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Today, I will be interviewing Arthurian novelist Nicole Evelina about her new novel, Daughter of Destiny: Guinevere’s Tale, Book One. (You can read my review of her novel at https://childrenofarthur.wordpress.com/2016/01/04/guinevere-gets-her-say-in-new-novel-daughter-of-destiny-by-nicole-evelina/)

Nicole Evelina, author of "Daughter of Destiny" about Guinevere's early years before she married King Arthur.

Nicole Evelina, author of “Daughter of Destiny” about Guinevere’s early years before she married King Arthur.

Nicole Evelina has spent the last fifteen years researching the Arthurian legend, Celtic Britain, and the various peoples, cultures, and religious practices that shaped the country after the withdrawal of Rome. She is a proud member of the Historical Novel Society.

Nicole holds a B.A. in English and an M.A. in media communications, as well as accreditation from the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), a distinction that tests writing and communications skill, and is held by only 8,000 people worldwide.

Her new novel Daughter of Destiny was published on January 1, 2016, and it is the first in a trilogy of novels she has planned. Her goal is to create a strong female protagonist in the person of Guinevere in the series.

Tyler: Welcome, Nicole. I interviewed you about three years ago about your novel series and interest in the Arthurian legend. Back then you were trying to find a publisher, so it’s been a long journey. How did publication come about and how does it feel now to be a published author?

Nicole: Hi Tyler! Thanks for having me on your blog again. Yes, it has been a long journey. I started out going the traditional publication route and got SOOOOO close three times (twice at Penguin), but it ultimately didn’t end up working out for this book. In the meantime, the self-publishing market exploded. I met more and more people who were doing it, and after a lot of study and serious consideration, I decided to self-publish. I created my own publishing imprint and own my own business now. My first product was Daughter of Destiny.

Tyler: Tell us how you came up with the idea to write Daughter of Destiny and why you think it stands out from other Arthurian novels?

Nicole: When I was in college, I read The Mists of Avalon, and I loved the book, but hated Marion Zimmer Bradley’s portrayal of Guinevere. So I sought out other books about the character. I found Parke Godwin’s Beloved Exile, which covers Guinevere’s life after King Arthur’s death. That made me wonder what her life was like before and after him. You didn’t hear too much about that. Then she came into my head and told me she wanted me to tell her whole life story, before Arthur, with him and after. The rest is history.

I think it stands out because I’ve done things with Guinevere that few, if any, other authors have done. For example, my Guinevere is a priestess of Avalon and that is how she meets Morgan. Their rivalry begins long before Arthur enters the picture. So that means he’s part of it, but definitely not all. Plus, I have made Guinevere’s first love someone I don’t think anyone else has ever done, but there is a mythological connection, a reason that I chose this person.

Tyler: I definitely want to know more about Guinevere’s first love, but first, you’ve said you were influenced by Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon in writing the novel, but obviously, you were reacting to her rather than just imitating her. What do you think is or was valuable about Bradley’s novel and what is its place in Arthurian literature?

Nicole: For me, it was the emphasis on the female characters and telling their story. All throughout history, we’ve gotten the male perspective. Ms. Bradley turned that on its head. I also think she was groundbreaking in connecting the Arthurian story to Wicca/neopagan worship. While that’s not historically accurate, it spoke to (and continues to speak to) a lot of people in a way that they need, myself included.

Tyler: In the novel, you have Guinevere go to Avalon while young to study there. Why did you choose to have Avalon play a key part in her background?

Nicole: It was natural to me because I knew I wanted to explore the tension between Christianity and paganism at that point in history and that I wanted Guinevere to be pagan. Having Avalon be the female center of Druidism (while Merlin had the male center elsewhere) was a natural outgrowth of my love of The Mists of Avalon. It also gave me a way to have Guinevere grow up with a group of strong-willed, powerful women who would shape who she becomes.

Tyler: Okay. Now back to that love interest question. I was really surprised that Guinevere’s love interest in the novel is Aggrivaine. How did you come to that decision?

Nicole: Well, I knew I wanted her to have a first love before Arthur. Most authors have chosen to make it Lancelot, but I wanted to go in a different direction. The more I explored the legend, I realized in some versions, Mordred isn’t alone in confronting and exposing Lancelot and Guinevere. Sometimes Aggrivane is with him. I started wondering why. What was Aggrivane’s motivation for such a betrayal? Then it hit me. If he and Guinevere were together first, he would naturally want revenge. He would be wondering why, if she was going to have an affair, it wasn’t with him. So I kind of wrote the relationship backwards, from the endgame. Also, because Lot is Aggrivane’s father and Lot’s kingdom of Lothian is in the Votadini lands (where Guinevere’s mom is from), it was helpful for Guinevere to already have a connection to their family. None of it was an accident.

Tyler: That makes perfect sense, Nicole. Aggrivane is often Mordred’s accomplice in Camelot’s fall. That’s brilliant reasoning and not really so surprising then when you think about it. But there are some other surprises about the characters and their relationships. For example, Arthur’s sister is named Ana, and there’s no sister named Morgan le Fay or Morgause? Why did you make those changes?

"Daughter of Destiny" the first book in a trilogy about Guinevere.

“Daughter of Destiny” the first book in a trilogy about Guinevere.

Nicole: I feel like Ana has gotten lost in all the modern attention to Morgause and Morgan le Fay, both of whom tend to be evil characters. Although Ana is a small character, I wanted to give her back what I feel is her rightful place. In my world, she’s a strong, intelligent queen. Morgan has her own role to play, which you’ll find out in the second book.

Tyler: Of course, there is a Morgan in the novel, and she is a rival to Guinevere. Do you see Morgan as a villain? Is that a reaction against her protagonist role in Mists?

Nicole: Yes, Morgan is the villain. But she has her reasons. She doesn’t know who her parents are and so, as Guinevere observes, Morgan has no tribe, no family outside of Avalon. Therefore, Morgan must do everything she can to secure her place as the darling of Avalon, a role Guinevere also covets. It’s the only way Morgan can survive. Later on, she’s still fighting the same fight, just out in the world, trying to connive her way into survival, and she hopes, eventually to triumph over Guinevere who has been a thorn in her side from an early age.

I don’t think my Morgan was a reaction to Mists, at least not consciously. I’ve always viewed Morgan as a villain.

Tyler: I don’t want to give away too much of the novel, but it’s obvious that Arthur will show up in Guinevere’s life since he’s always her husband in the legend. In this novel, however, he’s a pretty minor character. Did you intentionally hold him off until the end of the book?

Nicole: Yes. This book is meant to show you Guinevere’s life before Arthur becomes a major part in it, to show that she was a person with friends and family, hopes and dreams before queenship ever entered her mind. He becomes a major character in the second book.

Tyler: I’ve seen a lot of Arthurian novelists, especially those who write fantasy, recently be criticized for not trying to create a perfectly historical Arthurian period. How important do you feel it is to create a historical Arthur rather than just a fantasy one, and do you think it matters whether Arthur was historical or not?

Nicole: I don’t think it matters. Personally, I think he did exist on some level, but until we uncover his diary, we just won’t know who that historical Arthur is. History and archeology are changing every single day with new discoveries (for example, they just recently announced that Christians lived at Glastonbury at least 200 years earlier than previously thought) so in some ways, it’s impossible to ever create a historical Arthur. I think you do what you can with the research you can find and as a novelist, are allowed to make up the rest. That’s what separates us from the historians. How historically accurate your world is will depend on your intent—are you trying to show what it really was like in a certain time period? Or are you more interested in the fantasy side? My personal take was a bit of both.

Tyler: I know you did a lot of research on the legend in writing your novels. Will you share with us a little of the experiences you had in doing research and what you learned that most surprised you or shaped your story?

Nicole: Oh gosh. Yes, I did lots of research. There’s a whole page on my website dedicated to it: http://nicoleevelina.com/the-books/guineveres-tale/daughter-of-destiny-book-1/guinevere-trilogy/. Book research was the majority of what I did. It was very interesting to see the number of different theories that were out there on King Arthur. It’s almost like no two people can agree.

I was honored to be able to meet one of my source authors, Geoffrey Ashe, while I was in England as part of an Arthurian legend tour. To get to hear his theories and pick his brain in person was such an honor. As it turned out, the man who led the tour, Jamie George, helped Marion Zimmer Bradley research The Mists of Avalon. I had no idea until I was over there and got to talking. It is such a small world! Then, later on once the first book was finished, I was able to secure an endorsement from John Matthews. He and his wife Caitlin were two of my major sources of research and I respect them both so very much. It was a dream come true to have his name grace the back cover of my book.

I think what surprised me most was what I learned about the dizzying subject of Celtic (Brehon) law. I’ve tried to incorporate a little of it into my books because it’s one of the reasons why Celtic women were so powerful. They had so many more rights than their counterparts around the world. I wish I was enough of an expert in it to speak intelligently about it, but it is just so complex.

Tyler: I’ve traveled and done research as well, and I remember when I visited Glastonbury I felt overcome by a source of energy or power there I had never experienced anywhere else. I just felt so happy and full of energy there. Did you have any experiences like that where you felt connected to an Arthurian landscape or did you just have a favorite place you visited that really helped your imagination come to life for your book?

Nicole: Glastonbury was special to me on a personal level, but not in connection to these books. I’m hoping to get back there this September when I’m in England again. Actually, the place I felt most connected with has nothing to do with these books, but is a main setting for a future dual-time period novel.

As far as Arthurian sites, I loved getting to see Cadbury castle, which some say was Guinevere’s home, or possibly a site for Camelot. I use it as Arthur’s southern power base in the second and third books of this series.

Tyler: The novel has been out a little over a month now. What kinds of responses have you received from readers, and have you been surprised by any of them?

Nicole: I’m surprised by the number of great reviews it’s gotten! Some people really get what I was going for. And when they get it, they get it, as in ALL in. As is to be expected, some people don’t, but that just means they weren’t my intended audience to begin with. One thing I find surprising is that so far, the people who didn’t like Daughter of Destiny have still expressed interest in reading the second book. That’s going to be hard to watch because I have this fear the second book will be very divisive because it’s so dark and deals with heavy subject matter.

Tyler: When can we expect the next two books in the series to be published and what kinds of glimpses can you give us into what will happen to Guinevere in them?

Nicole: The second book, Camelot’s Queen, comes out April 12. That one covers Guinevere’s life with Arthur, her role as a battle queen, her affair with Lancelot and the discovery of the Holy Grail. I can tell you Morgan has a role you won’t see coming, and if you hated Father Marius in the first book, you will loathe him in the second. It’s a much darker book than the first one, covering the subjects of emotional, physical and sexual abuse, all of which have their origin in the legends, and I don’t feel can be ignored simply because they are distasteful. I hope readers see that I have tried to address these issues with respect and give them context so they are not just a plot device, but truly affect the characters’ lives and the decisions they make.

The third book, Mistress of Legend, is tentatively scheduled for late 2016/early 2017. That book begins with the fall of Camelot and the battle of Camlann and then covers Guinevere’s life after Arthur dies. There is a convent involved, but I can promise you she doesn’t live out her days there in penance. She is her mother’s daughter and born to lead, so you will see a strong woman to the end of her days. I have a draft written. I know how it ends. (I’ve known from the beginning.) But the middle of the story is currently missing and I’m not happy with the opening, so I have some work to do.

I tend to think of the three books like this: the first books shows her as a priestess, the second as a queen and third as a warrior.

Tyler: I can’t wait for that third book especially, Nicole. It all sounds fascinating. Thank you for joining me today, Nicole. Before we go, will you tell us about your website and what additional information we can find there about Daughter of Destiny?

Nicole: Thank you again for having me, Tyler. It’s always such a pleasure to talk with you because you understand the legends so well.

My website is http://nicoleevelina.com. In addition to learning about the book, you’ll find my research, a pronunciation guide for the character and place names, and the map that’s in the book. I’ve also got a fan section that contains my playlist, research photos, and soon will have deleted scenes and an “If List” page that lets you vote on who should play the characters if a movie was ever made. I need to link my Pinterest boards for the books up to the site as well. Also, if you’re in a book club, there’s a discussion guide, period-appropriate food, drink and music suggestions and you can contact me if you want me to speak or visit your club in person or via Skype.

Tyler: Thanks again, Nicole. It’s been a pleasure.

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Marion Zimmer Bradley’s magnificent novel, The Mists of Avalon, although it is a retelling of the ancient Arthurian myths, is a novel that has definite connections to views from the women’s movement, particularily their beliefs toward patriarchial religions and the future downfall of Christianity.

In The Mists of Avalon, we have all the renowned characters of King Arthur’s Court, the love of Gwenhwyfar and Lancelet, Arthur’s battles against the Saxons, the quest for the Holy Grail, and all the other traditional storylines that are found in Arthurian legend.  But if this novel had only been meant as a retelling, there would have been no purpose for its being written.  Instead, the novel retells the Arthurian legends from the women’s point of view, something that has never been done before, and it is done more splendidly than anyone else could have ever imagined.

But why did Marion Zimmer Bradley decide to retell the Arthurian legend from the feminist perspective, and what purpose did she think it would serve?  I believe she wished to express her own views on religion, in contrast to how far she thought the negative reactions of the women’s movement toward patriarchal religions were practical.

When the women’s movement began, one of its major goals was to overthrow the patriarchal society in which women lived.  This patriarchal society was largely formed as a result of the Jewish and Christian religions.  These religions worship the god, Yahweh, and because He is a male god, they hold the belief that men are superior to women.  Examples of this sexist behavior can be found in the Bible and the Judaic Christian traditions.  One example is the tale of Adam’s first wife, Lilith.  Because she refused to have Adam lie on top of her, therefore allowing him to be the dominant figure in the relationship, Lilith was thrown out of the Garden of Eden.  The Jewish tradition then turned her into a witch who curses men with sterility and wet dreams.  The first woman who sought to be liberated was cursed and ridiculed by men (Goldenberg  72-3).  Other examples can be found in the epistles of St. Paul when he tells women to be submissive to their husbands.

“Wives should be submissive to their husbands as if to the Lord because            the husband is head of his wife just as Christ is head of his body the church, as well as its savior.  As the church submits to Christ, so wives                             should submit to their husbands in everything” (Ephesians 5: 22-4)

Marion Zimmer Bradley is a feminist who believes we must rewrite myth and history;   women should no longer be portrayed as evil because of things they did which were in conflict with patriarchal society;  instead, they should be credited for all the good they have accomplished for mankind.  This includes rewriting myth so that women, who were misunderstood by patriarchal societies, are not perverted in the retelling of the story as they have been in the patriarchal versions;  instead, in rewritten myth, the women should be depicted as they very probably were, rather than how patriarchal societies chose to view them.  By retelling the story through the character of King Arthur’s sister, Morgan Le Fay, known as Morgaine in The Mists of Avalon, Bradley shows how the Arthurian legends were distorted by male writers.

The front page of the novel begins with a quote from Sir Thomas Malory’s Morte d’Arthur, saying “Morgan le Fay was not married, but put to school in a nunnery, where she became a great mistress of magic” (Bradley n.p.)   Then in the prologue, Bradley allows Morgaine to speak for herself and refute Malory’s statement as being untrue:

“In my time I have been called many things:  sister, lover, priestess, wisewoman, queen.  Now in truth I have come to be wise-woman, and a time may come when these things may need to be known. But in sober truth, I think it is the Christians who will tell the last tale.  For ever the world of Fairy drifts further from the world in which the Christ holds sway.  I have no quarrel with the Christ, only with his priests, who call the Great Goddess a demon and deny that she ever held power in this world.  At best, they say that her power was of Satan.  Or else they clothe her in the blue robe of the Lady of Nazareth – who indeed had power in her way, too – and say that she was ever virgin.  But what can a virgin know of the sorrows and travail of mankind?” (Bradley ix)

These words begin the enticing novel, which then goes on to show us who the real Morgaine was … a priestess of the Great Goddess, and a woman who fought to preserve her religion against the spread of Christianity, which claimed the Goddess was evil and that Christianity was the only true religion.   Morgaine, as a priestess of Avalon, is a devotee of a matriarchal type of religion because her religion worships a Goddess, rather than a God.  Whenever a patriarchal religion such as Judaism or Christianity came into contact with a matriarchal religion, it tried to transform the matriarchal religion’s beliefs to be in agreement with their own.  What the patriarchal religions could not convert into their own beliefs, they then perverted to makeit appear evil.  In many cases, this meant that patriarchal religions believed religions where a goddess was worshipped had to be evil simply because women are evil.

And of course, women inherited this evil from Eve when she sinned in Eden.

“…it was through a woman that mankind had fallen into original Sin, and every woman must be aware that it was her work to atone for that  Original Sin in Eden.  No woman could ever be really good except for  Mary the Mother of Christ;  all other women were evil, they had never had any chance to be anything but evil” (Bradley 268)

In The Mists of Avalon, not only are women evil, but the Christian priests whose religion is replacing the religion of the Great Goddess in King Arthur’s Britain, are imposing evil interpretations upon Morgaine’s religion.  As Christianity compares all women to Eve, thus making them evil, so “the priests say that their Goddess is that same old serpent of evil whom our Lord drove from the Garden of Eden!” (Bradley 554).  What the priests are doing to the Goddess in Celtic Britain is exactly what their forebears in the patriarchal Jewish religion did to the matriarchal societies they came into contact with.  Archeological evidence shows that the worship of a Goddess at one time was common throughout most of the Western world, and probably existed even before the patriarchal religions.  Joseph Campbell believes the Goddess, which was originally an Indo-European belief that spread throughout the ancient world, survived longer and in a closer to the original form in Ireland than in any other part of the world.    Campbell discusses how  the patriarchal religions did not always wipe out the belief in the mother goddess, but instead they rewrote the belief in the mother goddess for their own benefit.  In the Levantine, before the Jewish people came in and rewrote the story of Adam and Eve to their own advantage,  there existed a belief in a goddess whose consort was a serpent;  this serpent’s title was Ningizzida, “Lord of the Tree of Truth” (Campbell 9).  The goddess and her serpent consort also had a son who had to follow a “quest for release from the bondages of birth, disease, old age, and death” (Campbell 16).  Joseph Campbell goes on to explain how this family, which was worshipped throughout the Middle East, was transformed by a patriarchal religion into the Biblical Adam and Eve story.  The goddess was transformed into Eve, and because she listened to the serpent, she became evil.  Ningizzida, “Lord of the Tree of Truth,” is of course, the serpent who already ate of the apple, and because he is wise, therefore the patriarchal religions decided that he was also sinful.  The son of Ningizzida and the Goddess is probably the Adam of the Bible story.  In the Biblical version, Adam is then made to be the spouse, rather than the son of Eve.  Whereas his mother should be dominant over him, the patriarchal religion then did something even worse, by stating that Eve was created out of Adam’s rib, therefore again stating that men are superior to women. (Campbell 29-30)

In The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley shows how this old Mother Goddess/ Serpent religion which had been wiped out by patriarchal religions in the Middle East, was still in existence in fifth century Celtic Britain.  Along with the worship of the Goddess, the serpent was also preserved in the Celtic religions.  In The Mists of Avalon, the kingmaking involved the king taking part in the Beltane festivals.  At this festival, the king would marry the land and pledge to support the holy isle of Avalon.  As a symbol of their support, kings would be given serpent bracelets or tattoos around their wrists.   At one point in the novel, Morgaine states that the story of how St. Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland is really a way of saying he drove out the Druids – which are the serpents of wisdom (Bradley 769).  The druids were renowned for their wisdom, and therefore their connection to serpents is not surprising;  furthermore, the connection of serpents to wisdom can obviously be seen as stemming from the old story of Adam and Eve, where the serpent is wise from eating of the apple, no matter whether you look at the Biblical or the more ancient version.  Furthermore, the idea of the apple as providing wisdom was also preserved in the Celtic world, because the name of the holy isle, Avalon, comes from the welsh word “aval” meaning “apple” (Westwood 21), and this isle was said to be filled with apple trees, as Bradley describes it in her novel.

In the novel, King Arthur’s reign is a time when Britain and the Celtic religions are in danger of succumbing to the patriarchal religion of Christianity.  Since Britain is one of the last strongholds of the “true religion,” the religion of the Great Goddess, Morgaine cannot allow Christianity to rewrite the Goddess and her religion as evil or to reinterpet it to suit their conventions.

Throughout the early part of the novel, Morgaine does not agree with the Christian priests, but she also feels that everyone has a right to believe what they want.  However, when her brother, King Arthur, marries Gwenhwyfar, the trouble begins.  King Arthur has been sworn to protect the isle of Avalon and promote the worship of the Goddess, since Avalon helped to set him on his throne.  Yet at the same time, he allows Christianity to exist in his realm, believing that all men have the right to choose their own religions.  However, Gwenhwyfar is a very strong Christian woman, and like the Christian priests, she believes that the Goddess and all religions other than her own are evil.

After several years of marriage to Arthur, Gwenhwyfar is still unable to produce an heir to the throne.  Her strong Christian faith leads her to believe that the reason she cannot have a child is because God is angry with Britain since the pagan religions are still allowed to exist in it.  Gwenhwyfar thinks that if Arthur truly makes Britain a Christian land, then God will look with favor on Britain, provide an heir for the throne, and continue Britain’s stability.  When Arthur’s army goes out to battle against the Saxons, Gwenhwyfar convinces her husband not to carry the banner of Avalon, but only the banner of Christ into battle.  After much argument, Arthur agrees with his wife, but this makes many of his people, who are followers of Avalon, angry enough with Arthur to desert his army.  Even with reduced numbers, Arthur still succeeds in winning a major victory against the Saxons.  Gwenhwyfar convinces him that it is God who has given him this victory because he has put away the old pagan ways and carried the banner of Christ into battle against the pagans.  When the King of Britain forsakes Avalon, which he has sworn to protect, by becoming a Christian, the religion of the Goddess cannot expect to survive.

Morgaine, of course, is furious that her brother has betrayed the holy isle.  The final straw for her is when peace is made with the Saxons, and Arthur’s sword, Excalibur, which is part of the holy regalia of Avalon, is flipped upside down to form a cross, upon which the Saxons and King Arthur swear an oath of peace.  Morgaine knows that if her religion continues to be treated with such disrespect, and the sacred regalia of Avalon continues to be desecrated, her religion will disappear.  She makes an attempt to kill her brother and establish her lover and fellow worshipper of the Goddess, Accolon, upon his throne, but instead Arthur slays Accolon, and Morgaine flees to Avalon where her brother can not reach her.

After several years of hiding, Morgaine decides that she must return to Camelot one last time to remind Arthur of his vows, by force if need be, and to try and preserve the religion of Avalon and the Goddess.  With her fellow priestess, Raven, she disguises herself as a peasant woman and journeys to Camelot.  The two priestesses arrive on Pentecost, the greatest feast day in Britain, when King Arthur hears petitions from his people.  On this particular feast day,  the Church and kingdom are celebrating Christianity’s conquering of the old pagan ways in Britain.  To solemnize this event, a mass is going to be held, and the bishop intends to use the holy cup of the Druids in the Mass to symbolize that Christianity has defeated the evil pagan ways.

Already, the sword of the Druid Regalia has been used sacriligeously, and Morgaine cannot allow such an act of sacrilege to also occur against the holy cup.  As one woman, there is not much she can do to stop it, but she prays to the Goddess to use her as a means to prevent this from happening.  Suddenly, her body is literally taken over, and she is transformed into the Goddess.  She picks up the holy cup of Avalon, and holding it in her hands, she appears as the Goddess before all of the court.  Morgaine floats about the room in the form of the Goddess while she brings the cup to everyone in the court and they drink from it;  they drink the holy water of the sacred well of Avalon, drink from the cup which represents the cauldron of Ceridwen, the Goddess, which is the cup of life.

After everyone has drunk from the cup, through the power of the Goddess, Morgaine makes the cup disappear from the court and return to Avalon so it can never be under threat of desecration again.  Morgaine then resumes her regular form, but this remains unnoticed by everyone because they are too overwhelmed at the miracle.  Before anyone realizes what they have actually seen, the bishop goes around the room telling everyone they have seen Mary, the Mother of God, and that the cup which they have all drunk from is nothing less than the Holy Grail, the cup which Christ used at the last supper.  Everyone believes this, and when Gawaine notices that the vessel is gone, the knights become determined to bring it back to Camelot, thus beginning the famous quest for the “Holy Grail.”

Meanwhile, Morgaine returns home to Avalon.  Years continue to pass as she hears tales of how the knights have left Camelot on their quest and how many of them have died.  Eventually, she also hears that Mordred, Arthur and Morgaine’s son who was conceived in an act of incest before Arthur and Morgaine realized they were brother and sister, attempted to steal the kingdom from Arthur, resulting in both father and son being slain.

Morgaine goes to Arthur as he is dying; she takes the holy sword, Excalibur, from him and throws it into the lake where it will forever be safe from the Christians.  As her brother now lies dying in her arms, she is no longer angry at him for his betrayal of Avalon.  He is simply her brother, the same brother who lay in her arms as a child.  While his kingdom is torn by war, and he lies dying in his sister’s embrace, he asks:

“Morgaine, was it all for nothing then, what we did, and all that we tried to do?  Why did we fail?”

[Morgaine replies,] “You did not fail, my brother, my love, my child.  You held this land in peace for many years, so that the Saxons did not destroy it.  You held back the darkness for a whole generation, until they were civilized men, with learning and music and faith in God, who will fight to save something of the beauty of the times that are past.  If this land had fallen to the Saxons when Uther died, then would all that was beautiful or good have perished forever from Britain.  And so you did not fail, my love.  None of us knows how she will do her will – only that it will be done.” (Bradley 867-8)

In the epilogue, Morgaine goes to Glastonbury to visit the graves of her brother, Guinevere, and her aunt, Viviane, who had once been Lady of the Lake.  They are all buried at Glastonbury, a Christian abbey.  Yet, despite the spread of Christianity throughout Britain, Morgaine is not upset.  This visit is an awakening for her – particularily when she is surprised to see that among the Christian saints, St. Brigid is venerated at the abbey.

“But Brigid is not a Christian saint, she thought, even if Patricius thinks so.  That is the Goddess as she is worshippped in Ireland.  And I know it, and even if they think otherwise, these women know the power of the Immortal.  Exile her as they may, she will prevail.  The Goddess will never withdraw herself from mankind.”  (Bradley 875).

Because the church has made Brigid a saint, another example of how patriarchal religions distort other religions to fit their own needs, the Goddess will live on in Christian form.

As the novel ends, Morgaine prays to the Goddess:

“Mother,” she whispered, “forgive me.  I thought I must do what I now see you can do for yourself.  The Goddess is within us, yes, but now I know that you are in the world too, now and always, just as you are in Avalon, and in the hearts of all men and women.  Be in me too now, and guide me, and tell me when I need only let you do your will….” (Bradley 876)

Morgaine realizes that even if the Goddess is not apparent in the world, she still exists there.  The same is true with the holy chalice of the Druid Regalia.  It is no longer in the world, but in the holy isle of Avalon, yet as Morgaine knows, “It is in Avalon, but it is here.  It is everywhere.  And those who have need of a sign in this world will see it always.” (Bradley 876)

The belief in the Goddess has returned to mankind because of the women’s movement.  Women are angry at patriarchy, and part of the patriarchal religions which have kept them down.  They are tired of a male God who works the way that men want Him to, and they are equally tired of hearing that women are evil as the Bible claims they are.  Because of this dissatisfaction with Christianity and other patriarchal religions, women are rediscovering the ancient Goddess whom the patriarchal religions oppressed and destroyed, just as men oppress women.  Because the Goddess has reemerged and women are turning to her, seeing themselves as having the Goddess within them, many in the women’s movement  believe patriarchal religions will come to an end.

Christianity is trying to make peace with the women’s movement by showing verses in the Bible that praise women, or state that God is not just a God for men.  One of the most often quoted verses for this purpose is that “in Christ ‘there is neither male or female’” (Goldenberg 80).  Christianity is trying to make God appear androgynous so He can be a god for both men and women.  The women’s movement, however, doesn’t seem to be buying this idea.

Today there is a large number of women seeking to become priests, ministers, or holders of other positions in the clergy which have traditionally been held by men.   Many denominations, including the Catholic Church, are against having women enter the clergy.  Pope Paul VI made a statement in 1977 that if women were to play at being priests, then they would play at being God, and Christianity can only afford to have men in that role (Goldenberg 7).  The women’s movement interprets this as men’s fear that women will take over religion and destroy the male god.  Women intend to do this.  They firmly believe that “Every woman working to improve her own position in society or that of women in general is bringing about the end of God” (Goldenberg 10).  When women become liberated, men will realize they are no longer the supreme rulers on earth, and if they cannot rule on earth anymore, shouldn’t they also realize that they can no longer rule in Heaven (Goldenberg 9)?  But men should not fear this – by toppling Yahweh and Christ, men will finally be able to free themselves from their Oedipal prisons, their fear of a supreme male figure which keeps them from being whole, self-reliant men themselves (Goldenberg 31,36).

Will this happen?  Will Christianity and other patriarchal religions fall because of the women’s movement?  Although there are women in favor of the fall of Christianity, there are also members of the women’s movement who believe the Goddess must be brought back, but at the same time, the continual presence of male gods won’t be harmful to women.  Women may even be able to find some value in keeping old patriarchal gods and finding places for them in religion (Goldenberg 82).  There are also some women who want to keep a male god simply so they have someone to yell at and blame for things that go wrong, and then they can turn toward the nurturing, caring Goddess for comfort.  In a way, even these ideas are being stolen from Christianity or at least rewriting it;  whereas now we have God who is good, and the Devil who is evil, if these women get their way, then God will become the bad guy, and the Goddess shall be the one mankind, and womenkind, turn to in their time of need.  Even if these changes take place, to put a single deity in charge of evil is a Christian tendency (Goldenberg 82), yet it is a tendency the women’s movement may not want to give up if they want to continue blaming men.

But how does The Mists of Avalon fit in with this desire to topple God and bring back the Goddess?  Marion Zimmer Bradley certainly believes that patriarchal religions have rewritten pagan religions to be evil, rather than the beautiful things that many of them were.  Her argument with Christianity, told through Morgaine’s voice, seems to be that the Celtic religions and the Goddess are needed because Christ is not enough for a religion to be.  The Celtic religion was very similar to Hinduism in that it also believed in the concept of reincarnation.  At one point in the novel, Morgaine and Arthur’s mother, Igraine, has the thought “Christians said they were free of the superstitions of the Druids, but they had their own, and Igraine felt that these were even more distressing, being separated from nature” (Bradley 48).  In truth, Christianity does not seem very connected to Nature because mankind is not supposed to be in communion with Nature, but the master of it, and therefore, above it.  However, Morgaine feels the need to commune with Nature because “Those who live in close kinship with the earth need something more than salvation” which is all that Christianity offers (Bradley 681).  Morgaine believes Christianity does not work because fear of priests, or God’s wrath “or anything else, will ever keep mankind from committing sins,” …. “but only when they have gained enough wisdom in all their lives that they know that error is useless and evil must be paid for, sooner or later” (Bradley 783).  Morgaine believes Christianity’s beliefs are wrong, that as a religion they have forgotten the true Mysteries, the ones which her religion follows, but then she realizes:

“They have not forgotten the Mysteries,” she said, “they have found them too difficult. They want a God who will care for them, who will not demand that they struggle for enlightenment, but who will accept them just as they are, with all their sins, and take away their sins with repentance.  It is not so, it will never be so, but perhaps it is the only way the unenlightened can bear to think of their Gods.”

Lancelet smiled bitterly.  “Perhaps a religion which demands that every man must work through lifetime after lifetime for his own salvation is too much for mankind.  They want not to wait for God’s justice, but to see it now.  And that is the lure which this new breed of priests has promised them.” (Bradley 808).

Morgaine, like her modern day counterparts in the women’s movement, seeks to overthrow Christianity, and make sure the Goddess is remembered, but by the end of the novel, she is no longer advocating this.  As at the beginning of the novel, Morgaine realizes that she has “no quarrel with the Christ, only with his priests…” (Bradley ix).  It is not necessarily the God the Christians worship who has made women subordinate to men, but the men who are in charge of running that religion.  As Elizabeth Cady Stanton said, “The first step in the elevation of women under all systems of religion is to convince them that the Great Spirit of the Universe is in no way responsible for any of these absurdities” (Daly 13).  Morgaine realizes that “the God they both worshipped was greater and less bigoted than any priesthood” (Bradley 118), and that “our differences make no difference at all to God” (Bradley 38). At the end of the novel, she has gone even a step further by stating,  that whatever is the will of the Goddess, it will happen, and no matter how mankind fights for or against this will, it will come to pass if it is what the Goddess wants to happen.  Perhaps this is Marion Zimmer Bradley’s view of the women’s movement and their feelings toward religion.  Patriarchal religions have repressed women and matriarchal religions.   Perhaps the women’s movement is right and we should pray to the Goddess instead of God, and perhaps God will be toppled, but Morgaine herself has no real argument with God, only with the religions that claim it is God who says women are evil and inferior.  Marion Zimmer Bradley may choose to believe in the Goddess, yet at the same time, she doesn’t seem to believe we have to get rid of God and Christ.  In one sense, she doesn’t take a definite stand on which side is right.  Instead she seems to be saying that whatever the truth is, and no matter what the women’s movement or any other groups say, what the Goddess, or Supreme Being wants to happen is what will happen.

Upon the publication of The Mists of Avalon, the reviewers did nothing but rave.  Isaac Asimov called it “The best retelling of the Arthurian saga I have ever read.  Completely compelling” (New York Times Book Review 8).  Other reviewers compared the novel to Mary Stewart’s Merlin novels written in the 1970’s and early 1980’s, and also as of equal or greater value to T.H. White’s The Once and Future King (Cassada 2351).  Even Christian reviewers applauded the novel.  One female Christian said that the novel raised fundamental questions about the relationship of the old Goddess religions to Christianity, and that it “Offers a feminist critique of patterns of power, sexuality, and salvation which the Christian Church and contemporary society take for granted.” (Zikmund 490)

The Mists of Avalon gives all of its readers a lot to think about, whether they are Arthurian Scholars, Christians, women seeking liberation, or simply lovers of books.  Members of the women’s movement, who are waiting for the fall of Christianity and patriarchal religions, believe that once this downfall occurs, patriarchal religious texts will no longer be useful in the new religions which are established.  Men and women will both have to find new stories and new scriptures (Goldenberg 120).  For many Christians, who may see this downfall coming, and for the women’s movement who wish it will come, The Mists of Avalon may very well become one of these texts.

Works Cited

Bradley, Marion Zimmer.  The Mists of Avalon.  New York:  Ballantine Books, 1984.

Campbell, Joseph.  The Masks of the Gods:  Occidental Mythology.  New York: Penguin Books, 1976.

Cassada, Jackie.  Rev. of The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley.  Library Journal 107 (1982):  2351.

Daly, Mary.  Beyond God the Father:  Toward a Philosophy of Women’s Liberation. Boston:  Beacon Press, 1973.

Goldenberg, Naomi R.  Changing of the Gods:  Feminism and the End of Traditional Religions.  Boston:  Beacon Press, 1979.

New York Times Book Review 11 (1983):  8.

Westwood, Jennifer.  Albion:  A Guide to Legendary Britain.  Gr. Brit:  Grafton, 1985.

Zikmund, Barbara Brown. “Favorite Books and How They Influence.”  Rev. of The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley.  Christian Century  104 (1987):  490.

Note: The above article was written in 1993, prior to Bradley’s death in 1999.

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Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, available at www.ChildrenofArthur.com

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As the royal wedding approaches, it’s interesting to dig into the royal family’s claims of descent from King Arthur. Here is some information about those claims from my chapter “Arthur and the English Royal Family” in King Arthur’s Children:

Among those who have tried to claim descent from King Arthur, the most prominent and most determined have been the monarchs of England. As we have already seen, little chance exists that any of King Arthur’s children outlived him, and the only grandchildren he had were murdered by Constantine. These two grandsons could have been old enough to have had children of their own before they died, but this theory is only a surmise since no record, chronicle, or romance states they had heirs. Therefore, it is highly doubtful that King Arthur had any descendants who lived beyond the sixth century. Yet the royal family of England has claimed, at least since the time of the Plantagenets, that they are descended from King Arthur.

During the reigns of the Saxon kings in England, from the sixth century until 1066, there is no monarch known to have claimed descent from Arthur. It was not until after the Norman invasion that this idea became popular, and even then it seems to have been the result of the popularity of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s The History of the Kings of Britain, which appeared around 1136. Geoffrey ended his chronicle with King Cadwallader, whom he states probably died around 689 (289). Cadwallader has numerous descendants living today, but he is not a descendant of King Arthur; neither is he from any records I have been able to locate an ancestor to the present royal family of Britain (although DNA research suggests the odds are that he is). Geoffrey leaves unaccounted for over four hundred years, from the time his book ends until the 1100s, except for making prophecies of what will happen. However, none of these prophecies hint that Arthur’s descendants will reign over England. Since Geoffrey gives King Arthur no descendants, it is inconceivable how the Plantagenets could have claimed an Arthurian lineage.

The popularity of Geoffrey’s book gave rebirth to the tales of King Arthur and made the conquered Anglo-Saxon peoples believe King Arthur would return to rescue them, a belief that might seem strange since the Anglo-Saxons had originally been Arthur’s enemies; however, by the twelfth century, Celtic blood had so intermixed with Anglo-Saxon blood that nearly anyone in England could claim to have ancestors whom Arthur had been king over.

The belief that King Arthur would return might have made King Henry II fearful that the conquered people would become restless, and so as we have already seen, he may have staged the finding of Arthur’s body at Glastonbury. To keep the conquered under control, the royal family decided it needed to prove its members were the rightful heirs to the throne of all Britain because of their descent from King Arthur or at least his family.

Arthur's most likely Faked Grave at Glastonbury Abbey

King Henry II’s ancestors included the Counts of Anjou; his descent from William the Conqueror was through his mother, whereas it was his father who was Count of Anjou. However, William the Conqueror’s great-grandparents included a daughter of the House of Anjou, and a Duke of Brittany, both of whom could possibly have claimed an ancestry from Arthurian times. William the Conqueror’s paternal lineage from the Dukes of Normandy went back to a Scandinavian and Viking ancestry that settled in Normandy in the 800s. The House of Anjou can trace its descent back to Tertulle, Count of Anjou (born about 821), and his wife Petronilla, Countess of Anjou (born about 825), who was a granddaughter of the Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne (Ancestral File). However, the House of Anjou would have to trace its ancestors back another three hundred years if it were to claim descent from King Arthur, and it is probably no longer possible to make genealogical connections for these families that stretch so far back in time.

Despite these loose claims, the Plantagenet and Tudor dynasties would make many more attempts to link themselves to King Arthur, and even today, both Prince Charles and Prince William have middle names that include Arthur….

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Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, available at www.ChildrenofArthur.com

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