The Women Behind King Arthur
The Mists of Avalon,
by Marion Zimmer Bradley, is not only an example of a
Medieval Romance, but also tells the story of the women who stood behind King
Arthur during his infamous reign in the Middle Ages.
This novel explains the
reasoning and decisions that Arthur made in the women¹s perspective.
is a twist on the Arthurian tales as told by the four women instrumental
to the story: Gwenhwyfar, his wife; Igraine, his mother; Viviane, the Lady of the
Lake, High Priestess of Avalon; and his sister and lover, heiress to Avalon,
Morgaine. The story is told by each, as they saw it happen. The struggle between
Christianity and the religion of Avalon is a central part of the story, and
Arthur's loyalty to and betrayal of Avalon another part.
In this novel, the legend of King Arthur is for the first time told through
the lives, the visions, and the perceptions of the women central to it. The
Arthurian world of Avalon and Camelot with all its passions and adventures is
revealed as it might have been experienced by its heroines: by Queen Gwenhwyfar,
Arthur's wife; by Igraine, his mother; by Viviane, the majestic Lady of the Lake,
High Priestess of Avalon; and, most important, by Arthur's sister, Morgaine, who
has come down to us as Morgaine of the Fairies, a sorceress who, in this epic
retelling of the story, plays a crucial role both in Arthur's crowning and
destruction. Above all it is a story of profound conflict between Christianity and
the old religion of Avalon.
The term ³Medieval Romance² does not necessarily mean that the piece using it
contains any sort of ³romance.²
Most Medieval Romance pieces told the tales
differently from those of the realistic novel. In other words, the plots, like
those of the romance, (1) divide into sharply separate episodes that often do not
seem joined in in any obvious causal fashion and (2) generally take the form of
tests that they must pass to attain some goal. Frequently, (3) the generally male
fails tests, which often involve acts of moral and spiritual
perception, until such point that he finally follows advice.
Also, the pieces
stress honor and courage, but use much emphasis on the characters rather than the
Instead of concentrating on the women and the ³peasant folk,² or
poor people, the piece concentrates on the ³gallant² knights or the kings and their