I was a child who never stopped pestering my parents for books to read, and after running through everything in the house remotely targeted toward kids or teens by the time I was eleven, I asked my dad for a book, and he handed me The Mists of Avalon. I imagine, he figured 800 pages of Arthurian legend would keep me busy for a little while.
And it did, because I became obsessed. There are books with tighter plots, more sympathetic characters, characters who spend less time moaning about their cruel fate. There are books written by authors who haven’t had fairly horrific child abuse allegations made against them, but there is probably no better book to give to an imaginative pre-teen growing up in the middle of the woods. If I could have stepped through a patch of mist into Avalon, and become a priestess of the Goddess, I would have done it in a second.
Now that I write historical fiction, and have done a good deal of research about Early Medieval Europe (i.e. The Dark Ages), I can appreciate the difficult task Bradley had creating a world full of Arthurian romance, while also trying to be true to the times. She doesn’t dwell on the mud and stench of turf fortifications, but neither does she shy away from the dark and difficulty of travel, the superstitions, or the bondage of women to tasks of making fabric.
It is also made difficult by the face that so much of the Arthurian legend was written long after the time it purports to describe. Nothing about King Arthur appears in the historical record until the 9th century Historia Brittonum, but some of the characters identified as his contemporaries have better historical attestation. One of those is Urien of Rheged, (married to Morgaine in TMoA), who is praised in the Welsh Manuscript The Book of Taliesin. However, until recently the location of the kingdom of Rheged was unknown.
All of which is preamble to this news: the kingdom of Rheged has been found.
“…new archaeological evidence from the excavation of Trusty’s Hill Fort at Gatehouse of Fleet in Dumfries and Galloway now challenges this assumption.
‘What drew us to Trusty’s Hill were Pictish symbols carved on to bedrock here, which are unique in this region and far to the south of where Pictish carvings are normally found,’ said Ronan Toolis of GUARD Archaeology, who led the excavation which involved the participation of over 60 volunteers. ‘The Galloway Picts Project was launched in 2012 to recover evidence for the archaeological context of these carvings but far from validating the existence of ‘Galloway Picts’, the archaeological context revealed by our excavation instead suggests the carvings relate to a royal stronghold and place of inauguration for the local Britons of Galloway around AD 600. Examined in the context of contemporary sites across Scotland and northern England, the archaeological evidence suggests that Galloway may have been the heart of the lost Dark Age kingdom of Rheged, a kingdom that was in the late sixth century pre-eminent amongst the kingdoms of the north.’
The excavation revealed in the decades around AD 600, the summit of the hill was fortified with a timber-laced stone rampart. Around the same time supplementary defences and enclosures were added to its lower-lying slopes transforming Trusty’s Hill into a nucleated fort, a type of fort in Scotland that has been recognised by archaeologists as high status settlements of the early medieval period.”
And if this is true, a part of me can still hope that, in a world divided from our own by a misty lake, the priestesses of Avalon still weave their magic and keep the old religion alive.