This reading group guide for Twilight of Avalon includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Anna Elliott. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
Questions for Discussion
1. In the prologue Morgan says, “If a soul lives with each mention of its name, I will be forever young and beautiful as the Morgan in tales” (page 5). How can storytelling keep a person alive?
2. Throughout the novel various men offer Isolde protection. What protection can a man offer her physically? Politically? Do you think she needs a man to protect her?
3. The story takes place during the early years of Christianity in Europe. How did this affect the action of the story? Where do you think Isolde stands in terms of religious beliefs? How do you think the emerging Christianity contributed to the fear that she was a witch?
4. From the moment Con dies all of the men begin treating Isolde differently. Does her role as queen offer her any protection? At what times does her life seem to have worth? When does she seem disposable?
5. The phrase “The stars will still shine tomorrow, whatever happens to me here” is repeated throughout the story. How did this phrase help Isolde find hope? What do you think it means? How did learning who originally said it to her change its meaning for you?
6. Isolde says that “No man is evil to himself, he will always find reason enough to justify his acts, at least in his own mind” (page 136). How did men in this novel seem to justify their acts? Do you agree with Isolde’s statement above?
7. After Dera loses her baby Isolde recommends that she “listen to the pain. It will never go away. But listen to it, and it dulls enough that you can keep living, after a time” (page 197). How could Isolde benefit from taking her own advice? Have you found that paying attention to emotional pain helps to diminish it? What result can come from masking or ignoring the pain?
8. Isolde is widely believed to be a sorceress and has even been dubbed the “Witch Queen.” Does she use the speculation to her advantage? Kian says “Maybe there’s all kinds of witches in this world” (page 355). What kind of witch do you consider Isolde?
9. During a conversation with Arthur, Myrddin wonders, “is fate what lies within a man? Or is his character written by his fate?” (page 344). How do you think the various characters in Twilight of Avalon would answer this question?
Enhance Your Book Club
Read more about the enduring legend of Trystan and Isolde: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tristan_and_Iseult
Visit www.EarlyBritishKingdoms.com for a more well-rounded understanding of the setting for the novel. The author credits the site in her Acknowledgments section!
Have a movie night with your book club and watch the 2006 film Tristan and Isolde. Which actors would you cast to play Trystan and Isolde if Twilight of Avalon were made into a film?
Isolde is skilled at using herbs to help treat the sick and injured. Do you know of any home remedies or natural cures you can share with the group?
A Conversation with Anna Elliott
Stories of Trystan and Isolde have been told for generations. What was your first experience with these characters? What made you want to create your own story for them?
I first encountered the both the Trystan and Isolde legends and the Arthurian legends of which they are a part in college. I was studying medieval literature, and completely fell in love with everything about the Arthurian world. But it was a bit of an accident that I ended up weaving the two legends together in the way I did. Twilight of Avalon was inspired by a very vivid dream in which I told my mother that I was going to write a book about Modred’s daughter. When I woke up, the idea just wouldn’t let me go. Then in the very early stages of outlining, when I was just beginning to get an idea of the shape of the story, I was looking at Celtic names for my protagonist. The name Isolde caught my eye and I thought, hmm . . . and began to realize how many aspects of my story already fitted with the Trystan and Isolde legend. So blending the two together just felt completely natural from then on.
Why did you decide to tell the story from Isolde’s point of view? How might the story have read differently from one of the male characters viewpoints? Do you consider Isolde a feminist?
As I mentioned above, the idea of writing a book about Modred’s daughter was inspired by a dream, and then once I started to think about the story it just came to life in my head as Isolde’s own very personal journey. Because of that and because of being so bound up in Isolde’s character as I was writing, it’s hard for me to even imagine how the story would read from anyone else’s point of view. Although the next book in the trilogy, Dark Moon of Avalon, alternates between Isolde and Trystan’s perspectives, and it was great fun for me to step outside of Isolde’s character and see her through someone else’s eyes.
To me, a feminist means someone who fights for the right of choice for women: someone who believes that women should be allowed the freedom to make the choices that determine the course of their lives. I would consider Isolde a feminist of her time.
Each chapter features a small drawing of a harp as a recurring symbol. Why did you want us to remember this harp throughout the novel?
To me, the harp was a symbol of storytelling, which was one of the major themes of the book, from the voices of the past that come to Isolde, to the stories that Isolde herself tells, to the Trystan and Isolde legend itself. Both the Arthur legends and the Trystan and Isolde stories had their roots in Celtic bard’s songs, which would have been orally transmitted for perhaps hundreds of years before finally being written down. I found that to be one of the most poignant aspects of retelling the legends: the sense that I was catching just a faint echo of a real, human voice from a world that now existed only within the tales themselves.
Like all great historical novels, Twilight of Avalon blends wellknown legend with original fiction. How did you try to stay true to the characters of Trystan and Isolde established in the centuries-old legends? What about your story is completely unique and original?
Obviously, my version of the Trystan and Isolde story is very different from, say, the version popularized by Wagner’s opera. The legend as we know it today is very much a product of the courtly medieval style of literature, very much grounded in and shaped by chivalry and knightly honor and that sort of thing. The story really reflects a twelfth or thirteenth century world and sensibility, which doesn’t work so well when you try to drop it into sixth century Britain, which is when the real Arthur, the real Marche and Trystan (if any of them actually were real) would have lived. So that was really why I wound up being fairly free in my adaptation of the legend: to make it belong better to the world of dark age Britain I was uncovering—and falling in love with—in my research. I did, though, try to be faithful to what seemed to me the most important plot elements of the original stories: Isolde’s skill as a healer, Trystan’s role as a mercenary soldier, Isolde’s marriage to Marche, etc.
Why did you choose to title the novel Twilight of Avalon? What does the location Avalon mean for Arthurian legend?
In Arthurian legend, the dying King Arthur is ferried away to be healed of his wounds on the magical, mist-shrouded Isle of Avalon, and for me, Avalon symbolizes the unique magic that lies at the heart of the Arthurian tales. I chose the title Twilight of Avalon, because it captured my sense of Trystan and Isolde’s Britain: a place in which Arthur has been killed at Camlann, and the magic of his world is fading from the land. I liked the double meaning of the title, too. On the one hand, it could seem a bit sad: the end of an era, a farewell to all that has gone before. But though we in America usually think of twilight as the end of today, there are many cultures around the world in which evening is seen instead as the beginning of tomorrow.
What can we expect in the next installment of the series?
At the time of writing, I’ve completed Dark Moon of Avalon, the second book of the series, and am currently at work on Sunrise of Avalon, the third and final volume of my Trystan and Isolde trilogy. In Dark Moon of Avalon, Isolde is sent on a dangerous journey as emissary to one of her father Modred’s former allies in a desperate bid to gain support for Britain’s forces. The book alternates between Trystan and Isolde’s viewpoints, so expect to see them deepen and develop their relationship as Isolde begins to truly heal from the events of Twilight of Avalon.