Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Morgaine, the principal narrator, a priestess of the ancient Mother Goddess and half sister of King Arthur. Later Christian myth called her Morgan le Fay, which equates her mythologically with the death aspect (Fate) of the Triple Goddess. This story, however, follows the Arthurian tradition that she was a human being, trained in the ancient wisdom (considered witchcraft by Christians). She is known in her maturity as Morgaine of the Fairies. In the context of this tale, the fairies are the original Celtic peoples, a small-statured, dark race overwhelmed by the Roman legions and driven into remote wild places. Though often despised and feared by Christians, they were valuable allies in the attempt to defend Britain from marauding Norsemen and Saxons. The Romans already had abandoned Britain to its several regional kings. Morgaine is an instrument of the Goddess in both the protective unification of Britain’s forces under one king and the destruction of that king when he ceases to defend the religion of the Goddess from narrow-minded Christian priests.
Viviane, known as the Lady of the Lake, or the Lady of the Holy Isle of Avalon, a high priestess of the Old Religion. Early in this saga, Viviane arranges a marriage between her young half sister Igraine and Gorlois, the Romanized duke of Cornwall. Viviane’s secret purpose is to promote a savior king capable of commanding allegiance from all of...
(The entire section is 673 words.)
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In traditional retellings of the Arthurian legend, Merlin is a much more powerful magician/wizard than Morgan le Fay. In The Mists of Avalon, however, Merlin takes orders from the Lady of the Lake and cannot make decisions without consulting her. When Kevin (Merlin of Britain after Taleisin) steals the holy regalia and acts without the permission of Avalon, he is punished—Nimue imprisons him in the oak. Thus, while Merlin is traditionally the male figure of magic who is accepted by society and Morgaine is the female embodiment of evil witchcraft, in Bradley's text these gender demarcations are overturned.
Gwenivere is depicted as a sympathetic character because she has been trapped in a patriarchal life. She is jealous of Morgaine's ability to choose freely without male influence dictating her life, thus, she sabotages Morgaine at every chance. Gwenivere has internalized the Christian views of women, and she shares them to the point where she cannot articulate her own anger. She therefore speaks out against women who seem to have more freedom, and when she does exercise agency, it is in support of the patriarchy that oppresses her in the first place. She embarks on a mission to save Camelot from all pagan evil. But in so doing, she forces Arthur to betray his vow to Avalon and indirectly causes the fall of Camelot. This portrayal of Gwenivere is not standard. Except for Tennyson's Idylls of the King, the depiction of Gwenivere's character...
(The entire section is 997 words.)