After finally finishing all of my unpacking from the Great Move of 2011, I saw that some of my books had gotten lost in The Great Bookshelf In the Sky. One of these books was one of my favorites, The Mists of Avalon. The next day, I happened into a resale shop and saw it on the shelves. This is a book that seems to just like to travel around.
It’s a fitting statement for this book, I feel. It encompasses the entirety of the Arthurian Legend, but does it from the eyes of the women involved in the story. It’s one of Bradley’s best loved books, and likely the one she is best known for.
So what makes a Best Seller? Is it just the fact that a book comes out at just the right time, when the world is ready for a story like it? This is certainly the case for a certain, seven book series about a boy wizard and his friends. But Arthurian legend has always been being retold. Perhaps it was the fact that it is the first major retelling of it (that I know of, anyway), to look at Arthur in a new light, and make the main characters supporting characters, and the characters at the edges of the myth are brought into the center?
Whatever the case, it’s a good book to learn from whether you write history, mystery, or religion, fantasy, sci-fi, or reality. It’s a thick book, and creates life-like characters, a setting that is so real you can feel the mists around Avalon curling around your face, and emotions so powerful that by the time Arthur dies–as you know he will–you’re on the edge of your seat and wondering how it’s all going to get better.
So I’m starting something new. Rather than hold off on book reviews while I try to finish this monstrosity, I’m going to endeavor to read at least 3-4 chapters a day, and then post my thoughts on them every so often. It’ll be a breakdown by chapters of how things work, learning from a master of her craft. Think of Mists as a sort of textbook.
Without further ado, here are thoughts on chapters 1-3 of Part One.
Part One starts off with an introduction of sorts. Morgaine is speaking to us, telling us that this is her tale, from her perspective. As the first chapter finally begins, we meet the main character for this section, Igraine, the wife of Duke Gorlois. What I really enjoy about this first chapter is the setting that is so nicely drawn for us, without it just being a drop of information. Igraine thinks on how the sea is eating away at the land more every year, giving us the knowledge that Cornwall is on the sea, and far enough away from her husband that she thinks of him when staring out at that ocean. The sudden introduction of the Lady of Avalon, Vivian, and the Merlin of Britain bring home the point that this castle is not near anything that resembles civilization.
These first three chapters are paramount to establishing main characters and locations. Some people are named, others are not. The ones that we know are going to be important in the future though are the ones we spend the most time with. By getting this knowledge out there as soon as she is able to, Bradley can concentrate on really forcing the tale to take on a life of its own, and to start moving forward instead of being muddied down in exposition.
One of the best used methods for drawing in the readers is the use of language. There is a very lyrical prose that is used, and when the characters speak, it’s not our normal English that is used today. All words are very proper, even when just being thought. This serves the purpose of forcing us to realize that this a world that is several centuries removed from our own. A bit jarring at first to get used to, yes. But eventually, the rhythm of reading these words takes over our minds, and when we look up next, a half hour has passed without notice.
Drawing in an audience to this degree is a hard trick to pull off, and Bradley does it masterfully.
The big theme in these three chapters so far seems to be Igraine’s thoughts on the differences between Christianity (here, the “new” religion), and the Old Ways, the followers of the Goddess and the Great Mother. I don’t really want to expound on this too much as I don’t want to spark a religious debate in the comments. Suffice to say, it’s well done, and it is clear that research has been done into these topics and how people would react to the changing times.
So there you have it, chapters 1-3 of The Mists of Avalon. We shall see how far I get during breaks at work tomorrow, and I hope you’ll all enjoy this series. If it is something that works out, I might start doing it with other books that I’m reading.
Cover art photo from amazon.com