The Mists of Avalon is the Arthurian legend told from the point of view of the women. The men are there, of course, but we only get to see into the minds of the most important ladies of the legend. Mostly, we see the world of Avalon and Camelot through Morgaine, sister of Arthur and priestess of Avalon. She often speaks directly to the reader, unlike the others. Morgaine goes through many changes throughout the story.
When the story begins, Morgaine is only a toddler. Women and the Isle of Avalon still hold power over Britian but it's time is waning. Christianity is becoming a powerful lure to the inhabitants, particularly the men. Morgaine's mother, Ingraine, is the unhappy Queen of Cornwall, given in marriage by her sister, the Lady of Avalon, Viviane, to the old man Gorlois. Viviane informs her that she will have a child by Uther Pendragon, the future king she hopes will defend the old religion. She is resentful of Viviane's meddling but still finds herself falling passionately in love with Uther.
After marrying Uther, Ingraine renounces the old religion in favour of Christianity, to spite Viviane. Viviane asks Ingraine to let Morgaine come with her to Avalon, there to become priestess and her successor. Morgaine is happy there until she feels herself used by Viviane in the name of the Goddess. Morgaine leaves but never renounces the old religion. She finds herself defending the old ways as the new king, her brother Arthur, forgets his promises to Avalon.
In Bradley's novel, the picture she paints of Arthur is a man too diplomatic to be king. He wants to make everyone happy, including his wife Gwenhwyfar, who is a fanatical Christian. Their arguments were one part of the book I found tedious and annoying. It was always the same old arguments. I suppose Bradley was trying to show how Gwenhwyfar gradually chipped away at Arthur's resolve to defend Avalon, but I found it tiresome. Gwenhwyfar was not easy to sympathize with, even with all her heartbreak. She's bitter and angry.
The religious struggle between the old ways and Christianity is a major theme in Mists. It seems to me it came down to a power struggle and not really about the spiritual well-being of Britons. The old religion wanted women to hold the power, and Christianity wanted them not only to have none, but be ashamed of being women. (I've always had a problem with that.) Morgaine at some point comes to this realization:
"I came to see that my quarrel was never with the Christ, but with his foolish and narrow priests who mistook their narrowness for his."
But as time goes on, more and more of the old pagan ways become absorbed by the new religion. I think the Epilogue was a nice touch and Morgaine was finally satisfied.
There were parts I thought too long and ones I didn't think long enough but it was a great read and a different way of looking at the old story.
This was a TBR Challenge read.