Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Final Discussion on The Mists of Avalon - Fated Love

This will be the third, and final, discussion on The Mists of Avalon. If you missed the first two, go check them out:

Second Discussion

First Discussion

If anyone else is thinking of holding a book club blog – let me know in the comments so I can follow along.

Treatment of Love



There are certainly other things to analyze when talking about this novel, but the treatment of love and ‘fated’ love never fails to capture my attention. Why is it, I wonder, that stories are more poignant when we are assured of true love, but in the end it never works out. Maybe it adds to the drama. Maybe it keeps us turning pages because, really, what’s more boring than ‘happily ever after’? Well, it’s not so boring if you get to live it, but maybe it’s more fun to watch the chase... or maybe, being faulty humans, we always want what we can’t have – but then, that would make these cases less about true love and more about pride and vanity, wouldn’t it?

Well, then, I suppose I’m digressing. In The Mists of Avalon we see fated love in many different facets. Of course there is the love triangle between King Arthur, Gwenhwyfar, and Lancelot. In this telling, Arthur seems to love his wife but there is always the underlying duty of it – it is his wife, though not by choice. Gwenhwyfar and Lancelot share a deeper love, one that can’t be denied, even though duty commands it.

Then we have Ingraine and Uther... and in one passage we find that this, apparent fated love was connived... while we believed that Uther and Ingraine shared a life before as King and Queen of Atlantis, in fact it was Viviane’s past life, her soul mate, “...And in a searing moment, Viviane knew why no man had ever been more to her than duty, or a path to power, or a night’s pleasure...”(p.194)

Maybe you all have a different sensibility here than I do. Does duty bear a higher responsibility than love? If not, why do we find it so fascinating when characters choose to forego happiness to retain honor? Maybe women see this differently, too. My sensibility tells me that true love is not replaceable. That foregoing the chance to be with a fated love is throwing away the greatest gift and one that will not come again. It also tells me that if you can walk away from this type of love, for any reason, it wasn’t really all that you imagined in your mind. I think the real thing would be worth any consequence... but maybe that’s naive.

It seems to me that the male sensibility is that all loves are replaceable. Maybe I’m wrong here, but that’s how it seems... So how about you? What was your take on the depiction of love, fated or otherwise in this telling?

7 comments:

WordVixen said...

There's the thing that I didn't seem to be able to put my finger on in the book. None of the loves were very real. The closest to what I consider a "true" love was between Morgaine and her husband's son. Even that had more of a "soul mate" element to it than a "true love" element. At least he was able to be her equal and lover- Lancelot would have been nothing other than a lover. The whole point of the various affairs seemed to stem from Morgaine's choice to follow doctrine rather than listening to the voice of the goddess. Had she done what she felt was right, rather than what she knew was right Lancelot and Gwenhyfar wouldn't have fallen for each other as Gwenhyfar would have been smitten by her trothed lord, Arthur, by the time they formally met. Arthur would not have fallen for Morgaine as she would have been unfit to be his lover in the rites. Possibly it would have affected the love between Lancelot and Arthur as well (remember Gwenhyfar's accusation?).

All of the "love" stories involved had nothing to do with true love. That's probably why it was possible for them to make such decisions. That's probably also why it was so painful for them to make the decisions that they did. Personally, I think true love would be easier to pass over in favor of honor since true love can not be destroyed. It's something that you could carry with you forever.

What made it so difficult for them to choose honor was that they were giving up their ideal of love. Not the real thing. Imagine the difference in emotion between your highschool crush and the man you married. This doesn't apply if you married your highschool crush. :)

All of the romances in this book read like all of the men that I was "in love" with when I was younger. Not that I didn't love it, but it all seemed so superficial.

Merry Jelinek said...

Hi Wordvixen,

Thanks for the visit, and the interesting examination of the differences of love. I wonder if I am too romantic here, where you said that true love is easier to pass up, because it remains forever - I can't agree. I agree that it remains forever, I just think it's a waste to do without for honor... really, what is that other than fear of what the world thinks of you? I think, if you are lucky enough to find true love at all, you should be brave enough to own it - you'll never sit on your death bed regretting how others perceived you, but you might well regret the time you wasted and the love you let slip away....

female, romantic perspective, I know... ah well, we all have our weaknesses, I guess.

hifidel said...

This is a very good question to bring up in regards to this book. To me, the treatment of love in the context of this story was very important, especially because the traditional romances (including, or perhaps "especially," Arthurian romance) are a large part of where contemporary notions about love come from in Western cultures today.

For me, "true love" is a combination of the emotions/pleasures associated with love and duty. I don't see duty and love as two separate ideals which we might pursue. I rather see them as interrelated. I think that, no matter how, the emotions will ebb and flow in any relationship, no matter how deeply felt they may be at any given time. It is duty that keeps us loving even when the emotions are at a low point. It is because I know that I love another and really do want what is best for him, and believe he wants the same for me, that keeps me loving him even when he irritates me. So, in my mind, duty is mixed in with love, rather than a competing loyalty. That, to some degree, flies in the face of the romantic notion of what love is.

For me, I felt that the book did, to a degree, give an honest portrayal of relationships. I don't believe that true love "just happens." Rather, it takes a good bit of work on both sides to continually nurture it. (And, part of that work just involves continually think about the object of our love.) For Gwenhwyfar and Lancelot, for instance, if they had not continually been stealing away moments to fan the flames, then would their "true love" have continued to tear them to pieces as it did? I know that all of us will at times naturally connect with some people in ways that we don't seem to with others. But, at the end of the day, these connections only grow into "true love" by constant feeding. I don't at all believe that true love "just happens."

Anyway, as unromantic as it might be, I see true love as a combination of emotion, decision, and duty. Emotion might often play the least part, in my mind. Emotions are too easily manipulated to form a good foundation for what I understand by the word "love."

I do suppose that part of what I understand about love comes from having spent my whole adult life in a place where I have come into close contact with couples who have spent their lives together in arranged marriages. While arranged marriages are not the norm here today, it is not a custom is not so far removed that I haven't witnessed the results. And, what I have seen is that it is possible to find/create "true love" even in the most unlikely of places.

Merry Jelinek said...

So what you're saying is that, in the case of these true loves, if they had not kept obsessing about the other and fanning the flames it would have eventually died out to nothing... so, in this case absence does not make the heart grow fonder.

I don't know that I agree. okay, actually, I don't agree. I think often people are fickle and they mistake infatuation with love, because infatuation can, indeed, be compelling. I do, though, believe in love at first sight. I do think there are certain people that can complete you, are perfect for you and vice versa.... I believe in fated love and soul mates... I am, however, realist enough to know that we, being humble fallible humans as we are, are often too stupid to see it.

I think people pass up love, for a myriad of reasons without really understanding that there are no infinite options out there... I think people often go out of their way to make themselves unhappy.

I had a friend who had been in a relationship for a number of years and they were getting to the point where there should be talk of marriage... she asked another mutual friend who has been married for a while, "How do you know that it's love?'

The married friend responded, "If you don't know it yet, it's not." Sarcastic maybe, but I think a lot of people choose to stay in relationships for fear of being alone, hurting the other party, or whatever other reason there is out there... they all generally come down to fear. If you can make that relationship valid, and be happy together, terrific... but, if there is a thing like fated love, what could you be giving up in fear? At the same time, what are you making your partner give up?

I don't know, life's an awful long road to spend miserable for duty... and it's far too short to never try to find happiness.

Anonymous said...

By searching sites and opinions about the Mists of Avalon, I found this blog and it really caught my attention. I've never heard about book club bloggers and i'm really happy i'd joined this one. Real love, fated love, soul mates and love at first sight are romantic constructions that i can't say whether i believe them or not.

These constructs are so rooted in our minds by books, movies, even real histories, that it is difficult to say whether they are part of us or we created them in order to have some relief by the end of the day. I've been recently separated from my first husband by my own choice. I was feeling unhappy and not loved, nor even respected. Then another person showed up and I fell in love madly with him. Infatuation? Maybe. Soul mate, fade, who knows?

I used to say to my husband that there are not only one, but lots of soul mates spread all over the world.

Anyways, I also would like to congratulate the author of this blog and ask her to exchange e-mails. I am taking English at my major in a Brazilian College (i'm from Brazil) and I was assigned to study more about the Mists of Avalon in order to do my final paper. But I still do not have an approach and by looking for opinions about the book and the female facets and points of vies I discovered you.

Thank you all for the wise words. I also love this story because it is so rich of love, conflicts, duties, sadness and a kind of pursue of redemption and happiness everything that make a book great.

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Anonymous said...

As far as I'm reading (middle of the book), the whole love quadrangle between Arthur, Gwenhwyfar, Lancelet, and Morgaine were rather superficial. Arthur took Gwenhwyfar at first due to duty, but then the "love" turned unconditional for unexplained reasons. Lancelet only wanted Gwenhwyfar for her beauty. Despite the fact she kept insulting his people (and his mother!) and was proven good for nothing, he longed for her anyway. I do not believe if Morgaine had gave herself to Lancelet long ago on Tor would change how Lancelet felt toward Gwenhwyfar. He would have turned away from Morgaine for Gwenhwyfar's golden hair anyway. As for Morgaine to Lancelet, i felt it was mainly due to the teases. Arthur only wanted Morgaine because she was his first.
The love between Igraine and Uther seemed the most real so far (I haven't yet gotten to the part with Morgaine and Accolon). They had helped each other and had meaningful discussions. What they had seemed more substantial. It was not just out of duty, lust, or forced events.
-- Celestron