• Jo-Anne Blanco

Introduction to the Fata Morgana Series

I first encountered Morgan le Fay when I was 18. During my first year at university, a friend lent me her edition of The Mists of Avalon. While I may never be able to bring myself to read the novel again owing to the subsequent revelations about its author, the book itself was nonetheless a wonderful, evocative, feminist retelling of the Arthurian legend from the women’s point of view. Most importantly, it introduced me to the character of Morgan, known in the book as Morgaine. Previously, I had been aware of her only as the villain of Arthurian lore: the evil witch, the sorceress, the enemy of the great wizard Merlin, King Arthur of Camelot, and the Knights of the Round Table. The Mists of Avalon for the first time (at least in my experience) gave her a voice, motivation, rationale, and, above all, sympathy. Understanding. The desire to do good. The legend wasn’t black and white. Morgan had reasons for doing what she did and they were valid ones. And Merlin, Arthur, and the Knights? Not so squeaky clean as other authors over the centuries would have had us believe.

Over the years, I read other novels about and/or involving Morgan; some great, some good, some not so good, and some downright awful. But in all of them, one thing I noticed was that in every portrayal, every retelling, her story always revolved around someone else’s – usually Arthur’s. Even when she was an important character or ostensibly even the protagonist of the novel, she is almost always obsessed with Arthur in one way or another: in love with Arthur, hating Arthur, doting on Arthur, seeking revenge on Arthur, raising Arthur up or plotting to bring him down. In some she was the love of Arthur’s life but peripheral to the main action; in others she was his mortal enemy, there only to be vanquished. Her entire raison d’être was Arthur – or, occasionally, Merlin or some other man who wronged her or did not share her love. As a lover, she was an appendage with little life of her own; as an enemy or spurned woman, unrequited love and spiteful jealousy were her downfall, the reasons for her turning evil. Looking back, even in The Mists of Avalon, Morgaine’s existence still ultimately centres upon Arthur, as the pagan High Priestess to his Christian King; her Avalon the counterpoint to his Camelot, her actions incited by opposition to his.

Whether I loved them or loathed them, all these books invariably left me feeling that something was missing. Was that really all Morgan le Fay was? What was her story, really; her own individual journey, away from Arthur, Merlin, Lancelot, Gawain, and whomever else? Instead of her being a character in other famous characters’ stories, how about they become characters in her story? She must have led a life separate from all of them, right back from when she was a young child – a life that somehow led her to become the most powerful Fairy Queen of them all and the most formidable woman in the legend. How did she get there? In order to trace that path, to follow that journey, you’d have to go right back to the very beginning of her story, one that’s rarely if ever told.

In Geoffrey of Monmouth’s 12th century Vita Merlini (The Life of Merlin), Morgan appears for the first time fully formed: she is the magical ruler of the Island of Apples (Avalon), the first of nine sisters, reminiscent of the nine Muses of antiquity. Morgan is the leader, the most brilliant, the most beautiful, the most intelligent, the most skilled in healing. She can shapeshift into anything she wants, fly through the air, appear anywhere in the world in the blink of an eye. She teaches astrology to her sisters and, whenever she leaves her island, visits ecclesiastical places of great learning such as Chartres and Pavia, demonstrating that education and intellectual life are all-important to her. So, going back to tracing her origins: how did she get to be this amazing figure? Unlike other fairy queens, Morgan’s roots lie not only in folklore but go deeper to a much older tradition stretching back across millennia. Morgan harks back to the Ancient Greek island goddess-enchantresses Circe and Calypso, and to the sorceresses Hecate and Medea; but, unlike them, right from the start, it is shown that she uses her powers for good.

This is important because it begs the question: if at the beginning it was made clear that she was a force for good, why did she become – and why, unfortunately, is she often still – infamous for being a force for evil? The answer is pretty simple and is, ultimately, one of the main reasons I felt compelled to write this extensive series about her life: misogyny. Morgan’s place in literary history as a much-maligned character, the target of excessive amounts of fear, vitriol, and venom, is thoroughly undeserved. She’s basically a template for how women who have extraordinary power of their own and choose to live outside of social norms have been depicted from the early Middle Ages onwards. You can almost literally chart the history of misogyny and how women were perceived at different times during the centuries through the portrayal of Morgan in literature and the arts.

So not only is my goal to explore how this woman became the Morgan le Fay of legend, I want to set the record straight, right the wrong, give her her own inner life, experiences, adventures, and journey independent of everyone else, and approach her from an enlightened, 21st-century perspective. Although Morgan has been portrayed sympathetically in a number of works in the last few decades, it has become clear that, as rampant misogyny is currently rearing its ugly head in our society to a staggering degree, the portrayal of her in literature and popular culture is reverting back to the reviled, sinister, one-dimensional villain once again.

Therefore, to counter this, I am giving Morgan her own epic tale, as the multi-dimensional heroine of her own life and adventures. It is a story intended to be the equivalent of any Arthurian or Celtic saga, but centered and focused entirely upon her, and, more often than not, veering completely away from genre expectations and literary tradition. In this modern era, a very bleak dark age for women and girls in many parts of the world, I aim to do for Morgan what T. H. White’s The Once and Future King did for Arthur, and Mary Stewart’s trilogy The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills, and The Last Enchantment did for Merlin. I wish I had encountered Morgan when I was younger and in a different way, and my hope is that, through my novels, others will discover her and grow to love her from an earlier age than I did.

Written in a classic style influenced by my favourite authors, my books tell the story of Morgan’s life beginning from when she was a small child, in a post-Roman, war-torn Dark Ages Britain of enormous upheaval. Packed full of her adventures in mortal and supernatural realms as well as her inner journey of self-discovery, they’re called the Fata Morgana Series because they’re being published in novelisation form, but I regard the story they tell as a single chronicle: the Vita Morganae, if you will! One day, perhaps, many years from now, when all the novels I have envisaged and planned are published, they will be seen as a single extended tale. While centering on a known, mythic character, my series of books aims to tell a unique, exciting, inspiring, and thought-provoking ongoing story that has never been told before, and to reimagine Morgan le Fay for a new generation and a new age. I hope you enjoy it.

Discover the Fata Morgana Series.

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