The Mists of Avalon
Book One: Mistress of Magic
By Jonathan Larson
Everyone knows the story of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. Or at least some version of it. The Mists of Avalon takes a look at the classic story from the view of the women in the story.
This book takes place on the Island of Britain and occasionally on the Isle of Avalon and Dragon Island.
The characters of this book are explained as they are revealed in my chapter by chapter summary. The main characters are Igraine, Viviane, Morgiane, Uther, and Arthur.
Igraine would be considered to be the main character through the beginning of the book, however she loses some importance later. At the beginning she is only 19 years old with two daughters. She is the wife of Gorlois and later of Uther, to whom she bares the child Arthur. She is very strong willed and, at first, hates what she believes is her destiny and thinks it is unfair. Later she accepts it knows it must be done.
Viviane is the high priestess of the Old Religion and sister of Igraine. She is also the mother of Lancelot. She is very strong willed, even more so than her sister, and does whatever it takes to do what she believes is best for the land.
Morgaine is the half sister of Arthur. She doesn't become a great part of the first book in the Mists of Avalon until later. She loves to learn about the ways of the Old Religion and wishes to be the next High Priestess.
Uther Pendragon is a member of the highly respected Pendragon family. He is very stubborn and can sometimes make very rash decisions because of this. It is this trait that kills him in the end.
Arthur is the one prophesied to bring peace to Britain and save the Old Religion. He is the son of Uther Pendragon and Igraine. He is a strong warrior and the wielder of Excala.
The book starts out with Igraine. She is the sister to Viviane, the High Priestess of the Old Religion. She is also the wife of Gorlois and the mother of Morgaine (aka Morgana) and Morgause. Morgaine is only a baby at the beginning and Morgause is around the age of 5. Igraine is married to Gorlois who is around the age of 50 while she is only 19.
Igraine receives a vision and so she expects a visit from her sister. She comes with Merlin and tells her that she will have a child with Uther Pendragon and that this child will unite the people of the Old Religion and that of Christianity. She isn't happy about this.
We learn that at first she doesn't like Gorlois because she barely knows him when they are married. However she has grown to like and care about him.
This is basically a continuation of the previous chapter. Merlin and Viviane continue to explain to Igraine why she must bare a child with Uther Pendragon. We learn that Viviane is unable to because she is to old.
In this chapter we learn that the High King of Britian, Ambrosius, is about to die and the kings are gathering to chose a new high king. Gorlois is taking her with him to Londinium. Igraine also has a vision of Gorlois' death. Viviane gives Igraine a moonstone to wear. She suspects it is enchanted to make Uther fall for her, or her for him. When she finally meets Uther, he is captivated by the moonstone, however Gorlois thinks he is staring at Igraine's breast, so he instantly doesn't like him and thinks he is after his wife. The men all talk about war and how to deal with the saxons.
Afterward Igraine and Uther meet up and are talking about death and religion and all manner of happy things when Gorlois catches them. He is very angry, thinking that their intentions were impure. This makes Igraine angry with Gorlois for not trusting her.
Igraine goes to the market to shop after the death of Ambrosius. Gorlois later comes back and has calmed down. He is also sad about the death of Ambrosius. That night Igraine has a very disturbing dream about Uther. This dream along with her inability to conceive a child with Gorlois makes her feel horrible. Merlin comes to help her and sends her a dream to explain everything to her. It is a very confusing dream in which Igraine feels she is reliving a memory from long ago. After the dream she realizes she must have a child with Uther to save the land she loves (Britain/Avalon). She also doesn't really care that Gorlois is probably going to die soon.
Uther is chosen as the new High King. Igraine and Gorlios attend his anointing party. Igraine and Uther meet again and discover that they both had the same dream (not the disturbing one, the other weird one). Gorlios finds them and is very angry again. Even more angry than before. He humiliates her in public for thinking she is cheating on him. He then takes her home beats her. Then he goes and yells at Uther. He can't do much more than that considering Uther just became the High King. They leave for home that same night. On their way back, Gorlois discovers he can't preform anymore. This just serves to enforce Igraine's belief that Merlin and Viviane were right.
They arrive back at Tintagel (Gorlios' castle) and they are not happy, which is obvious to the staff. Gorlios leaves again after only a few days making sure the castle is well guarded, upsetting Igraine because he trapped her in the castle. She manages to convince the guards to let her daughter and a few of her maids to go to the market so she can hear news of the outside world. Igraine uses a vision to find Viviane and she sees she is in labor. Viviane tells her not to worry, but she is still concerned about her and Uther. She then has another vision from Uther, saying he will come for her at Midwinter.
Gorlios is an idiot. He and his men are rebelling against Uther because of Gorlios' hurt pride. Igraine learns that Viviane is fine and she uses another vision to warn Uther about Gorlios' attack.
It is now Midwinter's eve and Igraine is expecting Uther. Merlin shows up with some men in Roman cloaks. Merlin cast a spell so that the guards think that Uther is Gorlios so he gains entry to the castle. More men show up later with Gorlios' dead body. So, of course, Uther commands that he and Igraine be married immediately. Igraine is also worried that Gorlios' death was her fault because she had a vision of him dying.
Viviane has a vision that Arthur is sick and dying. She panics and leaves Avalon to try and help. The rest of the chapter explains how Christianity is rising up and destroying the Old Religion.
Viviane arrives at Uther's court and determines that Arthur will be fine. But he has had a few close calls so she is suspicious that someone wants him dead. She thinks Morgause might be behind it. Morgaine admits to her that she posses the sight. So Viviane wants to take her back to Avalon for training. She also wants to send Arthur away for his own safety. Viviane somehow manages to convince Uther to send both his children away.
They arrive at Avalon and Viviane clears the mist for Morgaine to see. She is in awe of Avalon. Viviane warns her that the training to become a priestess will be difficult, but she says it is what she wants.
Viviane's son, Lancelot visits Avalon. When he does he and Morgaine form an instant connection. Lancelot talks about life in Britain and also says he would rather stay in Britain. Even though they are first cousins they really like each other. However they are interrupted by a young girl crying. When they investigate they find young Gwenhwyfar standing in the water. When Lancelot sees her he instantly falls in love which makes Morgaine instantly hate Gwenhwyfar for ruining their day.
Uther Pendragon is dying from a fatal battle wound. Igraine refused to let Merlin use his healing powers on him. Merlin told this to Viviane when he visits Avalon. Viviane believes that Arthur is ready to become High King but Merlin isn't so sure. He will be brought to Dragon Island to see if he is ready to be King.
Morgaine and another girl, Raven, have visions of the future. Raven describes one of the rituals Arthur must go through to be king. The trial she sees is that the Virgin Huntress must lay down her maidenhood for him. The Virgin Huntress is Morgaine. Viviane calls Morgaine to her room and explains how she must do this for the Goddess. She consents, however she does not know that Arthur is the one who is involved in the ritual.
Morgaine and Arthur arrive at Dragon Island, where the ritual will take place. They are both painted with ceremonial colors, but neither recognizes the other. Arthur goes out and kills a deer as he must in the ritual. He then returns and completes the ritual. In the morning they wake up and recognize each other. They are shocked when they find out what happened.
Morgaine returns to Avalon furious and demands to see Viviane, who denies her for 10 days. When she is allowed to see her she is still furious, however she hears Kevin the Bard playing music, which almost immediately calms her down. Viviane, Morgaine, and Merlin talk about how to keep Arthur safe in his upcoming battles with the Saxons. Viviane devises a plan to create a magical sword to protect him. *cough* Excalibur *cough*
Viviane thinks about Morgaine and wonders if she is doing this for the good of Avalon and Britain, or if she is just power hungry. When she goes outside she has a vision of Uther, who has been lying in bed for almost 6 weeks dying. She learns that he went into battle when he did not have to and that is what got him killed. Similar to how Uther's pride got him killed, Viviane is to proud to apologize to Morgaine. Foreshadowing at its finest right there.
Morgaine is worried she may be pregnant with Arthur's child. Viviane calls for Morgaine and tells her that she must construct the scabbard for the magic sword for Arthur. Morgaine creates the scabbard using the Sight to guide her. She goes into a trance for three days while this is happening. When she is finished she is very sick. It is made of meteorite iron and worth the price of a kingdom. Viviane, Taliesin, and Morgaine go to Arthur to bring him Excalibur. They bestow upon him the sword and bid him take an oath to defend Avalon. Viviane tells Arthur that this is no sword for a king, who is bound to hear only the Christian priests. If he does not swear, then he is required to walk away. He must swear to always reverence the Gods of Avalon and deal fairly with all men. Arthur swears to the oath and takes the sword. They tell him that the sword is imbued with special powers, that he who bears it shall not shed so much blood in battle as to cause death.
Morgaine is worried about her pregnancy while she is attending Arthur's crowning. Her sister Morgause is there for the crowning as well and sees right away that she is pregnant. She offers her home when the time comes. The ceremony proceeds, involving both Christian bishops and Merlin.
Morgaine sneaks out to find the herbs she needs to abort her pregnancy. However she accidentally leaves Avalon and gets lost. She sees a woman in the mist who convinces her not to abort her child. The woman then extends an offer to Morgaine for her to stay in the fairy land to have her child and raise it. A clear path is laid before Morgaine, so she follows it back to Avalon running from the strange woman. Later Viviane sends for Morgaine and they have an argument about the child. Morgaine decides to have the child in Morgause's kingdom.
I couldn't tell when there was a climax in this book as there was a very high level of action through most of the book. I would however say that the turning point was when Gorlois became angry with Igraine for the second time. I think this is where she realised what she has to do for the good of the land.
I recommend this book to anyone that enjoys the story of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. It is an interesting read, but can be tedious so I only recommend this book if you have the time for it.