Library binding, 884 pages.
Read from May 23, 2019 to June 11, 2019.
This iconic fantasy novel has been on my TBR list for years and after I friend of mine raved about how much she was enjoying reading it I decided to finally pick it up for myself. Little did I know that the Portuguese versions of this book, that my friend was reading, is broken down into four separate books which is what I was expecting, whereas the English version, the version I read, has all four of the books put into one gigantic tome! Nearly 900 bloody pages. It’s a good thing I enjoyed it.
Written in 1984, Bradley takes the classic story of King Arthur and gives us the version of the story from the perspective of all the female characters. Especially the perspectives of Morgaine and Gwenhwyfar. This feminist re-telling takes the generally male-centric story of Arthur and relays another perspective of how it all came to be with him and his legendary sword. The female characters are far less conniving in this story and instead, show what their real motives were and generally how hard it would have been to be a woman during King Arthur’s time.
Christianity is on the rise and the ways of the Goddess and of the old ways of magic are falling aside to make way for this new religion. Each character makes choices based on their own beliefs on how best to navigate this new world, whether that’s to preserve the old, embrace the new, or take a more neutral stance in which both can exist.
“All gods are one god.”
A lot of people slammed this book for its religious undertones, for, well, its occasionally very blatant remarks against Christianity, and many felt that the whole book was a platform to discuss issues with Christianity. I strongly disagree, especially having actually read the whole book. While yes, the story does make a lot of remarks against Christianity, it also does the same for the pagan Goddess that many of the women in the story follow. I think one of the main driving features of the novel was about how religion takes such a major hold in people’s lives, for better and for worse. Following the Goddess lead to some horrible and tragic circumstances for Morgaine and many of her kin. I feel that the book focused more on the distress that comes in trying to do the right thing by your religion as well as by your self and trying to be as faithful as you can. This internal conflict between wants, needs, and desires versus what is dictated by a character’s religion creates unending turmoil for every single character in the book, both male and female.
Spoilers ahead… Think of how much misery would have been spared if Gwenhwyfar and Lancelot had just run off together but because Gwen was so pious the two of them lived a life of misery and shame, always thinking themselves horrendously sinful. Morgaine, what would have her life had been like if the will of the Goddess had not forced her to lay with her half brother and bear her child? She lived her whole life trying to escape the confusion of that moment and what the Goddess meant to her in her own life…end of spoilers.
The beautiful part of the book is that it also shows how wonderful faith can be too as each of the characters does eventually find peace in the end with their choices, faiths, and fates.
The character work in this book is its true focal point and driving feature. Despite the length of the book and the occasional tediousness of the plot, especially towards the end, you fall in love with all the rich and dynamic characters. I think I had a love/relationship with the majority of the female-led characters in this book because you grow with them. I loathed Gwen for a long time and even though she is still my least favourite character her character development gives me an immense appreciation for her. Morgaine, the best character in this story, especially since she is normally portrayed as a conniving and incestuous whore in the traditional version of Arthur, is a phenomenal woman and character, with deep faults and strong ambitions. The characters aren’t perfect either as sometimes they make terrible choices or occasionally give the impression of the stereotype they were thought to be in the original story but with the back story and character development provided by Bradley you get the whole picture and can decide for yourself. It’s like the traditional story of Arthur is only one piece to the whole picture and Bradley wrote the rest and filled in the much-needed gaps so that the women finally got to have their own voices and perspectives heard.
Bradley was so far ahead of her time with this book so it’s no wonder that it is still considered a fantasy classic to this day. If you love fantasy and have not read this book yet, you’ve got to. Bradley recreated the whole realm of Camelot, Avalon, and Arthur with this book and I don’t think I could ever go back to the original version since I like this one so much!