This isn’t going to be regular review. Over the course of the seven weeks I spent reading The Mists of Avalon, I started writing down what I liked/didn’t like about this book and a few thoughts that I didn’t want to slip away. It may be a little disjointed but I’ll try to pull it back together at the end when I finish up this little experiment.
First, for those unfamiliar with this book, The Mists of Avalon is a re-telling of Arthurian legend from the perspective of the women. It closely follows with the generally known legend and all the characters are there. If you want a more detailed description, I give you this. Yes, it’s the lazy way but this is already a very long post.
Character-wise — I love the strong women. Igraine, the eventual wife of Uther Pendragon and the mother of King Arthur, is miserable and it’s hard to blame her. Especially when she finds out she’s really just a pawn for Viviane, her sister and priestess of Avalon, who has already once married her off to an older man and plans to marry her to the man who will be high king so she can bear him a son. Viviane is strong, not likeable, but admirable. She has strong convictions and even a few regrets especially for her family and the strains put on them by their fates. Morgaine, Igraine’s daughter by her first husband, the Duke of Cornwall, and to a certain extent, Viviane’s adopted daughter, becomes a priestess of Avalon. When she falls victim to Viviane’s fate machine, she runs when her life is essentially brought to ruins. Morgause, Igraine’s sister and Morgaine’s aunt, may be a harsh woman with designs on power his above her abilities, but give her credit, she knows what she wants and how to get it. Even if how she gets it is through sex but she’s not ashamed so why should we be.
Then there’s Gwenhwyfar, King Arthur’s wife. What a twit. Really. I couldn’t stand her and I have a very high tolerance for liking this character in most Arthurian re-tellings. Here, she’s a conniving woman who only wants a son and will go to any length to guilt and goad her husband into being a better Christian because she believes that a stronger more fanatical faith will bring that wish to fruition. She’s whiney, annoying, and honestly, not that smart. She doesn’t see the big picture and is so worried about supposed pagans and their evil that she can’t even see what she’s doing is tearing the country apart as her husband is trying to salvage it. As a side note: if you want to read a strong Gwenhwyfar, read Helen Hollick’s Arthurian re-telling — The Kingmaking, Pendragon’s Banner, and Shadow of the King. The Gwenhwyfar in that story is strong and unafraid of her fate and faces everything head on.
The men. Arthur is Arthur but he’s not so much the strong Arthur that I like so much. He’s more of a non-factor since this story is about the women but he’s the high king and has to be there. Lancelet. My god, just bang the girl and get it over with. I say this now because I couldn’t take it anymore. Unrequited love doesn’t sit well for me and there’s entirely too much of it here. Yet, it’s a big part of this story and it wouldn’t be this story without this little triangle. And when I say triangle I mean that in the threesome sort of way. Imagine at will.
Mordred, Morgaine and Arthur’s son, is a fascinating character. He was raised by Morgause and is full of the need for power but the difference is that he knows how to find it and yield it. Raised in Avalon, he can raise the power of the goddess and knows his way around courtly diversions and behavior. He is able to manipulate Arthur and gain his way into Gwenhwyfar’s heart all the while planning a way to gain the throne for himself. A character that at some moments is a playful child, a homesick man, a man in love, and a man loyal to his brothers, Mordred is a slight chameleon. You want to like him but in ways you just can’t. Morgaine seems to feel the same way about him and she’s his mother. What does that tell you?
Merlin is Merlin and very grandfatherly but doesn’t play the part I want him to in this book but, again, it’s not about him. Kevin the Bard, oh how I love his interactions with the twit. Kevin was disfigured in a childhood accident and Gwenhwyfar believes he’s the devil himself and actually blames him for a miscarriage at one point. He gets what he deserves in the end for his betrayals though but I did find him an interesting character in his thought process on the changing role of religion among the people and how old ways needed to change. Morgaine doesn’t agree with him and this becomes the cause of tension for these two and seeing them battle it out is interesting.
Morgaine. I need to talk more about her. Honestly, I adore her in this book and she’s not always a character I like. In some stories, she’s a horrific person willing to murder and seize power at every opportunity, in The Mists of Avalon, she mostly runs from her fate. She doesn’t actively seek power and even when she can use it to get what she wants, she doesn’t. Yes, some of her actions are harsh but she does have a degree of humanity about her that I like.
I still love the setting, the storytelling, and the tension. It’s a long book and nothing is rushed which also at times makes you wish something would happen. You have to be patient and wait for the fates to work it out though. Although, as I got down to the end, parts did feel slightly rushed but I think that was because I had become used to this world moving slowly and when events happen all in succession, it felt out of place but it also felt that it needed to come to an end so I was fine with it.
This isn’t my first time with this book and it won’t be my last. I discovered much about this book on this re-read and I’m sure I’ll discover more in successive reads. While there are many Arthurian legend books I adore, this is certainly high on the list. It’s a wonderful story full of amazing women. Even if you don’t care for Arthurian legend, read it for the women. They stand above.
Thoughts – The Mists of Avalon
By Marion Zimmer Bradley