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Through the Mists, Part II

CINESCAPE takes you on a mythical journey through the AVALON books of Marion Zimmer Bradley

By Stephanie Crawford     July 13, 2001


THE LADY OF AVALON by Marion Zimmer Bradley
© Roc
THE LADY IS THE LINK
The story continues in THE LADY OF AVALON (1997), the novel that bridges the gap between the Ancient Britain of the first century and the Arthurian legends of the eighth. Constructed in three sections and time periods, THE LADY OF AVALON is the link between THE FOREST HOUSE and THE MISTS OF AVALON. The main characters throughout the three separate stories are various incarnations of Warrior, Priestess, and Lover. Bradley spans seven centuries, bringing us from the founding of Avalon to the familiar characters of Viviane and Taliesin, whom we meet just a few years before their appearance in THE MISTS OF AVALON.

In LADY, we see the founding of Avalon by refugees from the forest house of Vernemeton. The priestess Ladies of Avalon, beset by zealots from the new male-dominated Christianity, seek out incarnations of the Sacred King who will save Britannia. Gawen, the son of Eilan and Gaius from THE FOREST HOUSE, is a harbinger of a new Briton, a mixture of Roman and Celt. Raised in Avalon by the High Priestess Caillean, Gawen fulfills prophecy and becomes the Son of a Hundred Kings. Bearing the sword from the Druidic Holy Regalia (which will one day be known as Excalibur), he is united with Sianna, the daughter of the Faerie Queen, who bears his child. Mortally wounded, Gawen lends his strength to a triumvirate of power, separating Avalon from the outside world and sacrificing himself to protect the mystical isle. His daughter, whom Sianna bears, becomes the Lady of Avalon, and begins the lineage of the Priestesses of Avalon.

More than seven generations later, Dierna is High Priestess in a
troubled Britain. After years of maintaining separation from the world outside the mists, Dierna decides to utilize the influence of Avalon for the protection and preservation of Britain. Carausius, the Emperor of Britain, is the reincarnation of Gawen, the Son of a Hundred Kings of seven generations before. Dierna uses the magic of Avalon to assist Carausius in his conquest of the Saxons. Betrayed by his lieutenant, Carausius comes to his true love, Dierna, and to Avalon, too late. As he dies on the shores of the lake, Dierna curses his betrayer and swears never again to interfere with the world outside the mists surrounding the isle of Avalon.

The third and final portion of this tale takes place a few years prior to THE MISTS OF AVALON. Viviane, the foster child of a farmer, remembers little of her Avalon heritage until the day Taliesin comes to bring her back to the Isle to be schooled as the successor to the Lady of Avalon. Barely remembering her mother, Viviane must forge a relationship with a difficult woman who is never quite mother, priestess, or Goddess. Amid these struggles, Viviane must forge her own way and find in herself the heart of a priestess. This path will ultimately lead to the stewardship of the Cup of the Druid Regalia, known later as the Holy Grail, and to her ascension as the Lady of the Lake.

The Son of a Hundred Kings that THE LADY OF AVALON deals with so energetically might also be called The Son of a Hundred Fairly Ineffectual Men who Die Pretty Quickly. In this book, more than in any of the others, Bradley steps too far away from what works, leaving her strong female characters to play with the boys for a while. Granted, men have their place in this story as well, but if something works like Bradley's focus on her strong feminine main characters you don't question it. The third story in THE LADY OF AVALON works best the book might have been stronger if the third story had been expanded into novel length and left to stand alone.


PARTING THE MISTS
The fourth novel, PRIESTESS OF AVALON (2001), was half-completed when Marion Zimmer Bradley passed away in 1999, and her friend and sister-in-law Diana L. Paxson took up the torch and completed the novel. Originally intended to be the middle story in THE LADY OF AVALON, Paxson and Bradley soon discovered that the complex tale of Helena, the alleged mother of Constantine an actual historical figure from one of the most pivotal periods in European history, the triumph of Christianity needed its own novel to do her justice.

PRIESTESS OF AVALON by Marion Zimmer Bradley



The baby Eilan is thrust alone into the world as her mother, the Lady of Avalon, dies just after naming her. Sent back to the man who sired her to be raised in the Roman way as Helena, she is raised as a princess. She is sent back to the Isle at the age of ten to be schooled in the ways of a priestess. Helena arrives in Avalon, much to the chagrin of her aunt Ganeda, the high priestess, who blames Helena for the death of her mother and resents her presence in Avalon. Helena becomes an initiated priestess, and after seeing him in a vision, Helena falls in love with Constantius when he is brought to Avalon to marry another. Rather than marry the girl chosen for him by Ganeda, Constantius chooses Helena, and impregnates her. In a fit of rage, Ganeda exiles Helena from Avalon forever.

Drawn back to Rome, Constantius and Helena settle in the Eternal City, where Helena gives birth to Constantius' son, the future Emperor Constantine. The fortunes of war and the irresistible rise of Christianity swirl around the lovers as Helena contends with the dangers that surround them. Helena is separated from her family and wanders to the Holy Land, seeking answers to the questions that trouble her soul, and discovering that all religions call on the same higher power.

Paxson's work on the final novel in the series (to date) deserves considerable praise. While the middle two novels were much weaker than MISTS although still very good by any other standards) PRIESTESS is a solid return to the quality, readability, and above all, the voice of the first novel.

The topic of a woman's place in the world was obviously very important to Bradley, and turns up not only in the AVALON books, but also in her DARKOVER series and THE FIREBRAND, her novel of the women of the Trojan War. Many critics call the AVALON books 'feminist literature,' but are they? In the strictest sense, 'feminism' refers to women's rights and places in the social hierarchy, the psychological significance of women's roles, and the role of the female in nature and in society. A 'feminist' piece of literature would deal with some or all of the above, and the AVALON series fulfills these requirements admirably.

The AVALON books are masterpieces not only of feminist
literature but also of Britannic and Arthurian legend. They bring the legends to new light and depict the worship of the Goddess as a high calling. For all their fictional trappings, they remind us that men were not the only ones who made history, and if we remember that, it's possible that somewhere, Marion Zimmer Bradley is smiling.















THE LADY OF AVALON

Grade: B-

Author(s): Marion Zimmer Bradley


Publisher: Roc


Price: $15.95

 

















PRIESTESS OF AVALON

Grade: A-

Author(s): Marion Zimmer Bradley & Diana L. Paxson


Publisher: Viking


Price: $25.95

 

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