Friday, January 09, 2009
In the Midst of Avalon
Just finished reading Marion Zimmer Bradley's The Mists of Avalon and I'm sad that the adventure is over. It's been over a week and I still find my thoughts wandering back to the multi-dimensional characters, intriguing places, and beautiful story.
It's an engaging retelling of the Arthurian Legends from the point of view of the female characters, and deals heavily with the western transition of Goddess worship to Christianity during the Dark Ages. The book found itself on The New York Times Bestseller list for months and months and has been hailed as one of the top 25 pieces of fiction of all time. It was originally published in 1984.
The Mists of Avalon is lauded as one of the most original and emotional retellings of the familiar Arthurian legend. Bradley received much praise for convincing portrayal of the main protagonists, her respectful handling of the Pagan ways of Avalon and for telling a story in which there is neither black and white or good and evil, but several truths. Isaac Asimov called it "the best retelling of the Arthurian Saga I have ever read", and Jean Auel noted "I loved this book so much I went out and bought it for a friend, and have told many people about it." The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction calls the book "a convincing revision of the Arthurian cycle," and said that the victory of Christianity over the "sane but dying paganism" of Avalon "ensures eons of repression for women and the vital principles they espouse." It won the 1984 Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel and spent four months on the New York Times best seller list in hardcover. The trade paperback edition of Mists of Avalon has ranked among the top five trade paperbacks on the monthly Locus bestseller lists for almost four years.
The book has been criticised in some Christian circles for being nothing more than thinly-veiled feminist propaganda, as the stereotypically strong female lead of Morgaine is placed next to weak women like Gwenhwyfar and tortured male leads in the characters of a hapless, confused King Arthur and a Lancelet living in denial of his bisexual attraction to Arthur. Additionally, Christian fantasy fans have blasted the book for having anti-Christian sentiments, for portraying Christianity as oppressive and misogynistic, and also for including sexual themes like incest, rape and ménage à trois.
In Germany, Mists of Avalon has been included in the "Bild Bestseller Bibliothek" of the Bild, Germany's highest-selling newspaper; it is a list of what Bild calls the 25 finest pieces of popular fiction of all time, alongside other classics like Shining or The Silence of the Lambs.
While I was finishing the book over the holidays in Ye Olde Utah, I realized my parents had a copy of the DVD of Excalibur a film made in 1981. So naturally, I took it with me back to New York. The only good thing about this disgusting flick was the opening credits when the title is illuminated in gleaming steel letters. Other than that, the thing is a terrific piece of trash. Maybe it's because I was feeling all feminist and holy while reading the book; But this film is disturbingly chauvinistic and aggressive. It does have some noteworthy appearances by young versions of Gabriel Byrne, Liam Neeson, and Patrick Stewart (all of whom were HAWWWT!) and a particularly sexed up Helen Mirren, who is the spitting image of Cate Blanchett with a touch more severity.
There was a TV miniseries for Mists, but I haven't been able to find time to look for it, let alone watch it. I am already puzzled by the casting of Juliana Margoleis as Morgaine, the heroine of the layered plot. Oh well. If anyone has seen it, and read the book, please feel free to comment below.