interesting mix of perspectives.

Right from the beginning, I found myself thinking, I had no idea this book was so Pagan! And so feminist! How have I not read this book before?! It's a real breath of fresh air for those of us who weren't particularly fond of the other versions of the Arthurian legend, in which the good guys are not the Pagans, and the women (at least those with power) are generally evil. Obviously, everyone has a bias when reading something with two opposing sides of this nature, and I don't know how this book would read for a Christian (certainly there are Christian women, particularly Gwenhwyfar, adding their perspective to the narrative), but when I was reading it, it was very clear that the Christians were in the wrong. The priests came to a land which had previously held people of various religions (who sometimes fought but did not try to destroy each other's religions), and insisted that their religion was the only true one, and everyone else was worshipping devils. The intolerance the Christian characters display throughout the story had me gritting my teeth. I guess it hit a little too close to home for comfort. For me, that made it a very powerful read.

One thing I did not expect in this story was how much I would hate Gwenhwyfar. In the beginning I didn't mind her, but as she grows older, she seems to become more and more foolish. There would be moments when she and Morgaine would be like friends, but Gwenhwyfar's piousness would always result in her condemning Morgaine, Merlin, and all of Avalon. She was positively infuriating. Someone would point out an obvious similarity between her religion and that of Avalon, and she's be like, that's completely different, because my God is actually REAL. *siiiiiiigh*

As you might expect from an Arthurian tale, the book does not wrap up with a nice, happy ending. I sort of understood that it couldn't, while remaining at all true to the story, but it was still painful. However, there was enough good in the final ending (seriously, this book has more "endings" than The Return of the King) that I still felt overwhelming positive about the book when I finished.

Hence, 5 stars.

This book counts towards the Read Your OWN Library! Challenge (hosted by The Beauty of Eclecticism) for July. For August, my book for the challenge will be The Encounter (Animorphs #3) by K.A. Applegate. This book also counts for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge.


  1. Lianne:

    This is an excellent, intelligent, and well thought-out review of one of my favorite books. One of the reasons I personally had a challenge with the book is that most people who discuss "Mists" say how wonderful it is because it shows strong women; I disagree. I think that all of the women have to work within the confines of a male-dominated world, including the High Priestesses, in order to get anything done -- and this involves some conniving and also paints women as using subterfuge to have their way. (Just my two cents!) I truly enjoyed the book -- and truly enjoyed what you had to say about it! Thank you for your wonderful work.

    1. Hi Sally! I agree with you. The women in the story have to work through influencing men, because they live in a society that only values the opinions and ambitions of men. This becomes even more true as the Christians take over and Avalon is pushed further from the world.

      I'm glad you enjoyed my review! :)