It seems like I've been meaning to read The Mists of Avalon for most of my life. Childhood memories of its bulk impressed me as I glimpsed at it in my mother's room, still too young to appreciate it. Years ago (at least ten?), I requested Bradley's famous retelling of Arthurian lore for my birthday. With that copy sitting in an American storage unit, I picked up a more battered (albeit its 1 pound price tag was certainly attractive) copy at a fantastic used book store in Kirkwall (Orkney Islands) this past summer. Incidentally, I wanted to bring nearly half the store home with me to France and had to buy an extra bag for the books husband and I could not pass up. Six months later, I've finally read The Mists of Avalon and discovering that Bradley wrote other Avalon books is a welcome piece of news (and I won't wait another ten years to read the prequel!).
The Mists of Avalon follows Arthur's ascent to the throne and the resulting effects on politics and culture in Britain as recounted by the legend's central female characters. The book is largely narrated by Morgaine (Morgan Le Fay), Arthur's half sister, as she describes the ongoing struggles to preserve the matriarchal Celtic culture in which she was raised. Here, Morgaine and Arthur's intertwined and opposing destinies take center stage, though alternating passages focus on Igraine (Arthur and Morgaine's mother), Gwenhwyfar (Guinevere), Viviane (Lady of the Lake) and Morgause as well. The onslaught of Christianity and its many clashes with the practice of the old religion makes for reading worthy of any political thriller, and Bradley's characters are so vibrant and personal that I had a hard time bringing myself out of the mists when I'd finally turned the last page.
It's interesting to note that this is the first time I've seen bisexuality used to explain the magnetism between Arthur and Lancelot (Lancelot realizes he loves Gwenhwyfar and Arthur equally--and struggles with these feelings at several points throughout the book). Also of note: I'm absolutely appalled at the large number of Christian book sights criticizing The Mists of Avalon. I suppose any time you have a strong female protagonist who happens to follow a religion other than Christianity, those incapable of thinking for themselves will label it "feminazi", a term I've seen multiple times on Christian reader sites, and one that I find absolutely repulsive. I won't give such uneducated fools any more publicity except to say that they insult not only women, but holocaust survivors, and that going back to elementary school to learn what "nazi" means, among other things, is in order.