The Mists of Avalon 1 (1982)
Spine Front Cover Book Details
Marion Zimmer Bradley
Publication Date 1996
Format Leather-bound (245 x 160 mm)
Publisher The Easton Press
Genre Fantasy
Product Details
Series Masterpieces of Fantasy
No. of Pages 449
Paper Type Acid-neutral paper
First Edition No
Personal Details
URL This book on
Rating 9
No. of Reviews 705
Frontispiece/Illustrator Doug Beekman
Original Details
Original Publisher Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
Original Publication Year 1982
Even readers who don't normally enjoy Arthurian legends will love this version, a retelling from the point of view of the women behind the throne. Morgaine (more commonly known as Morgan Le Fay) and Gwenhwyfar (a Welsh spelling of Guinevere) struggle for power, using Arthur as a way to score points and promote their respective worldviews. The Mists of Avalon's Camelot politics and intrigue take place at a time when Christianity is taking over the island-nation of Britain; Christianity vs. Faery, and God vs. Goddess are dominant themes.
Young and old alike will enjoy this magical Arthurian reinvention by science fiction and fantasy veteran Marion Zimmer Bradley. --Bonnie Bouman

Fantastic worlds are either invented or co-opted; that is, authors either make them up or they take them over. All fantasy, of course, has its origins in objective reality as it is interpreted by individual minds and transformed by the creative imagination. Some of it, however, is a new construction intended to reconcile anomalies in traditional interpretations of the real world or to provide fanciful explanations for the curiosities of the human mind, or simply to entertain the willing reader with appealing romantic adventures in lands of make-believe.

Roger Zelazny's Nine Princes in Amber was an invention. Peter Beagle's The Last Unicorn transformed the material of fairy tales. Elizabeth Moon's Sheepfarmer's Daughter took much of its substance from the historical world before translating it into imaginary geography and peopling it with real magicians.

Some fantasies, however, adopt existing mythologies, or occasionally historical realities, for their stories, sometimes recalling myths and folk tales in familiar ways, sometimes reinterpreting them in the light of subsequent events or bringing their psychological power to bear on contemporary problems or possibilities, Of these, the most common source of stories has been the Bible, not only the narrative of Jesus himself but the many incidents and parables of the Old and New Testaments, which resonate differently for each generation. Not only is the basic document itself frequently re-translated, but the individual stories provide the material for new stories and novels. Take the stories of Adam and Eve, for instance, or Cain and Abel or Job or the Great Flood or Salome or Judas....

Perhaps the second most common source of narrative material is Arthurian legend, called "the matter of Britain," because it deals with the mythical defining qualities of the British nation. The Arthurian cycle actually reached its fullest development in France, where the legends may have been brought by Celts fleeing the Saxon invaders. An irony exists in the fact that the legendary hero of the English was the king given credit for turning back invasions of the Saxons, the people the English consider their ancestors, just as Sir Thomas Malory may have brought back into English the Arthurian legend in order to give substance to the past of the Normans who had conquered the Anglo-Saxons, even to the point of having Guinevere flee from Mordred to the Tower of London, whose construction was not started until 1078, a dozen years after the Norman Conquest.

The great Arthur himself does not appear in British histories until the year 800, when a Welsh chronicler named Nennius used the name in his Historia Britonum in referring to a defender against the Sax ons. Gradually, in additions over the centuries, Arthur became identified as a Welsh or Roman military leader of the Celts in Wales against Germanic invaders in the fifth century. When he became king, he surrounded himself with great knights whose chivalric deeds filled the most popular cycle of medieval romance.

Geoffrey of Monmouth added a great deal of the Arthurian leg ends around 1136, with his Historia Regum Britanniae. The French poet Wace contributed some additional detail, and a little later Chr├ętien de Troyes gave the legends their first literary treatment, in Old French, in his romances. In the next decade, the English poet Layamon dealt with Arthur in Brut, as did many other authors of medieval romances. Sir Thomas Malory wrote the definitive version for later generations in his 1485 Le Morte d'Arthur, published some years after Malory's death. Spenser based his The Faerie Queene on it, Milton considered writing a national epic using it, and Tennyson mined it for his Idylls of the King. Since then it has been used by composers, poets, and authors for innumerable variations, including Mark Twain's comic A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court and most recently T. H. White's The Once and Future King, which was adapted for the animated Disney film The Sword and the Stone and the musical Camelot.

Little is known for sure about the translator and compiler of what has been called "the first English prose classic" and "one of the chief foundations of English prose" except that he died in 1471. Le Morte d'Arthur was the name given the book (the original title was The Book of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table) by William Caxton, the printer who published the book in 1485. Literary historians have identified Malory as a knight who served in France and was on the wrong side of the War of the Roses, was refused amnesty and threatened with arrest, and may have compiled his manuscript in prison. In a preface to the first edition, Caxton wrote that he printed the book "after a copye unto me delivered whyche copye Syr Thomas Malorye dyd take oute of certeyn books of frennsshe and reduced it in Englysshe." To Malory certainly and to Caxton should go much of the credit for putting the stories into the form in which they descended to the readers and writers who came after them, and in such "simple, direct, idiomatic, yet musical and dignified" style that it has kept its hold on the imagination of succeeding generations.

Marion Zimmer Bradley in The Mists of Avalon, like every author before her, has retold the Arthurian story in her own way and for her own purposes. In the acknowledgments of the first edition of 1982, she expresses her gratitude to her husband, Walter Breen, for saying, at a crucial moment in her career, "that it was time to stop playing it safe by writing potboilers," and for providing "financial support so that I could do so. . . ." The result was a best-seller that created a new audience for Bradley - and for Arthur.

Up until that time Bradley had been known mostly for her Dark- over series of science-fantasy novels, which she launched in 1958 with the publication of The Planet Savers in Amazing Stories and The Sword of Aldones, both published as books in 1962. Born in Albany, New York, in 1930 and educated at New York State College of Teachers and (a decade-and-a-half later) Hardin-Simmons University, Bradley began publishing stories in 1953 and novels in 1957. The Darkover series, set on a planet settled by Terrans, began in action and adven ture and developed into a study of contrasting cultures created by the wide use of telepathy on Darkover, of the resistance of anti-techno logical Darkover to efforts by the human Empire to integrate it into a political and economic union, and of questions of sexual politics that expressed themselves in part through