Monday, June 22, 2009

The Mists of Avalon and Its Antithesis

I recently re-read Marion Zimmer Bradley's The Mists of Avalon for the first time in years, in order to cite it in a paper.

Now I am reading its antithesis, Simon Young's A.D. 500: A Journey Through the Dark Isles of Britain and Ireland.

Based on the fiction of a geographer in Constantinople writing a guide to the "Dark Isles" based on contemporary reports and present-day archaeology, Young's sixth century agrees very little with Bradley's except, perhaps, on the importance of Tintagel.

If Tintagel is a work of Nature's art, then man has, however, botched its decorations. The British Celts who live there are not great builders....The king's court is a timber shack, something approximating in size and finish to one of our royal stables.

You want all-wise Druids at the close of Pagan Ireland?

But even in their reduced state, these old men--the young with spiritual gifts turn to the Church--have a certain notoriety. Instantly recognizable for their curious cloaks and their shaved heads--each has a short tuft over the forehead--they walk from place to place officiating over oaths and sacrifices (it is better not to ask of which sort).

Young admits that the story of the last Temple of Bacchus in Britain is "necessarily speculative," but does offer sources for it, as for all his information.

Young's book is a useful corrective to the "matter of Britain's" multiple re-tellings--the last time I checked, library databases listed more than 900 works under the category of "King Arthur-Fiction."

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Blogger Steve Bodio said...

From Amazon at least AD 500 looks wonderful!

5:14 PM  
Anonymous Alan Joel said...

I so enjoyed The Mists of Avalon for its evocative beauty. I love it as a written temple to visit from time to time, for sheer enjoyment, incorrect or not. The tale is worth the read for it's boost to one's imagination and the thrill to one's soul!

8:19 PM  
Blogger Green Witch said...

Your article is really interesting. I also enjoyed this book. Blessed be.

9:50 AM  
Anonymous Matt Benson-Parry said...

I read both of these a while back - I think we can all agree that BOTH are grand works of fiction!
I think some of the problem comes with the promulgation of the myth that there was a Saxon invasion of the British Isles that started at a particular date and ended with the 'pushing' of people to the west and north. The archaeological record points to the people south of the Watford Gap (an imaginary line extending diagonally from Devon to Yorkshire) becoming increasingly eastward looking after the collapse of Roman and Romanised British culture in the isles - they spent several centuries becoming more Germanic, with only a moderate amount of genetic drift, such as you would expect between neighbouring peoples. Indeed, there was genetic drift and enculturation back the other way too (Check out the Danish Cimbri people, not to mention the largest eastward invasion in Western Europe, the Irish invasion of Caledonia and Pictland). We can lay the blame for the centuries of misinformation of various ancient sources, none of whom had entirely clean motives for anything they wrote on British history. Indeed the Ancient Welsh stories of the Hanes Cymru (which some ancient writers based their Histories on) tell us that Britain was inhabited by giants and colonised by Brutus and others escaping from Troy after its sack in the Illiad! Their logic was nigh infallible - they assumed that all the names in Britain were after someone. They were worng of course - none of the areas are named after a specific person, although Eire is a goddess. Britain means Tattooed Land, Cymru/Wales means Land of Normal People/Land of Romanised Foreigners, the names go on.
As for enjoyability - I really liked both books!

6:46 PM  

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