What We're (Re-)Reading Now: 'The Mists of Avalon' by Marion Zimmer Bradley

You know what I’m a sucker for? Feminism. Also, genre fiction, especially the fantastical sort. Which is why the only reason I hadn’t read Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon before this week is that it was published six years before I was born. (A poor reason, given many of the works I love most share this characteristic, but I felt compelled to at least try to explain it.) It’s a re-telling of the Arthurian legend from the perspective of the female leads in the story.

Boom. Femisnist re-tellings, well-established fantasy—hook, line, and sinker, I am in. Please, someone get me a copy!

Unfortunately, I came across this book via a discussion of the child-molestation revelations, accusations, and court-cases against Zimmer Bradley in a recent EW meeting. This knowledge and context has certainly clouded my reading, making passages involving young women and their ‘sexual awakenings’ more than just moderately uncomfortable. In other works handling this time period and religion, I might pass it all off as abhorrent practices that would never be accepted by contemporary society—but that isn’t entirely possible given the circumstances. I didn’t realize how much comfort I take as a reader in assuming that  I share a similar moral compass with an author. That doesn’t exist here, and adds a perpetual unease to the experience. (Note: It’s not a short experience. The book is roughly 900 pages.)

Tina gave Mists to me, and I couldn’t help but think of readers like her—those who so very, very much loved this series before all the Zimmer Bradley information came to light, and the way it must inevitably change their perception of the work. There have been many pieces this summer handling that very subject. I find them all interesting, and all of their arguments compelling.

But I can’t really offer one of those, as I am meeting all of this head-on from the beginning. Instead, I can offer what I think of the book: I think it’s brilliant.

I know. And I know. But it is. It’s lush and it’s compelling, and I started underlining phrases and paragraphs as early as the prologue.

It’s a conflicting experience, certainly. But if I’m here to tell you about the book alone, I have to tell you to read it. Its handling of female adolescence and the desire to fit into a world that constantly wants to constrict your role is thoughtful, delicately constructed, and something I think 2014 pop culture could learn a lot from.

And, on a more surface level, it’s entertaining. It takes a legend I slogged through for four years of an English lit degree and made it fun. It welcomed me into a world numerous professors had to beg me to enter, and I’m likely to finish this and head right into Books 2 (The Forest House) and 3 (The Lady of Avalon).

What does everyone else think?

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