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I am sure many of you are familiar with these verses

Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
Honey is sweet,
But not as sweet as you,

You might have heard Aqua or seen it or Archies cards.

I was pleasantly surprised when I found something similar in Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd

“The rose is red,
The violet blue,
Carnation’s sweet,
And so are you.”

I have read the book many times before – and love level-headed Gabriel Oak and his capricious sweetheart Bathsheba Everdene. But only during this reading did this particular doggerel strike my fancy.  And as a clarification, this valentine is  the one which caused so much trouble between Mr Boldwood and his pretty neighbour…This thoughtless  missive, originally addressed to little Teddy Coggan,  was then sent off to the grave, dignified farmer with “Marry Me”  stamped right across it. Another interesting thing I noted was rubber-stamping – a much beloved-art of the 21st century scrapbook lover –  was something our 18th century heroine was quite familiar with.

A little more research or wiki-search and I realised that I had glossed-over similar lines while reading Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. Something like the Nan Tucker poems – there are many many variations of these lines…a few more that I came across

Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
I have five fingers,
The middle ones are for you

Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
This is to say,

That I do love you

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labelledameMarion Zimmer Bradley retells the Arthurian legends from the point of view of the women – the much maligned Morgaine, Viviane, Igraine, Gwenhwyfar and Morguase. A feminist perspective which gives the classic characters new depth and dimension. It’s a fantastic and pleasant read, whose flaws don’t make it any less interesting.

The Mists of Avalon politics and intrigue take place at a time when Christianity is taking over the pagan worshipping island-nation of Britain – it shows the legendary rise and fall of Camelot. God vs Goddess, Christianity vs Paganism, Patriarchy vs Matriarchy, Love vs lust are some of the dominant themes of the book.

Though Bradley explores interesting ideas in ‘Avalon,’ her writing is disorganized to the extreme. In her efforts to cover everything – King Arthur’s Round Table, Pellinore’s dragon, the Holy Grail, – the book become an enormous tome of almost 900 pages with

Too much mush and too much Christianity is bad and Paganism is good. When we actually see the hard lives Morgaine and Viviane have to lead because of their faith, the harsh decisions that they take – one would prefer the less-taxing Christian God who doesn’t seem to mind having dumb priests in his service.

Gwynhwyfar and Lancelot have to be the most irritating characters ever created. From a vapid, frightened, stupidly-prejudiced girl, Gwynhwyfar grows into a hypocritical, adulterous and seemingly pious, over-religious female.

Gwenhwyfar is shown to deeply fear and hate the Goddess yet she had no compunctions in asking Morgaine for a charm to cure her bareness. And again her constant bullying of King Arthur to turn the country Christian is nothing short of tyrannical. She uses her knowledge of theladyofshallot2 incestuous (accidental) relationship he has with his sister as a Damocles sword over his head to emotionally blackmail him and get what she wants. Also her own inability to carry a child, she blames on Druid Kevin when she miscarries. Gwenhwyfar is so whiney and whimpey that one wishes Arthur had just shut her up (as he was advised by many of his councilors).

Lancelot is another irrriating character. He is never happy with what he has, but is always lusting after something or the other. There is a also a hint by Bradley that he might be a homosexual, because of his attraction to Arthur and the threesome they once have during the Beltane fires.

The fight between Christianity and paganism is delightful to watch; in particular the arguments and counter-arguments placed. For me these thoughts resemble my own struggle to relate Christianity and the dominant religion of my country-Hinduism.

Believers of each religion seek to influence both Arthur and Uther – but ultimately Christianity ascends the throne.

The Isle of Avalon is painted in bright, seraphic, rose-tinted colours. The Isle is the centre for druids and priestess, inititated into the worship of the Goddess and one of the last abodes in Britain still untouched by Roman occupation or Christianity. The island surrounds itself in a mystical era – the mists and fogs protect this haven from the once-borns or those lacking in physic powers.

An interesting and pleasant read, for everyone except the history buff, because of its large-scale historical inaccuracies.

(For the full review, visit castlesinthair)

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