Women in the King Arthur Legends

Queen Guinevere’s Maying. John Collier (1850–1934)

Recently I listened to the audiobook (all 51 hours) of The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley, beautifully narrated by Davina Porter. Of course I’d read the series years ago when it was a New York Times bestseller, but listening to the audiobook version was even better for getting totally caught up in the story.

With great interest, then, I paid my $10 for this Profs and Pints Online program: “The Women of King Arthur Legends,” presented by Sara Cleto and Brittany Warman, former instructors at The Ohio State University and co-founders of the Carterhaugh School of Folklore and the Fantastic.

Their talk is well worth $10. I highly recommend it. I had fun comparing and contrasting the women of Bradley’s historical fantasy with the women of Cleto and Warman’s folkloric interpretations. Their overview of the traditions and legends surrounding the women deepened my appreciation for what Bradley accomplished in her wonderful retelling.

Here’s the program summary from the online link:

“Morgan Le Fay, Queen Guinevere, The Lady of the Lake, Elaine. Each of these women play crucial roles in the rise and fall of King Arthur, Britain’s greatest legendary hero. But they’re almost always presented as enigmatic, ambiguous forces in the story.

“Is Morgan Le Fay the evil sorceress who plots Arthur’s demise, or is she the good fairy who takes the dying Arthur to the magical isle of Avalon for rest and healing? Is Guinevere an adulterous schemer, or a woman trapped by politics and the limited possibilities for women of her time? The numerous gaps in the traditional materials of these legends allow many different interpretations, some positive or nuanced, and some that hint at more than a little of the misogyny, fear, and contempt women have faced throughout the ages.

“In this talk, Sara Cleto and Brittany Warman will guide you through the complex world of Arthuriana and discuss how these women and their stories have been understood (and misunderstood) from ancient times to modern retellings. Join us for an enchanted night of swords and sorcery, as we explore what these strange and powerful women offer today’s world.”

The recording of their talk, available online, includes recommended readings, both scholarly and popular. Below is a screenshot of part of their list. I was surprised that The Mists of Avalon did not make the Creative side of the list—it’s certainly creative. But perhaps the omission is due to the books being so well known, they need no introduction. In any case, I’ve added several of Cleto and Warman’s recommendations to my personal reading list.

(Presented by Sara Cleto and Brittany Warman)

Treat yourself doubly, to this online presentation from Profs & Pints and also to the fabulous audiobook version of Mists. Together they’re an investment of more than 52 hours, but it’s time wonderfully well spent.

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Filed under Audiobooks, Books and Readers, Magic, Misogyny, Writers

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