The book says that the problem with Christianity is that it won’t tolerate other religions. It implies, however, that the problem with Christianity is that it’s a stupid jerk religion for assholes. The ladies in Avalon get psychic powers and meaningful jobs and top-notch liberal arts educations, whereas we manage to make it about three whole chapters into the book before a Christian dude beats his wife and things get all “be silent, you accursed scold” this and “have you put some spell upon my manhood, you accursed bitch” that and “you see what comes of your willfulness, my lady” the other. To argue that the book ultimately teaches religious tolerance is like arguing that old movie serials ultimately taught the importance of cooperation between virtuous maidens and dudes with capes and handlebar moustaches who enjoyed tying maidens to train tracks. Of course, medieval Christianity was deeply misogynist and intolerant, and so was medieval Britain. The crucial addition is a magic island full of twentieth-century Women’s Studies majors who can tell everyone else what they’re doing wrong and allow readers to feel superior in between the many sex scenes.
YES THIS. This sums up all many of my problems with Mists, in a humourous yet eloquent fashion. Ten points to Sady Doyle. (Link goes to an article entitled ‘The Fantasy of Girl World: Lady Nerds and Utopias, which does have one major flaw, and that is the assumption that all spec-fic is escapist nerd wish-fulfilment. Which, er, leaves me wondering what to do with The Handmaid’s Tale.)
The thing is, I loved Mists as a teenager! LOVED IT! For some reason I never really questioned the “pagans good / Christians evil” logic of Mists (and much other historical-fantasy lit). Despite being a very devout little Christian, it wasn’t until my last year of high school that it crossed my mind that there was anything odd about this paradigm at all. Mind you, nor did I question the weird mythologies surrounding “Celtic” Christianity in some religious circles (whack some knotwork on it! Mention St Bridit! Lo and behold you’re cool and feminist now!), so I think we can just call all this critical-thinking-fail on my part.
Then I went to university! And learned the error of my ways. The Celts are not magical, my friends. Also, not all Christians are evil. And being a Celt does not exempt you from the putative evils of Christianity and/or the patriarchy.
Other fun things about my experience with Mists as a teenager:
-I was really, um, surprised by the Arthur/Guinevere/Lancelot scene. And I thought it was really cool and edgy and boundary-crossing and a fascinating concept, this idea that each of them was really as much into the other as they were into the woman they supposedly wanted! And yet for some reason it took me until last year to read Between Men. This was clearly an opportunity lost.
-I got really annoyed with her handling of Guinevere! And everyone’s else’s (that I could get hold of; so, Malory and onwards). She’s always such a wet blanket!* And I was really peeved that MZB, who spent so much time and effort rehabilitating Morgan, basically wrote off Guinevere and used her as a cipher for Teh Evils of Teh Patriarchy.
So I set out to fix this! I was going to write an Arthurian novella about Guinevere, and she was not going to be a wet blanket! This turned out to be way too hard to do when I had little to no access to medieval sources and was getting tangled on the idea that there was a “real” Arthurian legend. So I gave up and wrote terrible teenage poetry instead.
And now I am at university, and I am trying to wrangle a chapter into shape, and it is about how Guinevere is actually more interesting than Arthur. In short, the main thing that’s changed since I was sixteen is that I now hate Mists much more than I did before.**
*Another reason to love the BBC’s Merlin. Gwen is not a damp rag!
** Also, my poetry is worse now than when I was sixteen. Disappointing.