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The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley

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LCW
Compulsive Reader
Location: Southern California

The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley

Postby LCW » Tue August 26th, 2008, 5:21 pm

The entire premise behind this novel is a good one. It is the legend of King Arthur, Camelot, and Avalon but told from the point of view of the women involved, particularly the priestesses of Avalon. Central to the plot is that Vivianne, Avalon's powerful high priestess, tricks Morgaine, her apprentice (and the novel's main character), into sleeping with her brother Arthur in order to produce a son that has Avalon running through his veins from both sides. Arthur himself is a product of Vivanne's goal of ensuring that Britian has a High King who will remain faithful to Avalon and keep peace between Christians and the follower's of the Goddess of Avalon. Otherwise Avalon is in danger of diasappearing into the mists forever.

When Morgain finds out it was her brother Arthur who she slept with she turns on Vivianne, leaves Avalon, and goes to live with her scheming sister Morgause in the wilds of Lothian. There she gives birth to Mordred but then falls vicitim to her sister's scheme when Morgause finds out Mordred is King Arthur's son. Morgause takes Mordred from her an does not allow Morgaine to form a bond with her son in the hopes that by raising him it is she who will be the real influence behind the throne when he is High King.

Meanwhile, Arthur has married Gwenhwyfar, a devout Christian and a woman who seems to suffer from one phobia after another. She sees her inability to give birth to a child as punishment from God for Arthur's divided allegiance to both the followers of Avalon's Goddess and the Christian God. She uses Arthur's love for her to convince him to turn his back on Avalon and make Britian an entirely Christian nation. This, Mordred waiting in the wings, and the fallable nature of human being's sets the stage up for conflict and destruction that will destroy all of the orignal plans for peace and unity between Christian's and Avalon. And Morgaine, after years of living outside of Avalon yet longing to return, discovers that leaving Avalon was easy but finding her way back is anything but.

While all these factors seem to be the ingredients for an amazing read, this reader was dissapointd with several aspects of the novel. To start with, the author's pro-Pagan anti-Christian views come shining through each page of this novel. I think it's wonderful that a novel was published with such a different point of view. No matter what your religious orientation, it's always good to question and see things from another vantage point. The problem I had was that after several hundred pages of this it began to grate on my nerves. Eventually it was like, "OK, I get it already!!!" It was just too much and the entire novel would've benefitted from a much more subtle approach.

Then there was the extreme long-windedness of the author. Now, don't get me wrong, I love a good long novel but not when it seems to just go on and on and on and on about what, IMO, were not major plot points in the novel. Some serious editing needed to be done here. This novel could've shaved off a couple hundred pages and not suffered a thing.

I also thought the portrayal of Gwenhwyfar as a whiney, wimpy, 'fraidy cat was too over the top. I get that the author was trying to portray the difference and the conflict between her and Morgaine, which represented the heart of the conflict between Avalon and Christians, but she just has no reedeming qualities whatsoever. In what is supposed to be an novel told from the women's viewpoint, the author seemed to do the same thing she accuses Christians of doing, laying the blame for the sins and downfall of the world at the feet of a woman. It seemed that she Gwenhwyfar was the author's scape goat here. I wouldn't have minded the less than flattering portrayal of Gwenhwyfar if would've at least attempted to be somewhat fair and at least allowed the reader to discover some reedeming quality about her.

OK so I know I've waxed verbose about what I didn't like about the novel but there were some things that I thought were great. In fact, overall I didn't hate this novel it's just that the above gripes keep it from getting too great of a score. As a heroine, I absolutely loved Morgaine. She was flawed yet sincere, very human, and yet somehow very spiritual and divine. She was not the typical beauty but yet she radiated with an inner beauty. She made mistakes over and over again and suffered for those mistakes as did others.

I also enjoyed the humanity of so many of the characters. They were so recognizably human, flawed, caring, violent, and yet they yearned for peace. They made mistakes and suffered the consquences. That was painfully depicted here in a way I haven't seen in many other novels. It was very atmospheric and, when I wasn't pulled out of the story by the above irritants, I was swept away into ancient Britian and the world the author created.


I enjoyed reading about the conflict of cultures as Christianity began to spread across Britian. Just the fact that there is a novel with such a different point of view than we are used to, female and Pagan, is a very good thing. I would love to try and read more about the ancient religions. I just wish that, as a whole, this particular novel had been written better. But this is one I'm going to hang on to and reread in a few years and compare my reactions.

Overall I do recommend this novel because of it's very different premise, I love the heroine, and you may not have the same issues I did with the presentation of the story. 3 1/2 stars.

ETA: I don't get the complaint from so many reviewers that this is a "feminist" novel. It's told from the viewpoint of the women involved, does that make it feminist? Even if it was "feminist" what's so wrong with the idea that men and women should be equals? Since when is that a bad thing?

It's the "good Pagans, bad Christians" theme repeated ad nauseum that causes this novel to suffer, not the fact that it's told from a female perspective. And I'm agnostic so I don't claim one religion over another, I just don't like it when an author's personal POV overtakes what otherwise could be a good story.

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Kailana
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Location: Nova Scotia, Canada
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Postby Kailana » Wed August 27th, 2008, 3:24 am

That's interesting about the feminist argument. While the book is told from the female point-of-view, I never really thought about that while I was reading it. It was just the Arthurian legend with a twist told from a different view-point. Back when I read it, I loved it, but it has been years and I have read a lot since. I wonder if I went back and reread it if I would still think the same about it...

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Margaret
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Postby Margaret » Sun October 19th, 2008, 6:20 am

I think I might have enjoyed this novel more if I had read it when it first came out, because its portrayal of the Arthur legend from the perspective of the women was truly ground-breaking, especially the way Bradley up-ended the traditional good-guys/bad-guys perspective by having her Morgan-le-Fay character be so heroic and admirable. Alas, by the time I got around to it, this idea was no longer so fresh, and I found the overly embroidered language and many pages of unnecessary prose that should have been edited out to be really annoying.

Lila hits it right on the nose, I think, when she says "extreme long-windedness." I also agree about the excessive emphasis on the Christians being bad guys. I'm all for the Christians being the bad guys in Dark Age novels - it's just that the unrelieved heavy-handedness of this particular novel became almost as hard to take as the pro-Christian attitude in some of the more saccharine historical novels of the 1950s and 1960s.
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Divia
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Postby Divia » Sun October 19th, 2008, 2:29 pm

I agree it is long winded at times. I think some of it could have been edited out for sure.

As for the anti Christian feel. I loved it. But then again I'm tired of many novels painting Christians in the perfect light, so I dug it. But I can see how some people wouldnt.
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Ash
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Location: Arizona, USA

Postby Ash » Sun October 19th, 2008, 2:47 pm

ETA: I don't get the complaint from so many reviewers that this is a "feminist" novel. It's told from the viewpoint of the women involved, does that make it feminist? Even if it was "feminist" what's so wrong with the idea that men and women should be equals? Since when is that a bad thing?

I had the same quiery, didn't get that 'complaint' at all. I did love this book - Morgain's character was all she should have been, the twist on the Arthur story, and the conflict between Christianity and the Pagan world was most excellent. It was a new concept to me at the time, and it was what got me interested in reading about early Christianity. I will admit, if I had read it now, the hammer of 'pagan good, christians bad' would have rankled me just like it did you. But it didn't bother me at all back then (gack, we are probably talking 30 years), esp as I had never really read a book that put Christianity in that light before.

also enjoyed the humanity of so many of the characters. They were so recognizably human, flawed, caring, violent, and yet they yearned for peace. They made mistakes and suffered the consquences. That was painfully depicted here in a way I haven't seen in many other novels. It was very atmospheric and, when I wasn't pulled out of the story by the above irritants, I was swept away into ancient Britian and the world the author created.

I so agree with all of this. In fact its humanity of characters that often make or break a book for me, and yes to becoming totally lost in that world.


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