Friday, March 07, 2008

Review: _Mists of Avalon_ by Marion Zimmer Bradley

The story of King Arthur and his knights has fascinated people for centuries. An ancient unknown Celtic chieftain laid the ground work for a story that is ingrained in Great Britain’s and other cultures. Modern day authors have retold the legend in various ways, adding new perspectives tot eh story. Many years ago, Marion Zimmer Bradley gave the story a new twist by telling the story from the point of view of the women characters in the story. Up to this point, the women had been mostly peripheral to the story and portrayed as evil or adulteresses. Mists of Avalon is a powerful Arthurian Fantasy through its in depth exploration of the roles of women, the clash of religions and a multiple point of view plot.

The roles of women are an important aspect of the novel that makes it powerful for readers. Most versions of the Arthurian legend are about the men in the story with the women being peripheral to the story. This novel gives readers the story from the point of view of the women. In the legend, Morgan La Fey is portrayed as an evil sorceress bent on destroying Arthur. Morgaine is the main character whose life is followed through the novel. She is Arthur's half sister, raised as a priestess of Avalon and possessing magical powers. She is driven by her religion to do the will of the Goddess while torn by her feelings as a woman. Her education gives her greater freedom and independence then other women of her time. Gwenhwyfar is the daughter of a lesser king. She fears the outdoors, struggles to be pious and tries to remain out of the spotlight. Though she is the High Queen, Gwenhwyfar is limited by her duty to her husband and her religion. She is a contrasting character to Morgaine. Viviane is a third woman character with a different role. As the high priestess of Avalon, she is a woman of great power that manipulates people’s lives to serve the Goddess. The author keeps the story powerful by following the shifting roles of these women and their choices.

Next, the clash of religions in the novel makes the story powerful. It is the time in Britain after the Romans left. The old religions such as the worship of the Goddess are waning while Christianity is on the rise. This creates a struggle for dominance between the two religions. Viviane and Morgaine try to keep worship of the goddess as the primary religion. They make Arthur promise to make the religion prominent in exchange for being made high king. Gwenhwyfar is a devout Christian. She has a strong influence over Arthur because of his love for her. Her strong dislike for the pagan religion drives her to establish Christianity as the main one of the land. this battle for dominance drives an interesting theme that Ms. Bradley keeps powerful with tension.

Lastly, the book remains powerful by its multiple point of view plot. Ms. Bradley tells the King Arthur story through the eyes of the women. Igraine, Morgaine’s and Arthur’s mother, begins the story by arguing with her sister Viviane about not being a pawn of Avalon. She is in love with Uther and not happy with her marriage to Duke Gorlois. After Arthur’s birth, the point of view shifts to Morgaine as readers follow her through her training as a priestess and dealing with changes in Britain. Later in the book, readers get Gwenhwyfar’s point of view added to tell her part in the story. Ms. Bradley fills the plot with suspense, exciting scenes and compelling descriptions through these women characters.

Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley is an enduring classic novel of Arthurian fantasy. The book’s in depth exploration of the roles of women, the clash of religions and a multiple viewpoint plot makes the novel a powerful read. Ms. Bradley created a spectacular retelling of the story of KIng Arthur that changed the subgenre for goo. This book has been on Bestseller lists for many years. It is an important book for readers of Fantasy to read. I highly recommend this book.

1 comment:

Andrew Clarke said...

I would love to hear what you think of "Outcasts of Skagaray". That book, a fantasy adventure, also involves certain strong female characters who are critical to the plot and play proper roles in the action. For a preview, see where there are sample chapters. If you read it your comments would be read with interest.