The Mists of Avalon (Avalon Series #1)

The Mists of Avalon - Marion Zimmer Bradley Synopsis:The magical legend of King Arthur is vividly retold through the eyes and lives of the women who wielded power from behind the throne. I could have written much more but there is really no point of it. I bet you have heard about King Arthur, his unfaithful but beautiful wife, Gwenhyfar, his best friend, Lancelot, who was also his wife’s lover, his Knights of the Round Table, the Graal etc. You will find everybody in this book. Do not expect to recognize them.What I liked:-the logicI’ve never read a more logical version of the Arthurian legends. You know, they tend to contradict each other as they were added throughout the ages, time and again, refreshed, bent to the current literary tastes, sanitized or made more gory etc. Ms Zimmer Bradley tells the Arthurian legends in a way which makes you think “gosh it could and SHOULD have happened this way!” (of course as long as you're willing to suspend disbelief enough for the magical elements of the story). -the main female leadIt is our old, good Morgaine la Fey but presented in a way which I have never experienced before. She is usually shown as one of the villains. Here everything seems to be different, with her being a priestess of the Old Religion of Druids, oath-bound to perform certain rituals…such explanation was so brilliant in its simplicity and so watertight that I could forgive Morgana anything – even incest and leaving her own child in the tender care of her not so tender and virtuous aunt.-the way women are presentedI must say I clearly see why some people say that Zimmer Bradley broke new grounds with this book, in terms of feminist re-imaginings of the classics. She didn't just put Morgaine la Fey or her auntie Morgause in leather bustiers, and have them shoot sex arrows at men around. She changed the form itself, using a new language to utterly subvert the ideas of women's literature, in which the heroine was usually shown as a silly pretty thing, sitting in a kitchen or in a living room and chatting about others all day round. Gwenhyfar is the closest to that model and she is hardly a positive character here, not with her religious bigotry, blind obstinacy, lack or strategic thinking or any thinking at all.-the baddiesYou know, I love three-dimensional villains and here I didn’t have to look for them long and hard – in fact EVERY character of this book could be called a villain at some point, even Morgaine or Arthur, not to mention Lancelot, Mordred, Morgause and Gwenhyfar. Sir Mordred, the Arthur’s killer was shown as an incredibly handsome young knight with a sense of humour (a bit skewed but still) and a great chip on his shoulder (well, you can imagine how big only when you find out who his parents were). Even if you hated him sometimes (he was hardly a saint because it is a book about people, not saints) you still couldn’t admire him a little bit for his force of character and cunning. Overall the lines between good and evil are much blurred; all the characters are well-drawn in depths both good and bad, flawed and noble, completely and ultimately human. -the religious conflictI’ve always missed that theme, which I find very interesting – how Christianity overcame the old pagan beliefs. Here it is shown in full and if it is not true it is at least well-told. Once again I found it impossible not to root for Morgaine's Avalon, not only because I knew it was destined to recede into the mists forever, but because it was matriarchal, and so much more comforting to me than the narrow-minded and mysoginistic version of Christianity prevalent during those times. One is sure - Romans didn’t improve things for women spreading Christianity, not in the slightest. On the other hand both Morgaine and Gwynhefar you could fairly describe as religious fanatics, willing to kill for their beliefs and they both struggled with what they had to give up to push their agenda. -the celtic mythology or…kind ofWhat I loved the most was the portrayal of the rites and powers of Avalon based on the beliefs on ancient Druids... and the way the land of Avalon could only be found by certain people (sometimes by accident!!) in the mists. It simultaneously occupied the same island as Glastonbury, where nuns and priests lived, but was somehow on the other side of a veil.... eventually "lost to time.What I didn’t like:-the sheer length of this bookIt was one long read and I suppose it would have been loads better if it was shorter. There were whole sections which I found simply boring. Who needs a full description of a long day spent on singing, spinning and embroidery? Especially with Gwynhefar as a host? A good editor should have intervened.- prevalent sadnessIt is not one of these novels which will cheer you up, make you smile and jump with joy at the end. I had many sad, pessimistic thoughts, swirling round my brain like autumn leaves in a dark, windy, rainy evening. Some chapters were so nostalgic that I had to stop reading for a while and get a grip on myself. The life of most characters was difficult, full of sorrows and pain; nobody seemed to get what they want and even if they were happy for one moment, then next moment usually made them utterly devastated. I must admit that after a while it started to chafe. Still I managed to finish the book so perhaps it wasn’t that bad…what do you want, with the Celts…- sexHaven’t I written time and again that sometimes less is more? It seemed to me that the author tried to cram too much of those scenes just to emphasize the fact that sex is nothing bad and should be enjoyed rather than punished, especially if both parties are consenting adults (well, more or less adults). Whereas the message is more than right I think I could have got it without half of that content, especially when a rape and incest was involved. The companions of Arthur, as presented here, should have been called the Knights of the Giant Vagina, not the Knights of the Round Table. Arthur pushes Lancelot and Gwynhefar into bed together and once even takes more or less active part in their frolics …Lancelot admits that sometimes he is not sure who he loves better, his queen or his king…and somehow nobody suffers from these tell-tale embarrassing diseases. Well, the book was written in the 80’s that explains a lot…Final verdict:I would NOT recommend this book for someone looking for an Arthurian story sensu stricto but if you like old legends presented with a modern twist and told in a coherent, logical way you will like it for sure, despite the size and the sadness of the whole story. I really enjoyed reading it as an adult, as a teen I think I would have just loved it.