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The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley

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Miss Moppet
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The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley

Post by Miss Moppet » Sat September 4th, 2010, 1:20 am

The Mists of Avalon is historical fantasy, with its basis in the Arthurian legends rather than recorded history, but I found the sense of another place and time was beautifully evoked. The book opens with Igraine, Duchess of Cornwall, gazing out into the mists which swirl around her castle of Tintagel. It took me a little time to work out who was who and how they were all related, but by the end of chapter one, when Viviane, Igraine’s priestess half-sister, confronts her with the fact that it is her destiny to bear the king who will unite the warring British factions, I was hooked.

Unfortunately a book with a promising start got bogged down. In essence, The Mists of Avalon is about conflict: not just between Christianity and its alternatives, but about the transition from a matriarchal culture where the king is just the husband of the queen, to a patriarchal culture where the queen is just the husband of the king. I’m not a specialist in the Dark Ages, early Christianity or comparative religions, so I have no idea how accurate any of this might be. But I did find it disappointing that the debate was mostly expressed through repetitive bickering between the different characters. The one time Arthur does meet with the present and future Merlin (two characters hold this title in succession) to talk about Britain’s religious future, the discussion is just mentioned in passing.

This retelling focuses on the female characters and the males tend to be portrayed as weak - the first Merlin is an exception, being presented as a man of great wisdom who is in favour of religious tolerance. Of the women, Arthur's Queen Gwenhwyfar, who is the main advocate for Christianising Britain, is the one of the most irritating women I've ever met, in fiction or out of it; Viviane, Lady of Avalon, is a powerful priestess who can be ruthless in her determination to do the will of the Goddess and Morgause, the scheming Queen of Lothian, is the most negatively depicted of all the female characters (and also the most sexually active, which in a feminist novel surprised me). Morgaine, Viviane's niece and designated successor, is the most important character and the one with whom I had most sympathy: she is portrayed as strong-willed but vulnerable and compassionate. Despite the great length of the book and the amount of repetition, her relationships with men are rather under-written – I kept getting confused about whether she still loved Lancelot or not.

After all these negatives, this was still a four-star book for me. Why? Because it created a world and pulled me into it. Camelot and Avalon were both well evoked, but it was the Avalon scenes I read the book for: I felt as if I was there, sitting by a fire listening to the debate about Britain’s future while the rain poured down outside. About the halfway mark, there were a lot of Camelot scenes and the book began to pall for me, but I pushed through it and I’m so glad I did as the last two hundred pages were riveting. I finished the book in tears and felt I wanted to take a day or two to think about it before starting something new. That doesn’t happen often.

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Post by Divia » Sat September 4th, 2010, 3:05 am

I loved this book, but a nice edit would have done it wonders.

I dont think it needed to be as long as it is.
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Post by Nefret » Sat September 4th, 2010, 3:22 am

[quote=""Divia""]I loved this book, but a nice edit would have done it wonders.

I dont think it needed to be as long as it is.[/quote]

I loved it too. I've read it 3 times.

The cave scene didn't need to be so long, or graphic.
Into battle we ride with Gods by our side
We are strong and not afraid to die
We have an urge to kill and our lust for blood has to be fulfilled
WE´LL FIGHT TILL THE END! And send our enemies straight to Hell!
- "Into Battle"

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Post by fljustice » Sat September 4th, 2010, 5:25 pm

I read this and the books that followed several years ago. I remember loving The Mists of Avalon and (as happens with many series) each book getting weaker and weaker. But I still have them all on my bookshelf, which is pretty amazing because I'm ruthless about moving fiction out to libraries, charities and Bookcrossing.
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Post by EC2 » Sat September 4th, 2010, 11:01 pm

I loved Mists too. I've read it twice and it's on my keeper shelf, although I probably won't read it again - too much of an investment!
I was actually told to read it by my editor at Ballantine back in the early 90's, both as a demonstration of viewpoint control and of how magic could be made to seem a natural part of everyday life.
Les proz e les vassals
Souvent entre piez de chevals
Kar ja li coard n’I chasront

'The Brave and the valiant
Are always to be found between the hooves of horses
For never will cowards fall down there.'

Histoire de Guillaume le Mareschal


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Post by Misfit » Sat September 4th, 2010, 11:25 pm

[quote=""Divia""]I loved this book, but a nice edit would have done it wonders.

I dont think it needed to be as long as it is.[/quote]

That's a viewpoint that's come up quite often on these older books when *big* was in (just like big hair :rolleyes: ;) ). I've been diving a lot into the 70's and 80's books (marked as romance, but there's usually so much more) and it's a common complaint of mine as well.

I think we're now in a different book mindset then we were then, let alone our hurry-hurry lifestyle.
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...is the only place I want to be

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Post by annis » Sat September 4th, 2010, 11:50 pm

The big "selling point" for Mists of Avalon ( and why I enjoyed it when it came out) was the exciting and radical fact that it was feminist fantasy - myth where women were the heroes. This was very appealing at a time when women were beginning to roar, so to speak. Classic fantasy like Tolkien's gave women very minor roles in shaping the story's events and outcome.

I agree that successive Bradley/Paxson Avalon stories became weaker as they went on, though I quite liked Forest House.

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Post by Michy » Sat September 4th, 2010, 11:59 pm

I think we're now in a different book mindset then we were then, let alone our hurry-hurry lifestyle.[/quote]

I read this book when it first came out, and have never re-read it (and never will) so I don't remember enough about it to comment on whether it felt "long" or not. But this is an interesting observation -- there is no doubt that the onset of the "Internet age" has affected our attention spans probably more than any of us really realize.....

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Post by Margaret » Sun September 5th, 2010, 12:29 am

I dont think it needed to be as long as it is.
My sentiments exactly. While I do think the internet has affected our attention spans, I don't think that was the main problem I had in the case of Mists. I read it before I was ever connected to the internet, and I just thought there was a lot of repetition. The point was made over and over and over again that the Christians were awful - it would have been a more graceful novel and still have gotten its point across if this had not been hammered into the ground. And yes, after awhile, every time Gwynhwyfar showed up, I wanted to skip ahead. She was boring.

I think, though, that if I had read Mists when it first came out, I would have liked it much better. As Annis points out, it was truly radical for its time in up-ending the Arthurian legends so Morgan le Fay was the heroine and Arthur, Merlin et al were the bad guys. By the time I read it, this idea was no longer so fresh.

I still love really long novels - if they're tightly constructed, which seems to be a rarity these days. Even short novels can be too long, if they meander.
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Post by Ash » Sun September 5th, 2010, 3:10 am

I also read this book when it came out, in fact if I recall correctly, it was a ARC at our local used bookstore. I fell head over heels for it. I suspect what hooked me was the women in the Arthur legends finally getting a say. I'd loved Arthur since I was a little kid - a fan of Disney's Sword in the Stone and a repeat reading of Once and Future King. The idea that the women had a role in the story, perhaps actually controlling events taking place was thrilling to me. I also read the second one, which wasn't as good but I still liked (the third one, that was the prequel, was horrid, IIRC) I read Mists a couple of times back then. Don't think I could read it now. I'd probably see way too much that would make me roll my eyes and or toss it through the wall

BTW stay away, stay far away from the horrid made for tv movie adaptation they did a few years back. All of the magic is gone - all thats left is the dregs.

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