Study Guide

The Mists of Avalon

by Marion Zimmer Bradley

The Mists of Avalon Themes

Themes

Perhaps more than anything, the text of The Mists of Avalon juxtaposes Morgaine and Gwenivere, thereby setting up a powerful dichotomy between religion, sexual freedom, lifestyle, and choice. While Gwenivere is a queen, trapped without choice in a patriarchal kingdom, Morgaine is a free spirited priestess who works against the laws of her growing Christian world. However, Bradley does incorporate aspects of medieval history (for example], in the Middle Ages women were often forced to enter into marriage against their will). Thus, while Morgaine is able to live freely in Avalon, she is exposed to the laws of man outside in the patriarchal world of Camelot. She is manipulated by both the men and women around her for social and political gain. For example, Morgaine leaves Avalon and gives up her station as priestess when she discovers that Viviane sent her to her brother's bed. As well, she accepts her fate when she is manipulated by Gwenivere into marrying Uriens, who is old enough to be her father, instead of Accalon, the man she truly loves.

The Mists of Avalon begins dramatically with a note from Morgaine in the prologue of the text:

In my time I have been called many things: sister, lover, priestess, wise-woman, queen. Now in truth I have come to be a wise woman, and a time may come when these things may need to be known. But in sober truth, I think it is the Christians who will tell the last tale. For ever the world of Fairy drifts further from the world in which the Christ holds sway. I have no quarrel with Christ, only with his priests, who call the Great Goddess a demon and deny that she ever held power in this world. At best they say that her power was of Satan. Or else they clothe her in the blue robe of the Lady of Nazareth—who indeed had power in her way too—and say that she was ever virgin. But what can a virgin know of the sorrows and travail of mankind?

Clearly the argument put forth in this text is not that the worshiping of Jesus Christ is oppressive. Rather, Morgaine questions the male priests who reshape and deliver the message of Christ and who consequently create onerous social structures.

For the most part, Morgaine's world revolves around Avalon. Morgaine, like all priestesses in The Mists of Avalon, is a sexually free woman. She has the freedom of choice made possible by her sincere devotion to the Mother Goddess. She participates in the rites of Beltaine where she chooses her lovers: in the outdoors, before Mother Nature, she lets herself go freely to Lancelot, and she chooses to lie with Kevin, Merlin's successor. This freedom has a price to it, however. The Christians within the text consider Morgaine to be a seductress witch working under the guise of Satan. Her rebellious nature and. devotion to the Goddess alienate Morgaine from society.

In The Mists of Avalon, Morgaine's paganism is a means of freedom and choice, whereas Gwenivere's devotion to Christianity and consequently her perceptions about sexuality are compared with imprisonment. Gwenivere is jealous of both Morgaine's freedom of speech and her sexual indiscretion. Trapped between her deep feelings of unity with Morgaine, and her proper Christian/social upbringing, Gwenivere can not help but be resentful of Morgaine. It is only when she finally realizes that her love for Lancelot is the first thing in life she has chosen that Gwenivere can allow herself to go freely to him. For a time, Gwenivere abandons her religious piety and questions whether God exists. After she is savagely raped by Malagant, she feels ashamed and used. Since God could not save her from such a fate, she finds comfort in Lancelot's arms. Even then, however, she is...

(The entire section is 1529 words.)