Look at me, being all good about my New Year Literary Resolutions! We’re only half-way through the year and I’ve already re-read more books than in 2011. I decided to try The Mists of Avalon in audiobook format because it’s narrated by the divine Davina Porter, who in my humble opinion can do no wrong.
I won’t do a full review of the book, but will just record for posterity the major differences between my two reading experiences. I think they says a lot about my 17- and 32-year-old selves.
The biggest change was how I felt towards Morgaine. She’s still awesome, a perfectly fleshed-out character that you really get to know and admire for her courage and self-reliance. But while at 17 I completely identified with her – I wanted to be her – now I often wished she would just lighten up a bit.
Look, I get it, she’s in love with someone who’ll never love her back, and her way of life is dying before her helpless eyes, I see how that makes a person cranky. But at the same time I wish she would, just once in while, let go of the aura of pathos she carries around all the time and laugh like she means it. I think my reaction to Morgaine is part of my growing intolerance of depressing books and movies I mentioned here before.
On the other hand, my feelings towards Guinevere haven’t changed. She’s the same little angry ball of resentment and unhappiness. But despite this, Marion Zimmer Bradley still made me understand her motivations, even when I resisted it and was determined to completely hate the annoying hypocrite.
Tintagel Castle, Cornwall, July 2011. In The Mists of Avalon, this is where Morgaine is born.
Arthur jumped out of the pages this time. We only follow the story thought the eyes of the female characters, but still get more insight into the mind of Lancelot or Uther than that of Arthur, who’s the story’s whole reason of existence. Still, what we do get to know about him is surprising.
In a book famous for having no black or white characters, Arthur is, amazingly, a Good Man. He’s honorable, faithful, fair, he understands the complex world he lives in and the impossibility to please all, but he still tries. He always seems to see the glass half-full, unlike most of the other characters in the book. But despite all this and the freaky “love-square” with Guinevere, Lancelot and Morgaine, there’s never one person who thinks of him as The One, and that’s terribly sad.
Other things I noticed now and I didn’t before: the patterns, balance and irony. For instance, Morgause and Vivienne want daughters and only have sons, Guinevere longs in vain for an heir to Camelot, Morgaine doesn’t want a child and has one. Guinevere, the greatest catholic Queen, is in love with a pagan. In her later days she envies Morgaine’s knowledge and freedom but is on a quest to destroy the traditions that allow them. The search for the Holy Grail is what speeds the fall of Camelot and its (Christian) ideals. It was Avalon’s tolerance of the early Priests that kick-started their towards the Mists. Everyone loves Arthur, but no one is ever truly in love with him.
This time around I could also appreciate much more the religious discussions. Before I just though of how cool Wicca must be, now I look at the story as a cycle. Just as Avalon supplanted the Old Ones, so did Christianity supplant Avalon and so will something else supplant Christianity.
The general feeling I’ll take from this re-reading is of a story about the rise and fall of Camelot. The Utopian Kingdom is destroyed by intolerance, giving way to the Dark Ages and its impact on knowledge, equality (especially gender equality) and freedom. It’s a much more melancholic story than I remembered.
Still, I look forward to a re-read in another 15 years – who knows what I’ll discover then?