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The Mists of Avalon

The legend of King Arthur stretches back farther than its first written account, that of Geoffrey of Monmouth.  Millions of people are most familiar with the Morte D’Arthur written by Mallory.  The Mists of AvalonMarion Zimmer Bradley revisited the Arthurian legend from a female perspective with The Mists of Avalon.  Central to the plot is the conflict between the fading Druid religion and the rising Christianity, although the tale is told by four women instrumental to the story: Gwenhwyfar (Guinevere), wife of King Arthur; Igraine, his mother; Viviane, the Lady of the Lake, High Priestess of Avalon; and Morgaine (Morgan le Fay), Arthur’s sister and lover, and the heiress to Avalon.

What The Mists of Avalon also provides in part a comprehensive (if biased) exploration of the Druid religion, the native faith of the Celtic peoples, that was eventually supplanted by Christianity in Britain and Ireland.  Bradley establishes the conflict between these two religions from the first page: “For ever the world of Fairy drifts further from the world in which the Christ holds sway”.  We first meet Igraine, child of the mystic Isle of Avalon, who is characterized as smarter than Father Columba, since “no college of Druids would have a man so stupid among their ranks”.  The Christian priests in the novel and their theology are very hateful towards women.  In sharp contrast, women are in charge of the Druid religion.

The Mists of Avalon is a sprawling book that changes the perspective on the Arthurian legend, while deeply bringing forth the spirit of ancient Druidism.  In Bradley’s hand, Druidism emerges as a gentle religion of the natural world, one where harmony with all things was the focus. Druidism however, remains surrounded by mists of romance.

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