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Mists of Avalon Read Through

Today’s post will bring us to the end of Part One and into about mid Part Two.  As such, I’m going to divide it like that.

PART ONE:

Morgain is tasked to create a scabbard for Excalibur that will make it so Arthur sheds no Lifeblood in battle.  She spends at least three days working on this, weaving patterns into velvet with golden thread, pricking her own fingers without noticing, adding her blood to be sure his is not split.  When Vivian and she gift it to Arthur, he thanks them, and promises to rule justly, no matter what god or gods his people follow.

Arthur is crowned as High King and Morgaine heads out to  Isle of Glastonbury to witness this as the representative of Avalon.  Here, she sees her mother, Igraine, for the first time since leaving her at age 11, and her aunt Morgause.  Her aunt is the only one who figures out that the young priestess is pregnant, and that is it Arthur’s child.  There is much celebrating, and Morgause tries to comfort Morgaine with words about the ease of childbearing and that it’s natural to feel that your life is over when one is with child.  But in the end, it gets better.

Morgaine disagrees.  With a lot of tears.  And starts to think that perhaps Avalon is not the home she once saw it as.

A few days later, she goes out into the wilds of Avalon to find some specific herbs that will “cast out the child”.  And she runs into an Elf.  This elf gives her the choice of bearing the child without pain in these lands beyong Avalon and leaving it with them, to be reared as an Elf.  She takes off running back into Avalon instead, and cries herself to sleep.  Vivian goes in to check on her, and the two have an argument where Morgaine finally accuses Vivian of making this happen.  And thus the Lady’s prophecy comes to pass.  “one day you shall hate me as much as you love me now.”

The next morning, Morgaine is no where to be found in Avalon.  She has taken her aunt up on the offer to live with them in the North.

PART TWO:

Part two focuses on Gwenhwyfar, the soon to be wife of Arthur.  Like the first few chapters of Part One, these opening chapters introduce the characters in this section, breathing life into them.  Gwen meets lancelet for the first time since she was young, and tells her father that she wishes she could marry him.  Instead, he tells her that she’s to marry Arthur. The High King sends Igraine to “fetch” Gwen from her castle and bring her to his.  This trip she has to undertake in an enclosed litter, as she is incredibly frightened of the open sky and world around her.

At the castle, the wedding happens.  Only Igraine and the Merlin recognize the fact that Gwen is more in love with Lance than she is Arthur.  Sadly, there is no viable way of stopping the marriage and keeping all honor intact.  Morgaine is seen out in the world for the first time since leaving Avalon.  She bore her son, Gwydion, in Morgause’s northern court.  But because of the cunning and plans of her aunt, she is never able to hold her son when he is first born, and her difficult pregnancy and birth lead to her basically having a stranger as a son.

Arthur and Gwen offer Morgaine a place as one of the new Ladies in Waiting for the High Queen, a position she accepts as it will get her out of the North and keep her out of Avalon.

Time passes, and Gwen finally grows comfortable of being High Queen, even if she would still prefer to be wife of Lance than of Arthur.  She seems to be unable to bear any child though, a curse she attributes to God’s displeasure at her constant attraction to the High King’s best friend.  Her stout belief in Christianity and Morgaine’s Priestess training often times come into conflict in this section.  It’s a great personalization of the fight that is going on in the world at large between the two religions.

After Morgaine finally gets a night with Lancelet, she realizes he does not care for her as she loved him.  angry and bitter, she gathers her things and leaves in the dead of night.  No one is sure where to though.

Vivian leaves Avalon for the first time since Igraine’s wedding to Uther to go to her son’s foster-mother, who is on her death bed.  Easing her pain, as requested, with a poison to send her to sleep and death, she is accused by one of the sons of the family for being a murderer and a sorceress.   She asks for word of Morgaine at Arthur’s court, and we realize that she hasn’t been in Avalon for years.  Returning to the Island, she determines that there is no way she can continue on her path of being the Lady, and she must turn over leadership to someone younger.  But of the two choices, one is untrained and can not control her Sight, and the other has taken a vow of silence, giving her voice to the Goddess.  Weeping, Vivian admits she hasn’t the slightest idea of what to do.

Meanwhile, Igranie lays dying in Tintagel.  Gwen travels there to comfort her in her last days as Arthur is out fighting the Saxons once again.  Igraine asks again and again where her daughter is, saying that the Sight should have told the Priestess that her mother was dying. She calls upon the Goddess to bring her daughter to her, and Gwen tells her that only God could answer the prayer, and that the nunnery isn’t a place to call upon “the Goddess of the fiends”.  Pissed off, Igraine gets enough oomph back in her to speak the overarching theme of the novel so far: all Gods are one God.  “Religions come and go, but She is beyond them all”, thereby proving that she isn’t the pious near-nun even she thought herself to be.  In the morning, she dies.

 

Wow…that was a lot to go over.  I should start taking notes so I remember what went on when…

So, some notes on what I have noticed….  Part One is called Mistress of Magic, and focuses mainly on Morgaine.  Sure, other characters are mentioned, but she is the one who carries the majority of the plot along.  Her realizations about what home is and what family is are ones that we as readers can relate to.  I can’t begin to remember the times I thought that I didn’t fit in, and just went along with what others were doing to try to fit in (high school anyone?).

Part Two is all about Gwenhwyfar and how she copes with being in a position she does not want, married to a man she does not love.  Even Arthur notices how she looks at Lancelet, and basically gives her permission to go be with him, taking the blame that she is unable to have children.  As the ever-devout Christian, she blames herself, instead staying with him because God willed it so (according to the priests at the wedding).  This is an action that stands in stark contrast to Morgaine’s belief that love is sacred, is a gift from the Goddess and one should be with who they love because they want to be with them, not because they have been ordered to do so.   These two women are polar opposites.

Gwen’s story is the main story here.  Morgaine has the cameos, acting only as support or a foil to allow Gwen to come into her own as a character.  While Part One had various “Morgaine Speaks” moments, there aren’t yet any in Part Two.  I do enjoy this separation between the two, as it makes it easier to follow the story and not keep thinking “I wonder what so-and-so is doing right now…” and only hints of what is going on in the minds of the supporting characters.

Next up: starting with chapter 11 of Part Two.  This time with a notebook…


Mists of Avalon Read Through Chapters 4-17

I’ve managed to work through a good portion in the last few days.  The advantages of having very little on day time TV and no boxes to be put away, I suppose.  Managed to get to chapter 18 of part one by the time of this posting.  Let’s see what has happened, shall we?

Recap: Vivian, the High Priestess of Avalon and the Merlin of Britain have come to Cornwall to tell V’s sister, Igraine, that she’s going to bear the kid who will unite Britain.  Seeing as how she’s 19 and currently married to the Duke of Cornwall though, she has some issues with this. Especially since the father of this son is supposed to be Uther Pendragon.   She is told to find a way to get to the “court” of Ambrosious and Uther, and that’s that.

Chapters 3 through 8 finish setting up the rest of the story.  We meet Uther, Lot, Abrosious (for the chapter and a half he’s alive), and get to spend some time with the good Duke before we start to hate him for how he treats Igraine.  Igraine and Uther start falling for each other, which makes sense, when you think about the fact they are far closer in age than the 19 year old Duchess and the 49 year old Duke.  Gorlois accuses Igraine of sleeping with Uther after the funeral of the High King, and he takes off into the night, withdrawing his troops with him.  This leaves Uther with far less protection than he needs against the Saxons and a lot of fights and battles happen all over Britain.  Gorlois is out fighting the Saxons around Cornwall, and Igraine is a basic captive in her own castle.

Then comes the story we all know and love: Uther, disguised as Gorlois, comes to the castle, woos Igraine–not that it takes much–and takes her to bed.  From that one time, Arthur is going to be born.  Gorlois’ body is brought back the next day before Uther can leave. Well…better get married quick!  Arthur is born, Uther dislikes Vivian, and Igraine starts to decide that Christianity isn’t all that bad after all, leaving a giant rift to form between her sister and her.

Eight chapters of exposition later…the story can finally begin.  Morgaine is sent to live with Vivian on the Holy Isle of Avalon to learn how to be a priestess at age 11.  Arthur is sent out to foster around that same time, he’s about 6 or 7. We don’t hear much about him, nor do we hear a lot of Morgaine’s training.  Bradley uses a chapter change to suggest the passage of time, with a comment from Morgaine’s “spoken” interludes that “it took nine years to train as a priestess”.  When the story picks up after that, she’s a full priestess.  Small suggestions about what she might have learned are sprinkled here and there, but nothing overt, and there are no mentions of “classes” she took, or detailed instances of what went on.

This is a great way to keep the story moving.  So often, authors will think they need to give every little, last detail about something.  I know that I am guilty of it myself. But being able to gloss over it with smooth mentions of experiences or “she had done this many times”, the story moves along faster, and readers are less likely to put the book down for being boring.  In a book this size, it’s always a good thing to cut out as much unneeded information as possible.

so…  Merlin brings the news that Uther is dying.  Vivian “Sees” him die with her magic and his shade comes to visit her.  We discover they were lovers in an earlier life, something which depresses V, as she never got to know him well in this one. Arthur has to be crowned as new High King, as he is the only heir.  But the People of the North (Tribesmen and the Celts and others such as them) won’t accept “A Roman” as their King.  Vivian and the Merlin set up a trial for him that hasn’t been performed in many years: the running with the deer as the Horned God.

Morgaine is selected to be the Priestess to oversee this Hunt…and to be with the Horned God as a representation as the Goddess if he succeeds in defeating the King Stag of the herd and not dying.

Neither of them realize who the other is until too late. It makes for a very awkward Morning After.

The poetry written into the words as the Horned God goes on his hunt, the hints of the ecstasy that Morgaine is feeling due to fasting, herbs, and ritual behaviors…  It really draws the reader in, and you’re hoping that the Horned God is not killed by the King Stag.   No words are spoken here for a number of pages, and the story is carried out through actions and descriptions alone.  There is a thought that writing should be like painting.  Here is just one of the few, beautiful paintings in this story.

Morgaine carries her fury towards Vivian the next chapter and a half, as the Lady knew who she was sending her niece and priestess to be with.  It’s a near cold anger, and it written in detail enough that the emotions are clear and realistic, but given enough temperament that they don’t go over the top.  I’m often the sort who tends to go over the top with writing any emotional type of scene.  It’s something I’m working on.

Kevin the Bard is introduced, and it is revealed that he is being trained to be the next Merlin, even as Morgaine is being trained to be the next Lady.

Chapter seventeen ends with Vivian asking for visions of the future and the consequences of her actions from the Goddess.  There’s an intense amount of fear that the readers bear witness too, that she will be unable to continue to rule and watch over Avalon for the time it will take for Morgaine to be ready to take over. Even seeing these few visions drains her, a new experience as they never used to.

And that is where I am at now.  Overall, these chapters finished setting up the characters and the world in such a way that was interesting enough to make it easy to get past the exposition.  The wonderful skill of “use chapter breaks to delineate time passage” is used to great effect, as is keeping the audience in suspense as who masked characters might be–in the case of Who is the Horned God.  Well written, description prose is used to great effect and is quickly becoming a mainstay of Mists.


The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley

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