The Mists of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley

Published 1982
Review by Jenn

Cover of Del Rey Edition OK, how's this for an idea: retell the story of King Arthur at Camelot yet again, only this time, do it from the perspective of the women.

The women of this age-old legend each take a turn at telling the tale, but The Mists of Avalon is mainly Morgan Le Fay's story, the older half-sister of Arthur (who became king of the Britons - we hear your host, Sir Robin, knows something of King Arthur!) and mother of the King's only son. Morgan (or, as Bradley writes it, Morgaine) became, in Malory's words, a "great mistress of magic."

With this particular version, Bradley takes a great number of liberties: besides altering various aspects of the story and its traditional characters somewhat, she at times rather inaccurately portrays differing elements of the religions she delves into with such detail. Religion happens to be the book's main focus - Morgan Le Fay, who becomes the Lady of the Lake, is locked into combat with her younger brother over his struggle to blot out the pagan religions and make Christianity the universal religion of the Isle. Although she ultimately fails, her heavy-handed efforts still turn me off, leaving a bad taste in the reader's mouth akin to the heavy-handedness of the Christian Crusades. Intolerance on both sides abounds in this book, and while Morgaine eventually rises above it by the story's end, her "seeing the light," as it were, comes too late for character redemption - at least in my opinion.

This is not to say Mists does not make for pleasant reading - it does indeed, is nice and long yet an easy read that won't prove over-taxing on the attention span. Arthurian buffs need to add it to the collection: it is a new telling of the mystical story of the enchanted land of Avalon, where in olden times women still wield power over the supernatural as well as in their own world and time. Spending less time on the men in favor of delving into the lives of the female characters, Bradley sheds light on the motivating force behind Morgaine's quest in Arthur's court and Guinivere's struggle between love and duty, guilt and self-awareness that manifests itself in her wavering between the king and her lover, the knight Sir Lancelot.

There is one other problem I have with this book: there are times when Bradley's writing, like the writing of many authors of our sex, borders on the modern harlequin romance - a genre for which I have absolutely no patience, for it seems to me an excuse to write crap and pass it off as art. But these lapses are relatively momentary in nature, and the story itself was worth reading around them.

There are other "Avalon" books by Ms. Bradley: Lady of Avalon, her latest, and Forest House, which is a prequel.