Morgan le Fay is, in Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, Arthur's half sister,
the daughter of Arthur's mother Igraine and her first husband, the Duke
of Cornwall. She is also presented as an adversary of Arthur's: she gives
Excalibur to her lover
Accolon so he can use it against Arthur (a story retold
in Madison J. Cawein's poem Accolon of Gaul) and, when that
plot fails, she steals the scabbard of Excalibur which protects Arthur and
throws it into a lake.
|According to legend, Morgan
le Fay was able to fly and transform herself into shapes.
In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight she is presented as the instigator of
the Green Knight's visit to Arthur's court, partly motivated by her desire
to frighten Guinevere. Her enmity towards Guinevere has its origin in the
Vulgate Lancelot, where Morgan is having an affair with Guiomar,
Guinevere's cousin, and Guinevere puts an end to it. Despite the motif of
Morgan's enmity towards Arthur and Guinevere, she is also presented as one
of the women who takes Arthur in a barge to Avalon to be healed. This view
of Morgan as healer has its roots in the earliest accounts of her and perhaps
to her origin in Celtic mythology. In the Vita Merlini (c. 1150)
Morgan is said to be the first of nine sisters who rule The Fortunate Isle
or the Isle of Apples and is presented as a healer as well as a shape-changer.
It is to this island that Arthur is brought (though Morgan awaits him and
heals him rather than actually fetching him herself).
Morgan proclaims that she can heal Arthur if he stays with her for a long
time. Morgan is also said to be the wife of King Uriens and the mother of
Yvain or Ywain. Morgan rarely appears in post-medieval works--until the
twentieth century when there is a renewed interest in her character. Sometimes
she is conflated with Morgause and made to be the mother of Mordred, as
is the case in John Boorman's movie Excalibur and a number of modern
novels. Fay Sampson has made her the central figure in five novels. One
of the most interesting modern portrayals of Morgan appears in Thomas Berger's
Arthur Rex where, after a life devoted to evil, she decides to become
a nun because of her belief that "corruption were sooner brought amongst
humankind by the forces of virtue." Morgan actually does become a defender
of good in modern stories like Roger Zelazny's "The Last Defender
of Camelot" and Sanders Anne Laubenthal's Excalibur.
© The Camelot Project, The University of Rochester