Morgan Is My Name Is a Furious, Necessary Arthurian Origin Story

Books Reviews Sophie Keetch
Morgan Is My Name Is a Furious, Necessary Arthurian Origin Story

The women of Arthurian legend have it rough. Granted, unlike some other famous stories from myth and folklore, at least there are multiple women with key roles in the story of King Arthur and his glorious realm of Camelot. But that’s a small mercy when you consider how poorly most of them are treated and how few are granted any real agency or depth of their own. Arthur’s mother Ygraine is deceived and raped in the name of providing Britain with the perfect king. His wife Guinevere is primarily remembered for being a shameful adultress rather than a kind-hearted queen. Poor Elaine of Astolat is perhaps the closest thing the story has to a traditional heroine, and she dies of a broken heart (an event that is solely used to serve Lancelot’s story.) And, depending on who you read, there are anywhere from two to five evil witches and sorceresses, who all bear Arthur or some other man in the story evil intent. 

This is a big reason why Sophie Keetch’s Morgan Is My Name feels like such a breath of fresh air. The latest entry in the popular publishing subgenre that delights in reexamining and recontextualizing the lives of the most villainous women of myth and folklore, but one of the few that’s turning its feminist lens on the “good” legend of King Arthur, it offers a new perspective on one of the story’s most problematic and misunderstood female characters: Morgan le Fay.  

The Morgan of legend is….hard to get a handle on. Most of the stories can’t even agree on what she is, let alone what her motivations are, and her character runs the moral gauntlet from magical protector to dark antagonist, all depending on which version of events you read. A healer, a tempter, a witch, and an enemy by turns, in some stories she is the woman who shepherds the fallen Arthur to the magical island of Avalon to await the day he’ll return in England’s hour of great need. In others, she’s indirectly responsible for his death. 

Keetch, thankfully, harbors no such confusion and understands from her novel’s first pages exactly who and what Morgan is: Fierce, headstrong, stubborn, and determined to control her own story. The anger that seems to simmer beneath her skin at all times is perhaps the result of being born into a world that refuses to acknowledge her exceptional nature simply because she wasn’t born into the body of a man, and her determination to be something more than she’s been told she’s allowed—more learned, more capable, more recognized—is both dramatic and deeply relatable. 

The story begins with Morgan’s childhood at Tintagel Castle, where she is indulged and loved by Gorlois, Duke of Cornwall, the father who both sees and appreciates her unusual intelligence and ability. But when he’s killed in battle, and King Uther Pendragon arrives to claim her mother Lady Igraine’s hand in marriage, Morgan, along with her sisters Elaine and Morgause, is made a pawn in the larger game of a man she actively despises. As she grows, Morgan does find some romantic happiness with a kind squire named Accolon, but she’s packed off to a nunnery when her transgressions with someone far below her station are discovered. And it is at St. Brigid’s that her power begins to fully come into its own, as she learns the healing arts and begins to discover the larger world of magic. 

As Morgan’s power grows, so does her desire for freedom and independence. But at eighteen, she’s forced to marry the Northern king Urien of Gore, and sent to a strange country where she’s forbidden from practicing any of the healing or magical arts in service to her new countrymen. Instead, she’s seen as little more than a broodmare, valued not for her skills or intelligence but for her ability to produce an heir, and as she struggles to get pregnant, she is left to languish in increasing loneliness and boredom. Meanwhile, in the aftermath of Uther Pendragron’s death word begins to spread of a young warrior who has pulled a sword from a stone. 

Keetch spares no mercy for Uther, Merlin, Urien, or any of the men who enter into Morgan’s orbit, who are all different flavors of manipulative, ignorant, or outright abusive, and the story clearly underlines the misogyny and double standards that flourish during much this time period. As various exceptional women are all forced to serve the larger plans of lesser men, it’s easy to cheer Morgan’s small acts of rebellion, from her disguised trips to heal sick villagers to the hidden manuscript of spells she’s penning behind her husband’s back. But her intelligence and savvy political instincts, as well as her genuine desire to use her powers for the benefit of those in need offer an uncomfortable preview of the ways her character will be warped and distorted by the men who will one day write her story down for others to read. Keetch’s insistence on having various men refer to her as Morgana, despite her insistence otherwise, is but one infuriating reminder that even her identity is not entirely her own. (And foreshadows the fact that this character has at least six different names in the original texts. )

Although My Name Is Morgan is the first installment in a trilogy—thank goodness—this book nevertheless still manages to feel contained and complete in its own right. Its final images, in which Morgan throws off—literally—the chains of the patriarchy and claims her own power feel both triumphant and thrilling, an ending that somehow manages to feel like a cathartic conclusion, a new beginning, and a necessary reckoning all at once. It’s the sort of reinvention that every woman in Arthurian lore deserves—and, with Keetch’s help, will hopefully someday get.

Morgan Is My Name is available now wherever books are sold.

Lacy Baugher Milas is the Books Editor at Paste Magazine, but loves nerding out about all sorts of pop culture. You can find her on Twitter @LacyMB.

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