The terrible things we do: religion, politics and love

Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley

I did an independent novel study on this book in high school. At the time I really loved its kick ass feministness and complex characters, its intricate story line and the way it blended so many myths together so seamlessly. Now I can’t believe how much sex I missed. And not like even straight people sex either. Same sex sex and threesome sex and oral sex, like all kinds of sex. How did 17 year old me miss all this?

This is a retelling of the King Arthur myth told through the perspective of the female characters who are traditionally under developed and dull and/or evil. It’s Marion Zimmer Bradley’s really great work, and although it’s very, very long, it’s really wonderful. I love King Arthur stories so much, I’ve read a million of them and I’m always looking for more.

I think the most interesting thing about myths is that we can retell them over and over and over again, across generations because every generation, every retelling and every version brings something new to the story, brings something unique to it, some way to connect it to the teller’s lives and time and reality.

This time I read a lot into the religion of the book, more specifically the horrifying extremes religion can drive good people to. Possibly because that’s something that I, as the reader (And readers become part of the retelling) think is effecting my world and my life and my time in a huge, huge way.

Allow me to summarize the situation in Britain in this King Arthur story. It is divided into two – the old religion is a Goddess worshiping faith with a strong focus on death and rebirth. The Lady of the Lake, the Priestess of Avalon is the Goddess’s face on earth, and under her supervision rituals celebrating the cycles of the world take place. The other religion is Christianity, with its rigid insistence that nature, and naturally occurring acts are evil and that all gods but their God are abominations. And into this giant conflict Morgaine and her baby brother Arthur are thrust, and ultimately end up being on opposite sides of.

Morgaine loves her little brother dearly, and thinks that he’s the only person who ever really loved her. But when she’s a young girl she’s sent away to be fostered by her aunt in Avalon, where she becomes a priestess. Her little brother, obviously goes on to become king of England. Both end up being manipulated by Vivian and Avalon, to conceive the prefect king but still maintain a happy relationship for most of their lives until Morgaine betrays him, in the name of her Goddess.

And that thread trails through the whole book, for so many characters. A few people, like Morgause, use people they love for political gain, and a few people, like Gwenyfar do terrible things for love, but for Morgaine it was always the Goddess. She was ruthlessly used by her foster-mother Vivian, and in the end ruthlessly used her own foster-daughter, resulting in the girl’s death. In the name of her Goddess she murders people who are in her way, sends her lover to his, orders the execution of her former lover and acts against her king and her brother. Her life is spent lonely and empty because of the actions she commits against the people she loves in the name of her Goddess.

To make it more bitter sweet, in the end she comes to understand that it was all for nothing, because her Goddess will always be with mankind, even if it’s in a different form, like that of the Virgin Mary that the Christians worship. While this brings Morgaine peace, to me it is heartbreaking.

Every day, across the world people are dying because we seem to be unable to see our own Gods in other people’s. Or maybe we fail to see our own humanity in other people.

Either way, the people in this book all feel like they are doing the right thing, no matter if it is luring their lover to punishment and death, plotting to overthrow a beloved sibling or engineering an incestuous relationship, everyone believes they are doing it for the right reason. Sometimes it’s easy to look at violence and horrendous acts and think that the people who commit them must be evil. But what if they’re not? What if they really, truly believe that what they’re doing is right?

I think that’s scarier then just pure evil.

This book will always be a re-read for me, because I don’t doubt that every time I read it I will get something new out of it. Now, if you don’t love King Arthur myths that’s okay, but I really think you should find a book to re-read that never tells itself the same way twice. I think that’s important.

Last movie I watched:

I really don’t remember. I’ve been very busy lately. I hope it was good though.

Last TV episode I watched:

Last episode of Charmed season 7. That was a really good ending. If it weren’t for my love for the last episode of season 8, I’d say they should have stopped there.

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