The Mists of Avalon Essay - Masterplots II: Women’s Literature Series The Mists of Avalon Analysis

Marion Zimmer Bradley

Masterpieces of Women's Literature The Mists of Avalon Analysis

Like any writer using traditional sources so prolific in variations and interpretation as the King Arthur legends, Bradley has chosen those details that serve her purpose best. She has made a new story from a very old one primarily, however, by changing the perspective from masculine to feminine. By doing so, she also dramatizes some contemporary criticisms of male-dominated Christianity, particularly its well-documented bigotry and intolerance of other religions, and its specific doctrine that sin and damnation came into the world through the disobedience of the primordial female, Eve, the mother of all living.

The author makes sensitive and elaborate use of symbols, recognizing that both literary and religious symbols actually do share a common source in pre-Christian history. The novel is haunted by paired principles and characters that seem to be radically different but are complementary parts of the whole. The nervous Christian priests insist that “God is one,” intending to exclude all others; the wise Merlin of Britain, high priest of Druids, counters with “All gods are one,” meaning that the one goes by many names. The Holy Isle of Avalon exists within hailing distance of the Christian sanctuary at Glastonbury, but it recedes farther and farther into the mists as its understanding of the world fades from human consciousness.

Not only are male and female both partners and adversaries, but also important characters of the same gender seem to have a mysterious bond representing rival claims to the same destiny. Thus, the darkly beautiful Morgaine, intent on ensuring Arthur’s loyalty to the Old Religion, has a formidable adversary in the radiant Queen Gwenhwyfer, who eventually induces...

(The entire section is 704 words.)