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The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley - Book Review

Updated on April 24, 2017
Phyllis Doyle profile image

Book reviews are a fun way for Phyllis to let her readers know which books are great or which ones are not so great.

Morgan le Fay

Morgan le Fay, Priestess of Avalon
Morgan le Fay, Priestess of Avalon | Source

By Marion Zimmer Bradley

The Mists Of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley, is a magical and legendary story about the women in the life of King Arthur.The book tells the story of Camelot, Arthur, Gwenhwyfar, Lancelot, Merlin, and Arthur's half sister Morgaine, the high priestess who rules within the realm of magic and mysticism -- and all the other memorable people in their lives.

Avalon is a mythological dream world that comes alive with the magic of Bradley's creative abilities and expressive writing. Bradley takes the reader through the magical, romantic lands of ancient Paganism, the lives of High Kings, their beautiful Queens, and early Christianity from the viewpoint of the heroic women behind the warriors and kings. She presents the familiar and beloved characters of the Arthurian legends portrayed slightly different than history has shown us -- yet still with the powers, loves, and romanticism all lovers of Arthurian legends know and love to read about.

I bought the book not long after it was published to add to my personal library of King Arthur books. The book is wonderful. I read it at least once a year and thoroughly enjoy it each time. I highly recommend it.

The Mists of Avalon

Books in the Novel

The novel contains four books,

  • Book One: Mistress of Magic
  • Book Two: The High Queen
  • Book Three: The King Stag
  • Book Four: The Prisoner in the Oak.

The four books span generations in the life of the legendary characters who have been, since the 12th century, a major part of literary greatness. The legends, in varied versions by different authors, sprang forth from Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regu Britanniae (History of the Kings of Britain).

As in all versions of the legends of King Arthur and Morgaine, the beloved Merlin plays an important part. Bradley brings Merlin in early and maintains his important status of mentor and magician.

Round Table and Vision of the Holy Grail

King Arthur and his Knights, by Evrad d'Espinques, c. 1475
King Arthur and his Knights, by Evrad d'Espinques, c. 1475 | Source


Gustave Doré’s illustration of Camelot from “Idylls of the King”, 1868.
Gustave Doré’s illustration of Camelot from “Idylls of the King”, 1868. | Source

Exquisite Detail

With exquisite detail and fantastic storytelling by Bradley, a vivid picture forms in the imagination of the reader. One is taken back to the days of chivalry and magic, loyalty and treason, bloody battles, the passionate romances, and the struggles to hold on to the world of Pagan rituals and a peaceful way of life in the face of encroaching Christianity and land grabbing populations.

Bradley has the creative ability to put the reader in the heart of the mystical Avalon and Camelot. With a story of heart wrenching sorrow and tender, undying love, the reader learns of Igraine, her husband King Gorlois, and the growing love Igraine feels for Uther Pendragon. From the union of Igraine and Uther will come the High King who builds Camelot, Arthur. With the plans and magic of Merlin and Viviane, the high priestess of Avalon and also Igraine's sister, the path of destiny is sealed and set in motion -- and Igraine, torn between loyalty to her husband and his God, must play her part in the salvation of the land.

Queen Guinevere's Maying

Queen Guinevere's Maying. Oil on canvas 1900 by John Collier (1850–1934)
Queen Guinevere's Maying. Oil on canvas 1900 by John Collier (1850–1934) | Source

Gwenhwyfar (Guenevere) and Lancelot

The timeless story of the love affair between Lancelot and Gwenhwyfar is the underlying tension and cause of distress for all the characters of the book.

In most other versions of the legend, Gwenhwyfar is portrayed as gentle and compassionate - not so much in Norma Zimmer Bradley's version. In The Mists of Avalon, Gwenhwyfar comes off as a bit selfish and demanding, which is difficult to get used to. Yet, this new version of King Arthur's queen places more sentiment and love on King Arthur and especially for Morgaine, who is the heroine of the book.

Lancelot and Guinevere

Lancelot and Guinevere , 1922 - "He rode his way with the queen unto Joyous Gard."N.C. Wyeth (1882–1945)
Lancelot and Guinevere , 1922 - "He rode his way with the queen unto Joyous Gard."N.C. Wyeth (1882–1945) | Source


The story of Morgaine (also known as Morgan Le Fay) is a deeply moving experience. At a tender young age she is taken to the Isle of Avalon to enter into the studies of a priestess. Her aunt Viviane is the only connection to the family Morgaine knew and so loved.

The Lady of the Lake, Viviane, must at times set aside her love for the girl in order to teach the strict adherence to the rules of Avalon, the life of a priestess, and the honor, respect, and proper worship of the Mother Goddess.

Morgaine is brought together with the man who represents the Stag at the Beltane Fires. Little does she realize at the time what a profound prophecy is brought forth with this union of the mysterious man she lay with. Over time, Morgaine must learn to live as a priestess, without the only man she deeply loves and has secretly given her heart to.

The beautiful Raven, another priestess in training, becomes Morgaine's closest and most trusted friend. This mysterious and quiet woman has her own beauty and powers which Morgaine will some day learn about.

The Last Sleep of Arthur by Edward Burne-Jones

The Last Sleep of Arthur in Avalon, by Edward Burne-Jones
The Last Sleep of Arthur in Avalon, by Edward Burne-Jones | Source

Story of Love and Magic

This is a story of love, magic, betrayal, mystery, sorcery, and profound spirituality. The lives of Igraine, Viviane, Morgause, Morgaine, Raven and Gwenhwyfar become deeply interwoven and intriguing.

Each woman is portrayed with her own strengths and weaknesses, her own beauty, and her own power over the men that rule the lands outside of Avalon. The women of Avalon and the tales of the men they love is a beautiful and memorable story -- a powerful and moving experience. It is a story set in the days of Arthurian heroes and heroines as seen from a woman's point of view.

The Book or the Movie

Have you read the book or seen the movie of The Mists of Avalon ? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

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The Mists of Avalon, the Movie

© 2014 Phyllis Doyle Burns


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