Hearts Through History Romance Writers

Morgan le Fey through the Ages

by | January 7, 2014

As I was researching King Arthur, I read a very interesting book about Morgan le Fey and the changing interpretations her through out the Arthurian tales.  Carolyne Larrington in King Arthur’s Enchantress contends the differing images of Morgan le Fey represent changing views of gender in society from her first appearance in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae (1138) to modern day movies and dramas.


According to Ms. Larrington, Morgan le Fey is used by the various authors of the Arthurian texts as a commentary on a host of social issues embedded in and surrounding the chivalric code. Although Morgan is introduced as a benevolent healer who takes Arthur to her magical island after the last battle in Geoffrey’s work, the question of magic and its role in society quickly becomes the vehicle with which the authors of the Arthurian texts can expose and interpret the changes in their society. As the centuries progressed the underlying tension between gender roles and power are seen in the changing perceptions of Morgan.


From the benevolent healer who to took Arthur away from the earthly burdens of ruling and court politics, she evolves into an evil, self-serving half-sister and enchantress-the antithesis of the ideal woman. In courtly society women were expected to sacrificed their own desires for their husbands’ honor. Morgan comes to represent the embodiment of women who want more from life. These women challenge the traditional courtly values. They are feared for their hold over men, their devious sexual desires, and their underhanded bid for power. The assumption by the Arthurian literature is that woman’s bid for power in her own right undermines the fabric of society. The transformation of Morgan’s image from benevolent to evil allows authors throughout different centuries to delve into underlying social issues threatening their world. Among the most important issues addressed are the idea of romance, the meaning of the marriage bond, the place of the lover, the role of family loyalty, the issue of sibling rivalry, and the lure of home versus the requirement of fighting for the king on a distant battlefield.


Over the years Morgan and her enchantress sisters have become compelling and interesting incarnations of the first Arthurian enchantress reshaped in every century to reflect the social pressures of that age. These women access power independent of men, use power in ways that challenge societal ideals, and pay a price for their ambitions and efforts. They represent a dynamic ever-changing view of society and women’s roles within it. Their presence in the Arthurian legend requires the audience of any age to critically examine chivalry, gender issues, and the way the society uses the past.    




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