Monday, March 17, 2014

The Mists of Avalon and Shades of Grey

Photo Credit: Raspberry Lime

This little book by Marion Zimmer Bradley is one that I read ages ago. I pulled it out of the forgotten pile to pass along to someone. It always stuck in my head because it’s a King Arthur tale written from the point of view of the character traditionally known as Morgan LeFay. I was never able to view Morgan (Morgaine in TMoA) as anything other than misunderstood after reading it.

Perspective is an amazing thing. It mucks up all our beautiful and clear black and white perceptions of the world.

Perspective can turn everything to shades of grey.

As I reread this book I found my perspective had changed too. When the characters made the same poor choices I had much less patience. Do you ever reread books? They can be old friends, and it is easy to get impatient with old friends if they keep making the same mistakes.

Whenever I write a book there is almost always an antagonist that has his own perspective. In my head (and admittedly sometimes on paper too) I’ll write my antagonist’s view on what is happening. I like three dimensional characters, and a shallow predictable villain is just boring. Often I wonder if the reader could see a story from the antagonist’s perspective, would they change sides?

For instance when I went to public school, Christopher Columbus, the Mayflower, and Plymouth Rock were told from one point of view. That was the Pilgrim’s escaping religious persecution POV. Since then someone thought to point out that story had a different slant when viewed from the Native American viewpoint. Now that story is often viewed differently.

In The Mists of Avalon the story revolves around a tale where Arthur becomes High King with the help of Avalon. He swears to protect all the people of Brittan, Christian, Druid, and the Old Tribes. Over time Christianity takes a firm foothold in the land, and Arthur’s promise becomes less and less important to both Arthur and most of the kingdom.

The book doesn’t focus much on a side character named Father Patricius—though it is obvious to the reader that he is probably St. Patrick. You know the man famous for driving the snakes out of Ireland? In this story the snakes that are driven out of the land are actually Druids—they wear serpent tattoos on their wrists. When you see the story from the perspective of one practicing the old religion of the land, you see shades of grey.

The story is epic, beginning with Arthur’s mother. It explains the story behind Excalibur, and how the legendary king came to have a son with his own sister. It takes us to Camelot and the round table. We quest for the Holy Grail. The entire tale is told by the women of the kingdom, mostly by the historically maligned Morgan Le Fey (Morgaine), Arthur’s sister. We see Christianity sweep the land, often from the point of view of one being swept away.

It is shades of grey and perspective, and fascinating, even if the characters make the same poor choices they made last time you read the book.


  1. One of my top favorite books of all time. I've read the whole series. I love the spin on perspective. You should read the one about Constantine's mother. ;)

  2. This makes me want to write. And to read. Now I'm putting this book on my list. I LOVE books that introduce perspective and shades of gray!