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.