The Mists of Avalon (Avalon Series #1)

The Mists of Avalon (Avalon Series #1)

4.5 513
by Marion Zimmer Bradley

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Here, for the first time in two decades, is Marion Zimmer Bradley's brilliant reworking of the Arthurian epic.See more details below


Here, for the first time in two decades, is Marion Zimmer Bradley's brilliant reworking of the Arthurian epic.

Editorial Reviews

San Francisco Chronicle
Marion Zimmer Bradley has brilliantly and innovatively turned the myth inside out. . . . add[ing] a whole new dimension to our mythic history.
New York Times Book Review
[A] monumental reimagining of the Arthurian legends . . . Reading it is a deeply moving and at times uncanny experience. . . . An impressive achievement.
Cleveland Plain Dealer
Gripping . . . Superbly realized . . . A worthy addition to almost a thousand years of Arthurian tradition.
From the Publisher
"[A] monumental reimagining of the Arthurian legends . . . Reading it is a deeply moving and at times uncanny experience. . . . An impressive achievement."
—The New York Times Book Review

"Marion Zimmer Bradley has brilliantly and innovatively turned the myth inside out. . . . add[ing] a whole new dimension to our mythic history."
—San Francisco Chronicle

"Gripping . . . Superbly realized . . . A worthy addition to almost a thousand years of Arthurian tradition."
—The Cleveland Plain Dealer

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
Avalon Series, #1
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
9.00(w) x 10.96(h) x 1.50(d)
1120L (what's this?)
Age Range:
14 - 18 Years

Read an Excerpt

Even in high summer, Tintagel was a haunted place; Igraine, Lady
of Duke Gorlois, looked out over the sea from the headland. As
she stared into the fogs and mists, she wondered how she would
ever know when the night and day were of equal length, so that
she could keep the Feast of the New Year. This year the spring
storms had been unusually violent; night and day the crash of
the sea had resounded over the castle until no man or woman
within could sleep, and even the hounds whimpered mournfully.

Tintagel . . . there were still those who believed the castle had been
raised, on the crags at the far end of the long causeway into the sea,
by the magic of the ancient folk of Ys. Duke Gorlois laughed at this and
said that if he had any of their magic, he would have used it to keep
the sea from encroaching, year by year, upon the shoreline. In the four
years since she had come here as Gorlois's bride, Igraine had seen land,
good land, crumble into the Cornish sea. Long arms of black rock, sharp
and craggy, extended into the ocean from the coast. When the sun shone,
it could be fair and brilliant, the sky and water as brilliant as the
jewels Gorlois had heaped on her on the day when she told him she bore
his first child. But Igraine had never liked wearing them. The jewel
which hung now at her throat had been given her in Avalon: a moonstone
which sometimes reflected the blue brilliance of sky and sea; but in the
fog, today, even the jewel looked shadowed.

In the fog, sounds carried a long way. It seemed to Igraine, as she
stood looking from the causeway back toward the mainland, that she could
hearfootfalls of horses and mules, and the sound of voices-human
voices, here in isolated Tintagel, where nothing lived but goats and
sheep, and the herdsmen and their dogs, and the ladies of the castle
with a few serving women and a few old men to guard them.

Slowly, Igraine turned and went back toward the castle. As always,
standing in its shadow, she felt dwarfed by the loom of these ancient
stones at the end of the long causeway which stretched into the sea. The
herdsmen believed that the castle had been built by the Ancient Ones
from the lost lands of Lyonnesse and Ys; on a clear day, so the
fishermen said, their old castles could be seen far out under the water.
But to Igraine they looked like towers of rock, ancient mountains and
hills drowned by the ever encroaching sea that nibbled away, even now,
at the very crags below the castle. Here at the end of the world, where
the sea ate endlessly at the land, it was easy to believe in drowned
lands to the west; there were tales of a great fire mountain which had
exploded, far to the south, and engulfed a great land there. Igraine
never knew whether she believed those tales or not.

Yes; surely she could hear voices in the fog. It could not be savage
raiders from over the sea, or from the wild shores of Erin. The time was
long past when she needed to startle at a strange sound or a shadow. It
was not her husband, the Duke; he was far away to the North, fighting
Saxons at the side of Ambrosius Aurelianus, High King of Britain; he
would have sent word if he intended to return.

And she need not fear. If the riders were hostile, the guards and
soldiers in the fort at the landward end of the causeway, stationed
there by Duke Gorlois to guard his wife and child, would have stopped
them. It would take an army to cut through them. And who would send an
army against Tintagel?

There was a time-Igraine remembered without bitterness, moving slowly
into the castle yard-when she would have known who rode toward her
castle. The thought held little sadness, now. Since Morgaine's birth she
no longer even wept for her home. And Gorlois was kind to her. He had
soothed her through her early fear and hatred, had given her jewels and
beautiful things, trophies of war, had surrounded her with ladies to
wait upon her, and treated her always as his equal, except in councils
of war. She could have asked no more, unless she had married a man of
the Tribes. And in this she had been given no choice. A daughter of the
Holy Isle must do as was best for her people, whether it meant going to
death in sacrifice, or laying down her maidenhood in the Sacred
Marriage, or marrying where it was thought meet to cement alliances;
this Igraine had done, marrying a Romanized Duke of Cornwall, a citizen
who lived, even though Rome was gone from all of Britain, in Roman

She shrugged the cloak from her shoulders; inside the court it was
warmer, out of the biting wind. And there, as the fog swirled and
cleared, for a moment a figure stood before her, materialized out of the
fog and mist: her half-sister, Viviane, the Lady of the Lake, the Lady
of the Holy Isle.

"Sister!" The words wavered, and Igraine knew she had not cried them
aloud, but only whispered, her hands flying to her breast. "Do I truly
see you here?"

The face was reproachful, and the words seemed to blow away in the sound
of the wind beyond the walls.

Have you given up the Sight, Igraine? Of your free will?

Stung by the injustice of that, Igraine retorted, "It was you who
decreed that I must marry Gorlois . . ." but the form of her sister had
wavered into shadows, was not there, had never been there. Igraine
blinked; the brief apparition was gone. She pulled the cloak around her
body, for she was cold, ice cold; she knew the vision had drawn its
force from the warmth and life of her own body. She thought, I didn't
know I could still see in that way, I was sure I could not . . . and
then she shivered, knowing that Father Columba would consider this the
work of the Devil, and she should confess it to him. True, here at the
end of the world the priests were lax, but an unconfessed vision would
surely be treated as a thing unholy.

She frowned; why should she treat a visit from her own sister as the
work of the Devil? Father Columba could say what he wished; perhaps his
God was wiser than he was. Which, Igraine thought, suppressing a giggle,
would not be very difficult. Perhaps Father Columba had become a priest
of Christ because no college of Druids would have had a man so stupid
among their ranks. The Christ God seemed not to care whether a priest
was stupid or not, so long as he could mumble their mass, and read and
write a little. She, Igraine herself, had more clerkly skills than
Father Columba, and spoke better Latin when she wished. Igraine did not
think of herself as well educated; she had not had the hardihood to
study the deeper wisdom of the Old Religion, or to go into the Mysteries
any further than was absolutely necessary for a daughter of the Holy
Isle. Nevertheless, although she was ignorant in any Temple of the
Mysteries, she could pass among the Romanized barbarians as a
well-educated lady.

In the small room off the court where there was sun on fine days, her
younger sister, Morgause, thirteen years old and budding, wearing a
loose house robe of undyed wool and her old frowsy cloak about her
shoulders, was spinning listlessly with a drop spindle, taking up her
uneven yarn on a wobbly reel. On the floor by the fire, Morgaine was
rolling an old spindle around for a ball, watching the erratic patterns
the uneven cylinder made, knocking it this way and that with chubby

"Haven't I done enough spinning?" Morgause complained. "My fingers ache!
Why must I spin, spin, spin all the time, as if I were a waiting-woman?"

"Every lady must learn to spin," rebuked Igraine as she knew she ought
to do, "and your thread is a disgrace, now thick, now thin. . . . Your
fingers will lose their weariness as you accustom them to the work.
Aching fingers are a sign that you have been lazy, since they are not
hardened to their task." She took the reel and spindle from Morgause and
twirled it with careless ease; the uneven yarn, under her experienced
fingers, smoothed out into a thread of perfectly even thickness. "Look,
one could weave this yarn without snagging the shuttle . . ." and
suddenly she tired of behaving as she ought. "But you may put the
spindle away now; guests will be here before midafternoon."

Morgause stared at her. "I heard nothing," she said, "nor any rider with
a message!"

"That does not surprise me," Igraine said, "for there was no rider. It
was a Sending. Viviane is upon her way here, and the Merlin is with
her." She had not known that last until she said it. "So you may take
Morgaine to her nurse, and go and put on your holiday robe, the one dyed
with saffron."

Morgause put away the spindle with alacrity, but paused to stare at
Igraine. "My saffron gown? For my sister?"

Igraine corrected her, sharply. "Not for our sister, Morgause, but for
the Lady of the Holy Isle, and for the Messenger of the Gods."

Morgause looked down at the patterned floor. She was a tall, sturdy
girl, just beginning to lengthen and ripen into womanhood; her thick
hair was reddish like Igraine's own, and there were splotches of
freckles on her skin, no matter how carefully she soaked it in
buttermilk and begged the herbwife for washes and simples for it.
Already at thirteen she was as tall as Igraine, and someday would be
taller. She picked up Morgaine with an ill grace and carried her away.
Igraine called after her, "Tell Nurse to put a holiday gown on the
child, and then you may bring her down; Viviane has not seen her."

Morgause said something ill-tempered to the effect that she didn't see
why a great priestess would want to see a brat, but she said it under
her breath so that Igraine had an excuse to ignore it.

Up the narrow stairs, her own chamber was cold; no fires were lighted
there except in the dead of winter. While Gorlois was away, she shared
the bed with her waiting-woman Gwennis, and his prolonged absence gave
her an excuse to have Morgaine in her bed at night. Sometimes Morgause
slept there too, sharing the fur coverlets against the bitter cold. The
big marriage bed, canopied, curtained against draughts, was more than
big enough for three women and a child.

Gwen, who was old, was drowsing in a corner, and Igraine forbore to wake
her, stripping off her workaday dress of undyed wool and hurrying on her
fine gown, laced at the neck with a silk ribbon Gorlois had brought her
as a fairing from Londinium. She put on her fingers some little silver
rings she had had since she was a little girl . . . they would go only
on her two smallest fingers, now . . . and hung a necklace of amber
which Gorlois had given her about her neck. The gown was dyed rust
color, and had an overtunic of green. She found her carven horn comb,
and began to pull it through her hair, sitting on a bench and working
her comb patiently through the tangles. From another room she heard a
loud yelling and decided that Morgaine was having her hair combed by her
nurse and didn't like it. The yelling stopped suddenly, and she supposed
that Morgaine had been slapped into silence; or perhaps, as sometimes
happened when Morgause was in a good temper, Morgause had taken over the
combing herself, with her clever, patient fingers. This was how Igraine
knew that her young sister could spin well enough when she chose, her
hands were so clever at everything else-at combing, at carding, at
making Yule pies.

Igraine braided her hair, clasped it on top of her head with a gold
clasp, and put her good gold brooch into the fold of her cloak. She
looked at herself in the old bronze mirror her sister Viviane had given
her at her wedding, brought, they said, all the way from Rome. She knew,
lacing her gown, that her breasts were once again as they had been
before: Morgaine had been weaned a year now, and they were only a little
softer and heavier. She knew she had her old slimness back, for she had
been married in this gown, and now the laces were not strained even a

Gorlois, when he returned, would expect to take her to his bed again.
Last time he had seen her, Morgaine had still been at the breast, and he
had yielded to her plea that she might continue to suckle the child
through the summer season when so many little children died. She knew he
was discontented because the baby had not been the son he craved-these
Romans counted their lineage through the male line, rather than sensibly
through the mother; it was silly, for how could any man ever know
precisely who had fathered any woman's child? Of course, these Romans
made a great matter of worrying over who lay with their women, and
locked them up and spied on them. Not that Igraine needed watching; one
man was bad enough, who would want others who might be worse?

But even though he was eager for a son, Gorlois had been indulgent,
letting her have Morgaine in her bed and continue to suckle her, even
keeping away from her and lying nights with her dressing-woman Ettarr so
that she would not get with child again and lose her milk. He too knew
how many children died if they were weaned before they could chew meat
and hard bread. Children fed on gruel were sickly, and often there was
no goat's milk in the summer, even if they would drink it. Children fed
on cow's or mare's milk often got the vomit and died, or suffered with
the flux in their bowels and died. So he had left Morgaine at her
breast, thus postponing the son he wanted for at least another year and
a half. For that at least she would always be grateful to him, and not
murmur, however quickly he got her with child now.

Ettarr had gotten herself a belly from that visit, and gone about
preening herself; would she be the one to have a son by the Duke of
Cornwall? Igraine had ignored the girl; Gorlois had other bastard sons,
one of whom was with him now, in the camp of the war duke, Uther. But
Ettarr had fallen sick and miscarried, and Igraine had enough intuition
not to ask Gwen why she looked so pleased at the event. Old Gwen knew
too much of herbs for Igraine's perfect peace of mind. Some day, she
resolved, I will make her tell me exactly what she put into Ettarr's

She went down to the kitchen, her long skirts trailing on the stone
steps. Morgause was there, in her finest gown, and she had put Morgaine
into a holiday dress, dyed saffron, so that the child looked dark as a
Pict. Igraine picked her up, holding her with pleasure. Small, dark,
delicately made, so small-boned it was like handling a little soft bird.
How had that child come by her looks? She herself and Morgause were tall
and red-haired, earth-colored like all of the Tribeswomen, and Gorlois,
though dark, was Roman, tall and lean and aquiline; hardened from years
of battle against the Saxons, too filled with his Roman dignity to show
much tenderness to a young wife, and with nothing but indifference for
the daughter who came in the place of the son she should have borne him.

But, Igraine reminded herself, these Roman men considered it their
divine right to have power of life and death over their children. There
were many, Christians or no, who would have demanded that a daughter not
be reared, so that their wives might be free at once to give them a son.
Gorlois had been good to her, he had let her keep her daughter. Perhaps,
though she did not give him credit for much imagination, he knew how
she, a woman of the Tribes, felt about a daughter.

While she was giving orders for the entertainment of guests, for wine to
be brought up from the cellars and for the roasting of meat-not rabbit,
but good mutton from the last slaughtering-she heard the squawk and
flutter of frightened hens in the court and knew that the riders had
come across the causeway. The servants looked frightened, but most of
them had become resigned to the knowledge that the mistress had the
Sight. She had pretended it, using clever guesses and a few tricks; it
was just as well that they should remain in awe of her. Now she thought,
Maybe Viviane is right, maybe I still have it. Maybe I only believed it
was gone-because in those months before Morgaine was born, I felt so
weak and powerless. Now I have come back to myself. My mother was a
great priestess till the day of her death, though she bore sev- eral

But, her mind answered her, her mother had borne those children in
freedom, as a Tribeswoman should, to such fathers as she chose, not as a
slave to some Roman whose customs gave him power over women and
children. Impatiently, she dismissed such thoughts; did it matter
whether she had the Sight or only seemed to have it, if it kept her
servants properly in order?

She went slowly out to the courtyard, which Gorlois still liked to call
the atrium, though it was nothing like the villa where he had lived
until Ambrosius made him Duke of Cornwall. She found the riders
dismounting, and her eyes went at once to the only woman among them, a
woman smaller than herself and no longer young, wearing a man's tunic
and woolen breeches, and muffled in cloaks and shawls. Across the
courtyard their eyes met in welcome, but Igraine went dutifully and bent
before the tall, slender old man who was dismounting from a raw-boned
mule. He wore the blue robes of a bard, and a harp was slung across his

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What People are saying about this

Mary Renault
A most original interpretation of the matter of Britian by way of Celtic religion and the Great Mother...a remarkable feat of imagination.
Jean Auel
I loved the book so much I went out and bought it for a friend, and have told many people about it. Why did no one ever think before to tell the story of King Arthur from the perspective of the women!
From the Publisher
"[A] monumental reimagining of the Arthurian legends . . . Reading it is a deeply moving and at times uncanny experience. . . . An impressive achievement."
—The New York Times Book Review

"Marion Zimmer Bradley has brilliantly and innovatively turned the myth inside out. . . . add[ing] a whole new dimension to our mythic history."
—San Francisco Chronicle

"Gripping . . . Superbly realized . . . A worthy addition to almost a thousand years of Arthurian tradition."
—The Cleveland Plain Dealer

Madeleine L'Engle
The Mists of Avalon is a beautiful book. The characters are alive, multi-dimensional; I really care about them.

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