The Mists of Avalon

Paperback | May 12, 1987

byMarion Zimmer Bradley

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Here is the magical legend of King Arthur, vividly retold through the eyes and lives of the women who wielded power from behind the throne. A spellbinding novel, an extraordinary literary achievement, THE MISTS OF AVALON will stay with you for a long time to come....

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From Our Editors

Arthur sits on the throne of Britain, and it is his task to maintain the uneasy balance between the old ways and the new. But although the knights of Camelot owe their first allegiance to Arthur, the king himself is held in the sway of several powerful women, each of whom is determined to bend his authority toward her own ends. In The ...

From the Publisher

A Literary Guild Featured AlternateHere is the magical legend of King Arthur, vividly retold through the eyes and lives of the women who wielded power from behind the throne. A spellbinding novel, an extraordinary literary achievement, THE MISTS OF AVALON will stay with you for a long time to come....

From the Jacket

A Literary Guild Featured AlternateHere is the magical legend of King Arthur, vividly retold through the eyes and lives of the women who wielded power from behind the throne. A spellbinding novel, an extraordinary literary achievement, THE MISTS OF AVALON will stay with you for a long time to come....

Marion Zimmer Bradley began her distinguished book publishing career in 1961 with her first novel, The Door Through Space. The following year she wrote the first book in her hugely popular Darkover series, Sword of Aldones, which soon became a Hugo Award nominee. Bradley's novel The Forbidden Tower was also nominated for a Hugo, and Th...

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:912 pages, 9.15 × 9.09 × 1.51 inPublished:May 12, 1987Publisher:Random House Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0345350499

ISBN - 13:9780345350497

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Even in high summer, Tintagel was a haunted place; Igraine, Ladyof Duke Gorlois, looked out over the sea from the headland. Asshe stared into the fogs and mists, she wondered how she wouldever know when the night and day were of equal length, so thatshe could keep the Feast of the New Year. This year the springstorms had been unusually violent; night and day the crash of the sea had resounded over the castle until no man or woman within could sleep, and even the hounds whimpered mournfully.Tintagel . . . there were still those who believed the castle had beenraised, on the crags at the far end of the long causeway into the sea,by the magic of the ancient folk of Ys. Duke Gorlois laughed at this andsaid that if he had any of their magic, he would have used it to keepthe sea from encroaching, year by year, upon the shoreline. In the fouryears since she had come here as Gorlois's bride, Igraine had seen land,good land, crumble into the Cornish sea. Long arms of black rock, sharpand craggy, extended into the ocean from the coast. When the sun shone,it could be fair and brilliant, the sky and water as brilliant as thejewels Gorlois had heaped on her on the day when she told him she borehis first child. But Igraine had never liked wearing them. The jewelwhich hung now at her throat had been given her in Avalon: a moonstonewhich sometimes reflected the blue brilliance of sky and sea; but in thefog, today, even the jewel looked shadowed.In the fog, sounds carried a long way. It seemed to Igraine, as shestood looking from the causeway back toward the mainland, that she couldhear footfalls of horses and mules, and the sound of voices-humanvoices, here in isolated Tintagel, where nothing lived but goats andsheep, and the herdsmen and their dogs, and the ladies of the castlewith a few serving women and a few old men to guard them.Slowly, Igraine turned and went back toward the castle. As always,standing in its shadow, she felt dwarfed by the loom of these ancientstones at the end of the long causeway which stretched into the sea. Theherdsmen believed that the castle had been built by the Ancient Onesfrom the lost lands of Lyonnesse and Ys; on a clear day, so thefishermen said, their old castles could be seen far out under the water.But to Igraine they looked like towers of rock, ancient mountains andhills drowned by the ever encroaching sea that nibbled away, even now,at the very crags below the castle. Here at the end of the world, wherethe sea ate endlessly at the land, it was easy to believe in drownedlands to the west; there were tales of a great fire mountain which hadexploded, far to the south, and engulfed a great land there. Igrainenever knew whether she believed those tales or not.Yes; surely she could hear voices in the fog. It could not be savageraiders from over the sea, or from the wild shores of Erin. The time waslong past when she needed to startle at a strange sound or a shadow. Itwas not her husband, the Duke; he was far away to the North, fightingSaxons at the side of Ambrosius Aurelianus, High King of Britain; hewould have sent word if he intended to return.And she need not fear. If the riders were hostile, the guards andsoldiers in the fort at the landward end of the causeway, stationedthere by Duke Gorlois to guard his wife and child, would have stoppedthem. It would take an army to cut through them. And who would send anarmy against Tintagel?There was a time-Igraine remembered without bitterness, moving slowlyinto the castle yard-when she would have known who rode toward hercastle. The thought held little sadness, now. Since Morgaine's birth sheno longer even wept for her home. And Gorlois was kind to her. He hadsoothed her through her early fear and hatred, had given her jewels andbeautiful things, trophies of war, had surrounded her with ladies towait upon her, and treated her always as his equal, except in councilsof war. She could have asked no more, unless she had married a man ofthe Tribes. And in this she had been given no choice. A daughter of theHoly Isle must do as was best for her people, whether it meant going todeath in sacrifice, or laying down her maidenhood in the SacredMarriage, or marrying where it was thought meet to cement alliances;this Igraine had done, marrying a Romanized Duke of Cornwall, a citizenwho lived, even though Rome was gone from all of Britain, in Romanfashion.She shrugged the cloak from her shoulders; inside the court it waswarmer, out of the biting wind. And there, as the fog swirled andcleared, for a moment a figure stood before her, materialized out of thefog and mist: her half-sister, Viviane, the Lady of the Lake, the Ladyof the Holy Isle."Sister!" The words wavered, and Igraine knew she had not cried themaloud, but only whispered, her hands flying to her breast. "Do I trulysee you here?"The face was reproachful, and the words seemed to blow away in the soundof the wind beyond the walls.Have you given up the Sight, Igraine? Of your free will?Stung by the injustice of that, Igraine retorted, "It was you whodecreed that I must marry Gorlois . . ." but the form of her sister hadwavered into shadows, was not there, had never been there. Igraineblinked; the brief apparition was gone. She pulled the cloak around herbody, for she was cold, ice cold; she knew the vision had drawn itsforce from the warmth and life of her own body. She thought, I didn'tknow I could still see in that way, I was sure I could not . . . andthen she shivered, knowing that Father Columba would consider this thework of the Devil, and she should confess it to him. True, here at theend of the world the priests were lax, but an unconfessed vision wouldsurely be treated as a thing unholy.She frowned; why should she treat a visit from her own sister as thework of the Devil? Father Columba could say what he wished; perhaps hisGod was wiser than he was. Which, Igraine thought, suppressing a giggle,would not be very difficult. Perhaps Father Columba had become a priestof Christ because no college of Druids would have had a man so stupidamong their ranks. The Christ God seemed not to care whether a priestwas stupid or not, so long as he could mumble their mass, and read andwrite a little. She, Igraine herself, had more clerkly skills thanFather Columba, and spoke better Latin when she wished. Igraine did notthink of herself as well educated; she had not had the hardihood tostudy the deeper wisdom of the Old Religion, or to go into the Mysteriesany further than was absolutely necessary for a daughter of the HolyIsle. Nevertheless, although she was ignorant in any Temple of theMysteries, she could pass among the Romanized barbarians as awell-educated lady.In the small room off the court where there was sun on fine days, heryounger sister, Morgause, thirteen years old and budding, wearing aloose house robe of undyed wool and her old frowsy cloak about hershoulders, was spinning listlessly with a drop spindle, taking up heruneven yarn on a wobbly reel. On the floor by the fire, Morgaine wasrolling an old spindle around for a ball, watching the erratic patternsthe uneven cylinder made, knocking it this way and that with chubbyfingers."Haven't I done enough spinning?" Morgause complained. "My fingers ache!Why must I spin, spin, spin all the time, as if I were a waiting-woman?""Every lady must learn to spin," rebuked Igraine as she knew she oughtto do, "and your thread is a disgrace, now thick, now thin. . . . Yourfingers will lose their weariness as you accustom them to the work.Aching fingers are a sign that you have been lazy, since they are nothardened to their task." She took the reel and spindle from Morgause andtwirled it with careless ease; the uneven yarn, under her experiencedfingers, smoothed out into a thread of perfectly even thickness. "Look,one could weave this yarn without snagging the shuttle . . ." andsuddenly she tired of behaving as she ought. "But you may put thespindle away now; guests will be here before midafternoon."Morgause stared at her. "I heard nothing," she said, "nor any rider witha message!""That does not surprise me," Igraine said, "for there was no rider. Itwas a Sending. Viviane is upon her way here, and the Merlin is withher." She had not known that last until she said it. "So you may takeMorgaine to her nurse, and go and put on your holiday robe, the one dyedwith saffron."Morgause put away the spindle with alacrity, but paused to stare atIgraine. "My saffron gown? For my sister?"Igraine corrected her, sharply. "Not for our sister, Morgause, but forthe Lady of the Holy Isle, and for the Messenger of the Gods."Morgause looked down at the patterned floor. She was a tall, sturdygirl, just beginning to lengthen and ripen into womanhood; her thickhair was reddish like Igraine's own, and there were splotches offreckles on her skin, no matter how carefully she soaked it inbuttermilk and begged the herbwife for washes and simples for it.Already at thirteen she was as tall as Igraine, and someday would betaller. She picked up Morgaine with an ill grace and carried her away.Igraine called after her, "Tell Nurse to put a holiday gown on thechild, and then you may bring her down; Viviane has not seen her."Morgause said something ill-tempered to the effect that she didn't seewhy a great priestess would want to see a brat, but she said it underher breath so that Igraine had an excuse to ignore it.Up the narrow stairs, her own chamber was cold; no fires were lightedthere except in the dead of winter. While Gorlois was away, she sharedthe bed with her waiting-woman Gwennis, and his prolonged absence gaveher an excuse to have Morgaine in her bed at night. Sometimes Morgauseslept there too, sharing the fur coverlets against the bitter cold. Thebig marriage bed, canopied, curtained against draughts, was more thanbig enough for three women and a child.Gwen, who was old, was drowsing in a corner, and Igraine forbore to wakeher, stripping off her workaday dress of undyed wool and hurrying on herfine gown, laced at the neck with a silk ribbon Gorlois had brought heras a fairing from Londinium. She put on her fingers some little silverrings she had had since she was a little girl . . . they would go onlyon her two smallest fingers, now . . . and hung a necklace of amberwhich Gorlois had given her about her neck. The gown was dyed rustcolor, and had an overtunic of green. She found her carven horn comb,and began to pull it through her hair, sitting on a bench and workingher comb patiently through the tangles. From another room she heard aloud yelling and decided that Morgaine was having her hair combed by hernurse and didn't like it. The yelling stopped suddenly, and she supposedthat Morgaine had been slapped into silence; or perhaps, as sometimeshappened when Morgause was in a good temper, Morgause had taken over thecombing herself, with her clever, patient fingers. This was how Igraineknew that her young sister could spin well enough when she chose, herhands were so clever at everything else-at combing, at carding, atmaking Yule pies.Igraine braided her hair, clasped it on top of her head with a goldclasp, and put her good gold brooch into the fold of her cloak. Shelooked at herself in the old bronze mirror her sister Viviane had givenher at her wedding, brought, they said, all the way from Rome. She knew,lacing her gown, that her breasts were once again as they had beenbefore: Morgaine had been weaned a year now, and they were only a littlesofter and heavier. She knew she had her old slimness back, for she hadbeen married in this gown, and now the laces were not strained even alittle.Gorlois, when he returned, would expect to take her to his bed again.Last time he had seen her, Morgaine had still been at the breast, and hehad yielded to her plea that she might continue to suckle the childthrough the summer season when so many little children died. She knew hewas discontented because the baby had not been the son he craved-theseRomans counted their lineage through the male line, rather than sensiblythrough the mother; it was silly, for how could any man ever knowprecisely who had fathered any woman's child? Of course, these Romansmade a great matter of worrying over who lay with their women, andlocked them up and spied on them. Not that Igraine needed watching; oneman was bad enough, who would want others who might be worse?But even though he was eager for a son, Gorlois had been indulgent,letting her have Morgaine in her bed and continue to suckle her, evenkeeping away from her and lying nights with her dressing-woman Ettarr sothat she would not get with child again and lose her milk. He too knewhow many children died if they were weaned before they could chew meatand hard bread. Children fed on gruel were sickly, and often there wasno goat's milk in the summer, even if they would drink it. Children fedon cow's or mare's milk often got the vomit and died, or suffered withthe flux in their bowels and died. So he had left Morgaine at herbreast, thus postponing the son he wanted for at least another year anda half. For that at least she would always be grateful to him, and notmurmur, however quickly he got her with child now.Ettarr had gotten herself a belly from that visit, and gone aboutpreening herself; would she be the one to have a son by the Duke ofCornwall? Igraine had ignored the girl; Gorlois had other bastard sons,one of whom was with him now, in the camp of the war duke, Uther. ButEttarr had fallen sick and miscarried, and Igraine had enough intuitionnot to ask Gwen why she looked so pleased at the event. Old Gwen knewtoo much of herbs for Igraine's perfect peace of mind. Some day, sheresolved, I will make her tell me exactly what she put into Ettarr'sbeer.She went down to the kitchen, her long skirts trailing on the stonesteps. Morgause was there, in her finest gown, and she had put Morgaineinto a holiday dress, dyed saffron, so that the child looked dark as aPict. Igraine picked her up, holding her with pleasure. Small, dark,delicately made, so small-boned it was like handling a little soft bird.How had that child come by her looks? She herself and Morgause were talland red-haired, earth-colored like all of the Tribeswomen, and Gorlois,though dark, was Roman, tall and lean and aquiline; hardened from yearsof battle against the Saxons, too filled with his Roman dignity to showmuch tenderness to a young wife, and with nothing but indifference forthe daughter who came in the place of the son she should have borne him.But, Igraine reminded herself, these Roman men considered it theirdivine right to have power of life and death over their children. Therewere many, Christians or no, who would have demanded that a daughter notbe reared, so that their wives might be free at once to give them a son.Gorlois had been good to her, he had let her keep her daughter. Perhaps,though she did not give him credit for much imagination, he knew howshe, a woman of the Tribes, felt about a daughter.While she was giving orders for the entertainment of guests, for wine tobe brought up from the cellars and for the roasting of meat-not rabbit,but good mutton from the last slaughtering-she heard the squawk andflutter of frightened hens in the court and knew that the riders hadcome across the causeway. The servants looked frightened, but most ofthem had become resigned to the knowledge that the mistress had theSight. She had pretended it, using clever guesses and a few tricks; itwas just as well that they should remain in awe of her. Now she thought,Maybe Viviane is right, maybe I still have it. Maybe I only believed itwas gone-because in those months before Morgaine was born, I felt soweak and powerless. Now I have come back to myself. My mother was agreat priestess till the day of her death, though she bore sev- eralchildren.But, her mind answered her, her mother had borne those children infreedom, as a Tribeswoman should, to such fathers as she chose, not as aslave to some Roman whose customs gave him power over women andchildren. Impatiently, she dismissed such thoughts; did it matterwhether she had the Sight or only seemed to have it, if it kept herservants properly in order?She went slowly out to the courtyard, which Gorlois still liked to callthe atrium, though it was nothing like the villa where he had liveduntil Ambrosius made him Duke of Cornwall. She found the ridersdismounting, and her eyes went at once to the only woman among them, awoman smaller than herself and no longer young, wearing a man's tunicand woolen breeches, and muffled in cloaks and shawls. Across thecourtyard their eyes met in welcome, but Igraine went dutifully and bentbefore the tall, slender old man who was dismounting from a raw-bonedmule. He wore the blue robes of a bard, and a harp was slung across hisshoulder.

Bookclub Guide

1. Reading Group Questions and Topics for Discussion  The Mists of Avalon revolves around a number of dualities: male/ female, Christianity/druidism, duty/desire. How are these duali-ties represented in the book? Can you think of others that were presented? 2.  How does the book strive to challenge common stereotypes? How does it reinforce them? 3.  Is Gwenhwyfar a sympathetic character? In your opinion, does Marion Zimmer Bradley treat physical beauty in a positive, negative, or neutral manner? Explain. 4.  How responsible is Arthur for allowing the spread of Christianity and ultimate disappearance of Avalon? Was he simply being an honorable husband to Gwenhwyfar? Did you find the Arthur, Lancelet, Gwenhwyfar tryst disturbing? Although Arthur was an indisputably potent leader, can he, in the end, be deemed an effective one? 5.  It seemed in several instances that Morgaine disappeared when she was most needed. Was she ultimately successful in represent-ing the Goddess? Would you say that she was a victim to her fate or that she ultimately rose to meet it? What parallels can you draw between Morgaine’s life and Igraine’s? Between Morgaine and Viviane? 6.  The Merlin seems to play an ambiguous role in the story. Do you agree with this statement? In your opinion, was he motivated more by his faith, or by pride and ambition? 7.  Throughout history, did the spread of Christianity really lead to a diminishing of tolerance? Does the Goddess have a place in today’s world? Do you think that Christianity ever held woman as the principal of evil? 8.  What symbolism, if any, would you apply to the dragon slain by Lancelet? What is the symbolism behind Excalibur? The Grail? The Holy Thorn? 9.  At the end of Mists, did you feel that the Goddess had truly been absorbed into Christianity?10.  How has Mists changed your perception or understanding of the Arthurian legend? How has it changed your perception of women’s roles in the making (and telling) of history?

From Our Editors

Arthur sits on the throne of Britain, and it is his task to maintain the uneasy balance between the old ways and the new. But although the knights of Camelot owe their first allegiance to Arthur, the king himself is held in the sway of several powerful women, each of whom is determined to bend his authority toward her own ends. In The Mists of Avalon Marion Zimmer Bradley spins a familiar tale, but lends it a refreshing quality... for it is not the story of Gawaine, Arthur, or Launcelot. Instead, it is the story of Gwenhwyfar, Viviane and Morgaine - the women relegated to the shadows by legend and history, but who ply their invisible influence nevertheless.

Editorial Reviews

"[A] monumental reimagining of the Arthurian legends . . . Reading it is a deeply moving and at times uncanny experience. . . . An impressive achievement."--The New York Times Book Review"Marion Zimmer Bradley has brilliantly and innovatively turned the myth inside out. . . . add[ing] a whole new dimension to our mythic history."--San Francisco Chronicle"Gripping . . . Superbly realized . . . A worthy addition to almost a thousand years of Arthurian tradition."--The Cleveland Plain Dealer