The Mists of Avalon

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Name: The Mists of Avalon
Abbreviation(s):
Creator: Marion Zimmer Bradley and Diana L. Paxson (after Bradley's death in 1999)
Date(s): January 1983 - 2009, 2001 (miniseries)
Medium: book series, television miniseries
Country of Origin: United States
External Links: Avalon Series Wikipedia
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The Mists of Avalon is the title of the first book in Avalon Series created by Marion Zimmer Bradley and later continued by Diana L. Paxson after Bradley's death. The series focuses on the legendary island of Avalon, Arthurian Legends and the various women who have shaped its history and that of Britain.

In 2001, TNT created a live-action television miniseries.

Pre-Publication Progress and Mentions

In the spring of 1979, Bradley announced to fans that she had signed a contract for "The Mists of Avalon," referring to it as "Mistress of Magic" (which ended up being the title of the first of four parts of the completed book) [1] :
So much for the bad news; here is the good news. Meanwhile I had decided to write a novel on an Arthurian theme, about the women of King Arthur; Morgan Le Fay, the Lady of the Lake, Igraine, Guinevere; not, as they're usually handled, as romantic objects for the knights to fall in love with, adore, and generally act idiotic about, but as human beings, involved in the great events of their time. Lester Del Rey, of Del Rey Books (Ballantine) signed a contract, and with the first part of the advance I went for a month to England, spending time visiting Tintagel, Cadbury Castle (the archaeological site now generally believed to be Camelot), Glastonbury, the original Avalon, and so forth. I conceptualize the book as fantasy, not as a rationalized historical along the lines of THE CRYSTAL CAVE or Sutcliffe's SWORD AT SUNSET; but I want it to read rationally and in tune with known history of the Darkest Ages in Britain. [...] And somewhere, with all of [these personal and family problems], I still have to find the time to write MISTRESS OF MAGIC... the Arthurian novel I mentioned at the top of this page. [2]
In March 1980, there was this update:
At present MZB Is working frantically on MISTRESS OF MAGIC, a novel about the women of Malory— especially Morgan le Fay and the Lady of the Lake, those mysterious figures whom the male-oriented and Christian Thomas Malory tried to keep in the very background of his story. [3]
From a Autumn 1980 update:
For those of you who have inquired about the future of MZB and of the Darkover books: Marion has recovered well from her illness (and asks us to thank you all for the cards, letters and such) and is 1011 pages into MISTRESS OF MAGIC, the novel about the women of Malory's King Arthur, Morgan le Fay, the Lady of the Lake, and such. [4]
In April 1982, there was an update on the book:
Mistress of Magic will be issued, probably not under that title (Robert Gotlieb, editor at Knopf, feeis that any book with Mistress' in the title would be brushed off as a bodice-ripper costume romance) from Knopf in hard covers, ONE volume, in SEPTEMBER 1982. thereafter, it will be issued in FOUR volumes, paperback, from Ballantine Books. [5]

Canon

"Mists of Avalon" "[is a] reworking of the Arthurian legends told from the perspective of Arthur’s half-sister, Morgaine (Morgana le Fay) who fights to keep Avalon and Mother-Goddess-centered paganism alive in the face of Christianity’s rise in England. Rather than just writing a black-and-white story, Bradley delves into the complexities: Guinevere loves Arthur and Lancelot, and dedicates herself to a fanatical Christianity because of her guilt over this triangle. Arthur knows about their affair, and hates that his best friend and wife are in constant emotional pain, but has to ignore it for the health of the realm. Mordred admires Arthur, but also feels that he’s unfit to rule." [6]

Publication

Bradley announced the publication date of Mists of Avalon in August 1982 and reminded fans of what a good deal it will be to purchase:
THE MISTS OF AVALON—original title, MISTRESS OF MAGIC—a novel about King Arthur's time from the viewpoint of Morgaine le Fay—will be released from Knopf, January 1983; it was moved back from September due to production problems and Knopf didn't wish 1t to be released into the Christmas rush. In January, as the winter settles in, the days shorten, the cold strengthens, and people settle down to the long hard pull of winter, the theory is that people will appreciate a good long read; 928 pages for $17.50, which means you'll get the equivalent of three or four books (single shorter novels now sell for $13.98) for just over the price of one. Enjoy. [7]

"The Mists of Avalon" As an Apex

Bradley's sister-in-law, Diana Paxson, wrote in 2001, that the success of The Mists of Avalon, while gratifying and exciting, was also an unexpected strain on Bradley:

But no one expected what happened when The Mists of Avalon was published. Some of its success was no doubt due to the editorial and promotional genius of Judy Lynn Benjamin Del Rey, who got the book reviewed in the New York Times. But the rest has to be put down to Marion’s ability to resonate with the zeitgeist. Glowing reviews certainly helped, but what made the book a bestseller was word-of-mouth publicity, and that’s what keeps it selling today. People bought and read and loved it, then bought copies for their friends. Suddenly Marion found herself world-famous.

This was not what she had expected, especially when people began to phone her in the middle of the night wanting spiritual counsel. Morgaine herself could not have fulfilled all the expectations being laid upon the author of The Mists of Avalon. Marion continued to write, but she began to withdraw from public life.

Her health was also beginning to fail. To the heart trouble from which she had suffered for many years was added diabetes, and then a series of strokes. [8]

Some of Bradley's Responses to Fan Opinion

In 1991, Bradley replied to a fans' complaints of some of her character's "lack of feminist sensibility":
I must remind my readers that I did not invent either the Roman Empire or the early Christians, and should not be blamed for their faults — nor for their lack of feminist sensibility. There have been readers taking me to task for presenting a poor feminist role model in Guinevere in MISTS OF AVALON: not to mention the women who took me to task — yes, really — for making the 'Birthing experiences' of Morgan, and of Domaris in WEB OF DARKNESS -- less than 'positive'. This of course is the kind of arrant nonsense "up with which I will not put" as Shaw said when chided for ending a sentence with a preposition. Guinevere had a real life model; if she was less than a perfect role model, her original was real — and equally a poor role model. Besides, if all the characters are perfect role models, where is your contrast? [9]
In 1991, Bradley said:
Mists was a lot of fun. Some of my readers thought I was too hard on some of the Christian Fathers, but I told them I didn't invent Saint Augustine. The Christians are condemned out of their own mouths." [10]

Fan Comments: 2017

Remember that period of time of about 15 years, where absolutely everybody read this book and was obsessed with it? It could not have been bigger, and the fandom was Anne Rice huge, overlapping for several years with USENET and the early World Wide Web…but it’s since petered out.

Mists of Avalon’s popularity may be due to the most excellent case of hitting a demographic sweet spot ever. The book was a feminist retelling of the Arthurian Mythos where Morgan Le Fay is the main character, a pagan from matriarchal goddess religions who is fighting against encroaching Christianity and patriarchal forms of society coming in with it. Also, it made Lancelot bisexual and his conflict is how torn he is about his attraction to both Arthur and Guinevere.

Remember, this novel came out in 1983 – talk about being ahead of your time! If it came out today, the reaction from a certain corner would be something like “it is with a heavy heart that I inform you that tumblr is at it again.”

Man, demographically speaking, that’s called “nailing it.” It used to be one of the favorite books of the kind of person who’s bookshelf is dominated by fantasy novels about outspoken, fiery-tongued redheaded women, who dream of someday moving to Scotland, who love Enya music and Kate Bush, who sell homemade needlepoint stuff on etsy, who consider their religious beliefs neo-pagan or wicca, and who have like 15 cats, three of which are named Isis, Hypatia, and Morrigan.

This type of person is still with us, so why did this novel fade in popularity? There’s actually a single hideous reason: after her death around 2001, facts came out that Marion Zimmer Bradley abused her daughters sexually. Even when she was alive, she was known for defending and enabling a known child abuser, her husband, Walter Breen. To say people see your work differently after something like this is an understatement – especially if your identity is built around being a progressive and feminist author. [11]

Fanworks

The Marion Zimmer Bradley Literary Works Trust has been aggressively consistent in disapproval regarding derivative fanworks based on anything Bradley wrote, including The Catch Trap, "The Mists of Avalon," and Darkover novels and short stories.

In 1995, Elisabeth Waters (Bradley's long-time partner and secretary) wrote:
I had an idea for a story based on "Mists of Avalon "which, of course, MZB owns (except for the movie rights, which she sold to James Coburn). I asked her permission to write (prepare) the story, and she gave it. I wrote the story. She hated it and withdrew her permission. I destroyed all copies of it. [12] [13]


Examples Wanted: Editors are encouraged to add more examples or a wider variety of examples.

Archives & Fannish Links

Meta & Further Reading

Fan Comments

References

  1. "Marion’s working title for the book was Mistress of Magic, but the publishers felt that “mistress” might give the wrong impression, and so that title was given to the first part of the book, and Marion’s wonderfully evocative invention of the protecting mists provided the general title of The Mists of Avalon. When Marion turned the book in, Judy-Lynn replied that the only things wrong with it were “the beginning, the middle, and the end.” Marion, who was used to turning in a book and then forgetting it, rewrote. Among other changes, she made the book much longer. -- The Mists of Avalon, author unknown, date unknown
  2. Darkover Newsletter #17/18 (Spring 1979)
  3. Darkover Newsletter #21
  4. from Darkover Newsletter #22
  5. from Darkover Newsletter #25
  6. from On This Day: Marion Zimmer Bradley Gave Us New Perspectives
  7. from Darkover Newsletter #26
  8. A memorial letter by Diana Paxson, written March 26, 2001, is here (scroll down to "Author Essay" in the "See More" link): Marion Zimmer Bradley, Archived version
  9. from Darkover Newsletter #53 (June 1991)
  10. from Darkover Newsletter #54 (September 1991)
  11. Dead Fandoms, Part 3
  12. from Darkover Newsletter #70
  13. Waters appears to be saying that it is okay for fans to ask for permission, write the story, show the story to Bradley, and for Bradley to decide if the story is good enough to exist. This is in direct opposition to the whole "don't show Bradley or ask permission" in the first place, the statement Marion Zimmer Bradley, Elisabeth Waters, and Ann Sharp had been repeating to fans after The Marion Zimmer Bradley Fanfiction Controversy. It also brings up the issue of quality: if the story is "good," it can bypass these stipulations.