There is a moment, in every Arthurian freak’s life, in which he/she will have to confront with Marion Zimmer Bradley’s ‘Mists of Avalon’.
Let’s say it plain clear: it’s one of the most famous retellings of arthurian tales around. I think it’s even more famous than ‘the once and future king’ in non-english speaking countries (this statement comes from my personal experience so it’s not objective at all… but at least here in italy, ‘the once and future king’ is not famous at all, while ‘mists of avalon’ is quite popular). Which means that, like it or not, it will pop around in discussions about Arthurian matter. And, another pretty important thing, it’s not a book only for fans. I mean, many people I know who have read the book (with different opinions anyway) are not interested in Arthurian legends and basically have, as their only source of knowledge on the subject, this book and what it’s known basically by everybody.
Now, if you haven’t figured it out yet, I decided that it’s MY time to talk about this book. Not that I haven’t done it before but… you know, I am not sure I extensively talked about it in a post.Well, anyway..I’m gonna do it the same, so :P Enjoy.
First thing to know: I liked the book. I’ve read it twice, I think (I could have even read it THRICE but…not sure), and I know it’s an unpopular vision here in the fandom. But, and here we come to the second thing to know, that doesn’t mean that I don’t agree with many critics moved to this book by my ‘collegues’ OR that I can’t have a my problens with this book. Truth is, I do have problems with MoA. Third thing to know: Last time I read the book entirely I probably was in 8th grade. which means, that I may have forgotten many details and subplots. Just keep those three things in mind when you read through this post :)
I wanna begin stating that while I think it’s a good book, I don’t really think it’s a good retelling. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it?
Well…maybe it’s not so.
What I mean is that as a book -per se- it works. Good plot, no dead points, I loved the idea of focusing on politics and plots. It has some flaw in the characters characterization, but also that is overall okay. But if you consider that it’s an Arthurian retelling… here come the problems
Mists of Avalon is a very loose retelling.
it means that if you change the characters’ names you couldn’t even notice we are talking about king Arthur at all (okay maybe that’s exaggerated but… well, almost!).
Now, the secret for a good retelling -at least according to me- is twisting and adding things to the plot of a well known myth enough to catch the interest of a reader that could know everything about the story you are retelling (and who sure don’t want to read all over again what he has already read) but not so much that the reader won’t recognize what he/she’s reading. Now, according to what I’ve just said, Mists of Avalon is not really a good retelling. Why?
- the classical themes of Arthurian legends are nowhere to be found here in this book. The idea of a better world, of a new order, of a world in which justice, honesty and goodness will prevail… the ‘Right against the Might’… all this may be something ‘Modern’ (but you could argue with it!), but it’s something at least I pair with no exception to Arthurian legends. Arthur is a man with an idea, with a dream, and that dream is to make the world better. There is nothing of it in MoA
- to compensate the lack of classical arthurian themes, new ones are shown that really have nothing to do with arthurian legends. Yes, I’m talking about religion wars. I’ve already explained somewhere why I think religion wars should not be featured in any arthurian book (unless you wanna have Bors talking about going to the crusades). It’s simply historically uncorrect. PLUS,you can’t find this stuff in any other book -unless you don’t count the ones who take inspiration from MoA.
- the characters lack of any recognizable character. Let’s not misunderstand me please, I’m all for twisting and shaping the characters… but they have to be recognizeable. Otherwise, just create an original one. Let’s be more clear… Hellen Hollick’s Arthur is a really unconventional one. He’s overall a jerk. But he’s inspired, he’s ambitious, he has dreams… under all his jerkiness and drunkness and fondness for prostitutes, you can recognize he’s Arthur. MoA’s Arthur? Definitely not. He’s weak, he’s indecisive, he’s manipulated back and forth and he seems to have no clue, no drive, no dreams. I’ve deepened the characterization subject here and here
Basically, again, if you changed the names of the characters, you wouldn’t have recognized it as Arthurian.
You could argue: She was trying to do something different. Well, Hellen Hollick too wanted to write a more ‘historically accurate’, and she did so without ending up doing what MZB did. So, MZB really has no excuses for what she has done.
I hope that the ‘I like it but not as an arthurian retelling’ thing is more clear now.
Another thing that bugs me: MoA has basically started a trend.
There are many many books that take MoA as a source of informations. Now, while I’m glad that MoA started the trend of the retellings from a female POV (this is something we owe it), I’m not really glad of the fact that since MoA came out, many books now feature:
- religious wars
-farfetched celtic religions
-Morgana being some sort of priestess (?)
(All these things in books that claim to be historically accurate… o.o)
-Elaine as the less perfect/less interesting little cousin of Guinevere
I really CAN’T stand this. Mists of avalon is not a source of informations on the Arthurian matter. It’s simplu not. Sorry.
okay… now having said all this.. I don’t really now how to conclude this post. Let’s just say..that for now it’s all folks. xD