‘The Mists of Avalon’ – Marion Zimmer Bradley (1983)| The Notes


    From the length of time that it took me too get through this monster of a book and this post I wrote about getting stuck in a book (as opposed to getting stuck into one) you might guess how I feel about this book. In the end I stuck with it and was as disappointed by it as I expected (although slightly satisfied by being proven right about it). 

    Initially the story seemed strong enough to put aside the clunky language however, as the narrative slowed and seemed to weaken, the irritation level heightened. This was particularly jarring in the odd turns of phrase which stick out like many sore, squiggly-black thumbs and which, when later they are lazily repeated in other contexts, are distractingly remembered. There is so much writing here, though not particularly flowery or ornamented, the prose is more a kind of solid fluff about inconsequential minutiae; often to do with weaving or spinning. The book could have been half as long and conveyed twice as much story.

    If you were to give this novel a quick Google you would find that it is known as a feminist retelling of Arthurian legend. Bradley brings in the female characters from the periphery of older texts, but does the simultaneous action of pushing the male characters back to that peripheral position make the novel ‘feminist’? Considering its date of publication (during the death throes of second wave feminism), this seems to be a product of its environment, a reclaiming of a male dominated text for the women. But then, does the action of putting female characters into something make that thing feminist? Particularly when these characters are generally passive followers with little agency? The conversations between Morgaine and Raven seem to be some of the only ones that could get the book to pass the Bechdel test, although, due to Raven’s vow of silence these male-less/non-male-centric conversations only happen approximately twice (as far as I can remember).

    The story uses strong female archetypical female ‘types’ such as the virgin, the crone, the mother, which seem to reduce the effect of trying to give them personalities. The only particularly greyish tinge came abut in the question of whether the reader actually feels sympathy for any character; I cared for none of them strongly (I did worry about Arthur being buffeted by the powers of gods/goddesses and their followers). The strong figure-head roles are echoed in the use of opposite terms without areas that are quite grey enough. Morgaine is contrasted with Gwenyfar, dark for light, female for male, priestess for bishop, god for goddess, pagan for Christian. In terms of Hegelian dialetics, what would be the sublation, the synthesis here? Clunky, heavy-handed language (I know, who am I to talk about other people’s use of the written word) seems to be complemented by heavy-handed handling of main themes and characters. I’d have liked a little subtlety. I’d have like to feel engaged. Finally, I’d like it to have felt less like a long slog of a thing.


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