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The Mists of Avalon
Stock image - cover art may vary
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 0345350499
ISBN-13: 9780345350497
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Release Date: May, 1987
Length: 912 Pages
Weight: 1.85 pounds
Dimensions: 9.4 X 6.1 X 1.7 inches
Language: English

The Mists of Avalon

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Even readers who don't normally enjoy Arthurian legends will love this version, a retelling from the point of view of the women behind the throne. Morgaine (more commonly known as Morgan Le Fay) and Gwenhwyfar (a Welsh spelling of Guinevere) struggle for power, using Arthur as a way to score points and promote their respective wo...
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Customer Reviews

  The Greatest Book of the Latter 20th Century

Marion Zimmer Bradley, who passed away last year, left to her readers both old and new, one of the most enduring legacies of modern literature. The Mists of Avalon is a glorious retelling of the Arthurian saga by one of its most maligned characters--that of Morgan le Fay.

To call this book a "feminist fable" is to do it a great injustice, and frankly, lends itself to charges of sexism. No one calls Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur a paen to masculine virtues; historically speaking, Malory's work was greatly influenced by Eleanor of Aquitaine's famous Courts of Love. Any spurious charges of feminism leveled against Ms. Bradley's book merely rise from the fact that the main characters of the book are all the women behind Arthur's throne; Morgan (called Morgaine in the novel), Guinevere (Gwenhyfar), and Viviane, Lady of the Lake.

Morgaine has emerged as one of my all-time favourite characters in literature; she is a complex woman both ahead of her time, and yet greatly of her time. Gwenhyfar is just as complex, and at first reading, is a thoroughly disagreeable character. That is, until one realizes that she too, is as much a woman of her times. Much of Ms. Bradley's genius lay in her ability to fully flesh out her characters, to make them real to the reader.

This novel also introduced many to the idea of a goddess-centered spirituality (i.e. paganism/wicca) without being preachy. To be honest, I found Morgaine's path to be just as trying and just as demanding as Christianity is to its adherents.

A few detractors have claimed that Mists of Avalon was/is a "recruitment guide" to feminist spirituality, and that Christianity was painted as a hateful religion--unfortunately, these people are the victims of their own biases. Much of early Christianity was rather backwards in its views of women (a view which sadly hasn't progressed all that greatly). To be fair, Ms. Bradley once again proved her impeccable scholarship in showing the ties that early Christianity and the pagan faiths of Old Britain shared--the story of Joseph of Arimathea, who supposedly founded the first church upon Glastonbury Tor, and who worshipped alongside the Druids. She wrote of Pre-Nicean Christianity, which did not seem to have any issues with the pagans of Britain. Still, put oneself in Morgaine's shoes--having to defend one's beliefs against ignorance and superstition (though it was that same 'superstition' that many called on when it came to tending the sick because of her vast knowledge of herb lore). Morgaine was forced to defend even the basic freedoms of women (to be learned) against those who felt that women were not 'created' to read and write.

I also see the problem some of the detractors have is in our very Western notion of 'good gys v. bad guys'. Many people like things simplified, and to read a book that doesn't wrap everything up in a tidy little box has got to be rather disappointing. 'The Mists of Avalon' transcended this outdated notion, peopling its pages with characters who are just as 'real' and as multifacted in their emotions as we ourselves are. As I said before, I no longer have the animosity towards Gwenhyfar that I did when I first read the book many years ago. Now when I re-read 'Mists', she has come to earn my pity and my understanding. And in her own way, she too was a very strong and determined woman.

I have read this book about a good 100 times (I'm not kidding), and with each re-read, I come away with more insight into the human condition. This is a novel that should be read and shared and discussed by everyone. It should be judged for the quality of the writing and for the depth of characterization it brings, both which are immense, and a lasting tribute to the brilliant mind who penned it.
  A man's point of view

As I sense many of those who posted a review are women, I felt compelled to offer my thoughts.

A little preface: I read this book when I was in my early 30's. I am a college-educated professional, and a married heterosexual. I generally read non-fiction: political and military history and mountaineering literature. This book came up in a discussion with my wife, a published writer, who has read it several times and claimed it was one of her all-time favorites. As this is not slight praise from a woman who thinks Shakespeare was a lighweight compared to John Dunne, and actually argue the point!

So I picked up this book and read the first page. Quite a mistake. Three days later I finished this is not so small work having spent nearly every available non-working moment enthralled in this modern masterpiece. Simply put, it is very well written. It is a great story and it is well told. There is romance, fantasy, religion, war, politics, intrigue, and other elements to keep your attention.

I pity those who are so heavily invested in the "accuracy" of the Arthurian legend as to miss the beauty of this book. Doubly so for those who are too religiously dogmatic.

  A Novel Take On A Classic Tale - Superb!!

Marion Zimmer Bradley's "The Mists of Avalon" is one of my favorite versions of the Arthurian legend. I first read the novel in the early 1990s, right after its publication. I reread it recently and was surprised at how much I enjoyed this extraordinary novel the second time around. I turned the pages more slowly and took more time to savor Ms. Bradley's excellent narrative and fresh version of the legendary saga of the rise and fall of Camelot. Her take on the classic characters gives them new depth and dimension. She tells her tale from a feminine perspective, and while the King and knights of Camelot dwell on war, battles and keeping their golden city and realm safe, along with focusing on chivalric honor, the women have different priorities and concerns.

The tale is told from the points of view of the much maligned Morgaine, (Morgana Le Fey), Priestess of Avalon and Gwenhwyfar, (Gwynivere), Christian princess and future queen of Camelot. Although most of the events of the traditional Arthurian legend are presented here, it is extremely interesting how the tale, told by men, changes when viewed through the eyes and experiences of a woman. This is also the important story of the political and religious conflict between the new Christianity and the "old ways" of goddess worship. Believers of each religion seek to control the throne, but ultimately Christianity ascends to be the organized religion of the land. Since Morgaine is a Druid High Priestess, it would explain why she received such a bad rap in Christian civilization. The reader also views other famous female characters from a different vantage point, including Igraine, Morgaine's and Arthur's mother,

Ms. Bradley follows Morgaine from childhood to Priestess in her home on the Isle of Avalon, the center of Druidism and goddess worship since the Roman occupation forced the religion underground, where it remained long after the Roman departure. Mists surround this mystical isle, protecting it and its inhabitants from all who do not have the psychic powers to penetrate the barrier. Morgaine has dedicated her life to preserving her ancient religion and tries to defend it against the growing numbers of her countrymen and the Camelot royalty who exchange the old ways for Christianity. She is also a very powerful person and struggles against the stereotypes which expect her to adhere to more traditional "feminine," (dependent), behavior and roles.

Bradley also follows the lovely Gwenhwyfar from the innocence of her girlhood to her rise as King Arthur's Christian Queen. She deeply fears Druid magic and her terror causes her to miscarry a long awaited baby. King Arthur's acquiescence to his wife's pleas to turn his back on the old ways and adopt Christianity is the beginning of the cataclysmic fall of his reign.

This is a most unique novel and Ms. Bradley's innovative fantasy version of Camelot, Britain during the Dark Ages, and the profound changes which took place in the land and among the people during this period had me riveted until I completed the last page. If you are open to a different take on a classic tale, then I highly recommend this wonderful novel.

  The definition of a good book!

I had forgotten my love for reading after going through so many books that didn't hold my attention. The Mists of Avalon reminded me of my love for a good book and got me hooked on Marion Zimmer Bradley. This book is a perfect blend of romance, action, magic and just plain creativity that binds you to the story and leaves you begging for more. This book tells the Arthurian legend through the eyes of the women around King Arthur's life. It tells the story of the strength of Morgain (his sister), Igraine (his mother) and Guenivere (his wife). It wonderfully portrays the bravery of these women in such a brutal time, without taking away the romance and insecurity's women feel. Beautiful book. Be sure to read the Forest House and Lady of the Lake also, which take place before The Mists of Avalon although Bradley wrote them afterward. I started with the Mists of Avalon and had no trouble at all. Marion Zimmer Bradley was a genious. I'm terribly gratefull to her for giving me something to refresh my mind.
  From the Feminine Point of View, Not Feminist

Many of Marion Zimmer Bradley's books are rather fluffy fantasies, fun and light. This is not the case with the mystical, magical "The Mists of Avalon." This spendid book is a retelling of the King Arthur legend from the point of view of the women involved, principally, Morgaine, King Arthur's half-sister and Priestess of Avalon, and Gwenhwyfar, the Christian princess and future Queen of Camelot.

Although "The Mists of Avalon" has been criticized as being a "feminist" book, I don't think this criticism holds up. Yes, the author chose to focus on the conflicts and emotions of the women involved, but their gender is far less important in the book than is their religion. Morgaine, as a Druid and Priestess of the Goddess, is struggling to keep her dying religion alive against the growth of Christianity and Gwenhwyfar.

The main character in "The Mists of Avalon" is Morgaine and we follow her from childhood to her rise as a priestess on the mystical Isle of Avalon, the home of the druids of the Old Religion, the religion of the Goddess. Avalon, as can be deduced from the book's title, is surrounded by swirling, protective mists that cause it to be invisibe to all but the initiated. Morgaine's life, down to its very core, is shaped both by her desire to serve the Goddess and by her despair at seeing the Old Religion being tossed aside in favor of Christianity, by royalty and the common people alike.

The book also focuses on Gwenhwyfar, and we are privy to her first meeting with Arthur when, as an innocent child, she crosses through the mists of Avalon to the other side. As Queen, she is a guilt-ridden figure who turns to Christianity in her desire to bear a child and begs Arthur to do the same, thus bringing about the fall of Camelot.

While I found Morgaine to be a character of depth, intelligence and tremendous emotional range, Gwenhyfar came off as shallow, jealous and more than a little suspicious. Viviane, The Lady of the Lake, who also plays quite a role in this book, seems to be a little too manipulative, but very interesting, nonetheless.

Anyone interested in Wiccan rituals will find this book extremely interesting. The transformations from ordinary woman to priestess and the effects of the Old Religion on the "modern" world are simply part and parcel of this book's magic.

This is a long book, but don't let its length put you off. It is an extremely fascinating and pleasant read and it's quite easy to find a stopping place should you need to put the book down (though I doubt you'll want to).

Those looking for historical accuracy regarding the rise of Christianity in Britain should look to another book. "The Mists of Avalon" is entertainment, pure and simple. The portrayal of Druidism and the focus on the priestesses of Avalon, descended from the lost island of Atlantis, the frequent visits to the land of the Fairy--all of this places this book squarely within the fantasy genre, rather than the historical realm. And, all to the good.

I found "The Mists of Avalon" to be an all-absorbing book and one that gave me a new perspective on the Arthurian legend. The women involved became more real to me, with many new facets and aspects of personality. I am so glad I read this book. I found it magical, mystical and unforgettable and it's one book I am recommending to everyone I know, whether they are fantasy addicts or not.