The Huntress and the Harlot:

The Taming of Nymue, the Lady of the Lake , in Arthurian Legend

By Erin Chandler

     The Arthurian legend has, throughout the course of its long and intricate evolution, encompassed an enormous cast of characters, and these characters have themselves evolved with each new resurgence in the legend's popularity. In recent years, the Arthurian women, most frequently Morgan le Fay, have drawn critical attention due to a reputation for ambiguity, because of the many opposing characteristics attributed to one figure in the development of her story over time. In the case of Morgan, the trend has been an increasing malignancy, until recent works of Arthurian fiction have sought to vindicate the character. As Anne Berthelot puts it, "her reputation tends to degenerate from one romance to the next" (Berthelot, "Demonizing 89). While Morgan le Fay has garnered much scholarly attention, a character no less ambiguous in nature and worthy of study is the Lady of the Lake variously named Viviane, Niniane, Niviene, Nymue, Nyneve, and Vivien. In fact, this Lady, whom I will call Nymue, is all the more interesting because the changes made to her character do not follow a consistent trend; rather, the nature of Nymue–even in matters so broad as whether she is good or evil–varies from one text to the next, and even between episodes within an individual text, more frequently even than characters such as Morgan.

     Previous studies on Nymue have tended to focus only on her origins, or on a very limited set of texts. These studies have made valuable contributions, but no complete survey of her character has been undertaken, and as a result Nymue's role in the Arthurian tradition remains poorly understood. Lucy Allen Paton has studied in depth the possible origins of the character in fairy mythology, while Anne Berthelot attempts to span more or less the entire life of the character through  Malory. Her article "Merlin and the Ladies of the Lake " focuses on Nymue's relationship with Merlin in the Vulgate and Post-Vulgate cycles and in other romances, tracing the "demonization," as she puts it, of Nymue. The article is valuable for its analysis of the Vulgate and Post-Vulgate, but weaker in dealing with Malory because its thesis fails to take into account the multiple appearances Nymue makes after the imprisonment of Merlin, in which she appears as an overwhelmingly benevolent figure. Though Berthelot does acknowledge Nymue's positive role in texts some texts, her focus remains on the instances in which she appears as a malevolent figure. Berthelot also dwells on Nymue's negative characteristics in her article "From Niniane to Dimue: Demonizing the Lady of the Lake." Sue Ellen Holbrook, on the other hand, emphasizes Nymue's positive characteristics and provides a more complete analysis of the character as she appears in Malory in "Nymue, the Chief Lady of the Lake, in Malory's Le Morte Darthur" and "Elemental Goddesses: Nymue, the Chief Lady of the Lake, and Her Sisters." In addition to disagreeing about Nymue's basic nature, Berthelot and Holbrook also restrict their analysis to French medieval texts  and to Malory, which limits our overall understanding of the character's evolution. By contrast, Christopher Dean in The Lady of the Lake in Arthurian Legend  gives a fuller account of Nymue's development but devotes insufficient analysis to individual medieval texts and the pattern of changes which take place over time. Tennyson's totally negative re-creation of Nymue as 'Vivien,' and also her appearances in contemporary novels by Mary Stewart and Marion Zimmer Bradley, have received little critical attention. Rebecca Umland does point out that Tennyson's Vivien is a totally negative portrayal, and one which has a great deal to do with Victorian codes of morality and ethics, and Karen Fuog explores how Nimue in The Mists of Avalon uses her sexuality within the novel's social structure. This study will attempt a more comprehensive examination of the character than has previously been provided, examining in depth the tensions and transformations which take place in the tradition between texts, allowing for a better understanding of Nymue's development and the reasons behind the choices made by the authors who have reinvented her. One problem with previous scholarship on Nymue is the bewildering variety of texts worthy of examination. A survey which aims toward clarity is needed, and therefore part of this essay will be devoted to tracing the character's evolution through multiple appearances and roles, with an emphasis on works important to the English tradition. My study will also show that, as complex and ambiguous as Nymue's portrayal in all of these texts is, one pattern always holds true: her positive side dominates whenever her roles of wife and mother are stressed, and, when these roles are absent, she follows Morgan's path to wickedness.

     Nymue's origins, which are important in establishing the fundamental nature upon which her later appearances are built and which may help us to understand why evolution became necessary for the character's survival, cannot be identified with any certainty. Many critics, such as Lucy Allen Paton, speculate that the character's associations with magic, lakes, forests, and the white hart and brachet signify a figure out of Celtic mythology (Paton 229). Celtic myths also frequently feature the powerful fairy woman who abducts both children and grown men. As Christopher Dean puts it, "The Lady of the Lake ... has an air of being left over from some earlier version and so seems no longer appropriate to the context in which she now finds herself.  ... She is a fairy that had been rationalized" (Dean 14). The fairy here referred to is, of course, not of the tiny, winged, whimsical variety. Celtic fairies are powerful female figures featuring prominently in legends:

the fay of Arthurian romance is essentially a supernatural woman, always more beautiful than the imagination can possibly fancy her, untouched by time, unhampered by lack of resources for the accomplishment of her pleasure, superior to human blemish, contingency, or necessity, in short, altogether unlimited in her power. Insistent love is a fundamental part of her nature, but she holds aloof from ordinary mortals and gives her favor only to the best and most valorous of knights. She has complete foreknowledge and often ... has guarded from infancy the mortal whom she finally takes to the other world as her beloved (Paton 5).


In Nymue's case, the mortal guarded from infancy is Lancelot, and the beloved taken to the other world is Merlin. The roles of wife and mother are therefore attached to Nymue even in her origins, and the compassion and love inherent in these aspects of the character enable her to become beneficent when her story is retold.

     It is likely that Nymue's name comes into the tradition through the story of her relationship with Merlin. This name itself is likely adapted from an original Celtic source, cementing her origins in the ambiguous role of the fairy sorceress and, possibly, abductress. In the poems Avallenau and Hoianau, attributed to the Welsh bard Myrddin, who some consider to be the basis for Merlin, "certain prophetic words are put into the mouth of one designated as hwimleian, huimleian, chwimpleian, chwibleian, chwivleian, a word which is translated Sibyl by Skene, Nymphe by San Marte." Some believe that the name "Viviane" is derived from this source. Others think that "Niniane" is derived, through a lengthy progression of transcriptional errors and changes, from the goddess Rhiannon, who is also associated with lakes, rides a white horse, and is married to a man named Pwyll, who could be connected to Malory's Pelleas, Nymue's husband (Paton 241-2). These ties are neither very strong nor well-supported; Paton herself identifies another figure with more striking similarities to Nymue. This is the Irish Niamh, daughter of the King of Tir na n'Og, who takes the hero Oisin with her into her realm: "Niamh was a not uncommon Celtic name ... [It was] given to a fay, and was connected with the same theme that forms the kernel of the story of Niniane, that of a mortal's retention by a fay in an enchanted dwelling. Since the Celtic final mh has a spirant value, Niamh would possibly appear in a French written source as Niave, which might easily become Niane" and then, going through a Latin translator and back into French, "Niniane" (Paton 244-7). The character is first named as Niniane or Viviane in the Vulgate Cylce's Lancelot, but mention of the Lady of the Lake predates that name by several decades.

     In Ulrich von Zatzikhoven's Lanzelet, dated to approximately 1194, the infant Lanzelet is taken by a "Wasserfee," literally "water fairy," into a mysterious land of maidens. This early tale retains the closest ties of the character to the original fairy mythology, and yet it is typically ignored by critics. The Wasserfee story in Lanzelet is adapted from an earlier Anglo-Norman romance which is not longer extant, a "missing link" in the evolution of the legend, and it partially bridges the gap between the Celtic myths and the medieval French romances. The fairy is described as "a wise mermaid, who was a queen, better than any who now live. She had ten thousand ladies in her land" (von Zatzikhoven 29). This fairy raises Lanzelet and has him taught the skills and ways of knighthood until he is fifteen, at which point he departs. The fairy refuses to the young Lanzelet his name until he has conquered "the best knight who has ever lived" (von Zatzikhoven 31); when he does, a maiden from the fairy's land passes on that information. The fairy appears only once more, to initiate a chastity test at Arthur's court which only Lanzelet's wife passes. It is believed that this version of the Lancelot story is derived from an earlier Anglo-Norman romance which is has been lost, but here Nymue is still called a fairy, and rules over a land entirely inhabited by women, "not one of whom had ever seen a man or even man's apparel" (von Zatzikhoven 29-30). This supports evidence that Nymue originates with a pagan fairy tradition, and it is interesting to observe the slight changes in her description between this appearance and her next in Le Chevalier de la charrete. Chretien de Troyes wrote this romance in France only a few years after Ulrich wrote his version, or possibly even at the same time. Here Lancelot's foster-mother is first called the Lady of the Lake , and she is mentioned for having given him a ring which enables him to detect the presence of enchantment. She is an overwhelmingly positive figure at this stage of her development, despite her associations with magic, because of her role as the protectress of Lancelot. As he gains prominence among his fellow Knights of the Round Table, nothing that is done to assist Lancelot and no figure providing that assistance can be truly negative. Though there is magic associated with the character, it is noteworthy that we are no longer dealing with a fairy but a lady. This is a transition which subsequent texts expand upon, de-emphasizing the supernatural in favor of more mundane and domestic qualities.

     It is in the Vulgate Cycle that the Lady of the Lake first has a name. Appearing in the Estoire de Merlin and the Lancelot, she is called both "Viviane" and "Niniane." Here again, Nymue appears as a positive figure, primarily because of her role as Lancelot's foster mother, and this positive characterization carries over into her affair with Merlin. Nymue's appearance in the legend hinges on her relationship with Merlin, and the Vulgate provides this story for the first time. The story of Merlin and his young love is told twice in the Vulgate Cycle–once in the Lancelot and once in the Estoire, with a few differences evident in each telling. As it is told in the Estoire de Merlin, Merlin is journeying through the Forest of Briosque in Brittany when he comes upon a very young maiden and demonstrates his magic for her. This girl, called Viviane, states that if Merlin will teach her how to do such things, "I would swear to be your lady love and your friend forever, without any wrongdoing or baseness, for as long as I live" (Merlin 282). After this, Merlin leaves and returns several times to his "lady love," each time teaching her more. Viviane ensures, however, that her maidenhood is preserved:

And she greeted him the most joyfully she knew how, and they ate and drank and lay together in the same bed. She knew enough about his doings so that, when she understood that he wished to lie with her, she knew how to cast a spell and bring forth a pillow, which she put in his arms, and then Merlin went to sleep. This is not said to make the story relate that Merlin ever knew a woman carnally; but there was no woman in the world he loved so much as she (Merlin  399-400).


Displeased that Merlin never stays with her for any length of time, Viviane asks to be taught how to imprison a man with magic, creating a place where the two of them can remain forever. Merlin teaches her the spell, and she creates an invisible tower around her sleeping love, "and she kept her oath faithfully, for few days or nights went by when she was not with him. Merlin never thereafter left the stronghold where his lady love had put him, but she came and went as she wished" (Merlin  417). As explained below, this is the episode in the legend which would, eventually, cast the character in a very negative light, since in seeking to keep Merlin with her, Viviane has deprived Arthur's court of his aid. The author of the Estoire de Merlin, however, does not see matters in this way, but rather depicts the incident as a love story and does not dwell on any repercussions Merlin's absence might have on Arthur.

     Her role in the Vulgate Cycle does not end there, however. In the Lancelot, she appears again, no longer a girl but a woman, now called Ninianne who, as in Lanzelet, raises the hero Lancelot. The King and Queen of Benoic flee their kingdom, which is being sacked by King Claudas; the King dies of grief and while the Queen is distracted by the news, a naked woman picks up the baby and jumps with him into a lake–which we later find is only an illusion to prevent strangers from visiting her realm. Ninianne raises Lancelot with a great care, as though he is her son, and teaches him the ways of knighthood: "there is no question that he was very dear to her, for she took care of him more tenderly than any other woman could who had not actually given birth to him" (Lancelot 12). Later she likewise adopts Lancelot's cousins, Lionel and Bors, and brings them all to Arthur's court to join his company of knights. She resigns Lancelot to the court with great reluctance, weeping at the loss of her foster son, and before she will let him go, she gives him a protective ring which "had the power to uncover and reveal all magic spells" (Lancelot 64). After this, the Lady of the Lake Ninianne appears several more times when Lancelot is in need of assistance.

     Nymue's primary role in the Vulgate Cycle is that of mother to Lancelot; more narrative is dedicated to this role even than to her relationship with Merlin. It is the "mother" role which remains acceptable and sympathetic to the medieval Christian audience. Fairy elements are still present, but the it is clear that "the tradition had advanced several degrees beyond its original stage when it was embodied in our earliest extant version" (Paton 170). Even without the Celtic myths from which Nymue's story is adapted, this is certainly case. Elements of Nymue's character can easily be seen as remnants of much earlier ideas–the abduction of children, for example, is a common fairy motif. This version, however, attempts to distance Nymue from her fairy origins. Though the Lady's dwelling under the lake implies the magic of a fairy enchantress, the Vulgate tries to make the episode more believable, saying that the Lady takes Lancelot to live not in a lake but a valley made to look like a lake. It even states very clearly that "according to the story, the damsel who carried Lancelot off into the Lake was a fairy. At that time, the word 'fairy' was used for all women who practiced magic" (Lancelot 11). This was done to accommodate a new audience, one not so comfortable with the non-Christian otherworld of Celtic fairies as the old one had been. Berthelot, who emphasizes how Nymue is "demonized" in the French tradition and in Malory, nevertheless states that "the whole episode is a study in character rehabilitation wherein the narrative tries to skirt the issue of the supernatural origin or nature of the Lady of the Lake " (Berthelot, "Demonizing" 90). This is why the role of mother becomes so central to the Lake of the Lake 's character, rather than her role as ruler or as fairy, and why her real love of Lancelot and his cousins is so strongly emphasized.

     The importance of the Lady of the Lake as Lancelot's mother reaches beyond the early sections of the Lancelot, wherein the young hero is in her care. When Lancelot leaves her lake dwelling to become a knight, his foster mother's protection stays with him; when she cannot aid him personally, a messenger or some supernatural object given by her can. No one refers to her after this point as the young woman who removed Merlin from the world, because the mother-role outshines it. This role as Lancelot's protectress carries over into later retellings, such as Le Morte D'Arthur, when Nymue protects all of Arthur's court: "It is quite plain that she and Lancelot are fundamentally united in story, and that when she is associated in tradition with other personages, as with Guinevere and Arthur, the connection is due to a development from her original relation to Lancelot" (Paton 203). By this time, Lancelot is such a significant figure in the Arthurian legend that an entire book of the Vulgate Cycle is dedicated to his life and adventures, from his birth and childhood on. He is the definitive hero among Arthur's knights, and so the woman who raises him must be not simply benevolent but superior.

     The fact that Nymue's role in the Vulgate Cycle is, first and foremost, to be Lancelot's foster mother may actually be what first made her connection to Merlin so necessary. The second important aspect of the character is her relationship to Merlin, which probably developed due to the fact that the fairy powers associated with the Lady of the Lake in such works as Lanzelet are not compatible with the loving, Christian lady depicted in the Vulgate Lancelot. Lancelot is a popular character and a good Christian knight; his foster mother's magic power, while helpful, might have proven suspicious:

The magic in the world of this romance has to be accommodated to Christianity which taught that such power could come only from God or the devil, and the prose romance author's choice is to derive it from the devil. The diabolic element in this work is represented by Merlin. ... The Lady is his pupil and so she becomes a fairy by education and not by nature or heredity. In this way the Lady remains virtuous so that her powers are not dangerous and do not corrupt her or Lancelot (Dean 11).


The Lady of the Lake , then, due to the perception of morality common to the romance audience, most likely becomes associated with another character who is tutored by the enchanter, one who is also connected with a lake and who acquired her magic not by means of the devil, but out of an innocent curiosity. In the Vulgate Cycle, this character is the young girl named Ninianne or Viviane. The story is mentioned in the Lancelot, and then told in greater detail in the Estoire de Merlin, which was written later. Ninianne is a far less significant character than the Dame du Lac, as she appears only long enough to remove Merlin from the mortal sphere of existence. Paton states that "it seems probable ... that these episodes represent a stage of tradition when two fays, originally distinct, had become identified, and Ninianne's name attached to the Dame du Lac, to whom the stories properly belong" (Paton 205). Originally the young girl who is tutored by Merlin and the woman who raises Lancelot were two separate figures, but in order to justify the magical ability of the latter, the two were at some point combined into a single character.

     This combination of two women into one causes confusion and inconsistency in Arthurian legend to this day. Viviane/Ninianne, as she first appears, is very young, and "there is an unbridgeable gap between the precocious child Ninianne and the mature Lady of the Lake " (Berthelot, "Demonizing" 93). Yet the aim of making Lancelot's guardian appear to be less threatening is achieved, especially since the girl Viviane, until Merlin takes her under his wing, does not display the same sort of supernatural qualities which the Dame du Lac exhibits, qualities which have been central to the character since her earliest appearance in Lanzelet. Merlin dotes on Viviane and she persuades him to teach her his magic, all the while carefully guarding her virginity:  "By making the beautiful and virtuous damsel the gifted pupil of the prophet-enchanter, the text ... displaces the blemish of a supernatural origin from the damsel to her would-be lover: Merlin is the devil's son, but his reluctant amie is a very human girl" (Berthelot, "Demonizing" 90-1). The problem that arises, however, is a new reason to question this human girl's character.

     Adjustments in Nymue's character can been seen even between the two segments in which she appears in the Vulgate Cycle, as the story of her entrapment of Merlin is related with slight alterations at two separate points, once in the Lancelot and once in the Estoire de Merlin. The fact that Nymue encloses Merlin in a cave or tower can be seen in more than one way: "On the one hand, this relationship has been interpreted as oppositional, that is, the power of the Nymue-figure conflicts with Merlin's power, and her opposition results in his defeat. On the other hand, it has also been seen as complementary, that is, her capacities augment or balance his" (Holbrook, "Goddess" 72). In any retelling of the Merlin-Nymue story, most of one's interpretation of the relationship between Nymue and Merlin depends on whether the characters are depicted as truly loving each other. In the Estoire de Merlin, Viviane traps Merlin because she wishes to keep him with her always, not because she wants to destroy him or his power. It is a typical fairy mistress story, only the man the fairy loves is not the typical sort:

the inherent situation is that the fay loves the hardy knight, who in return for her love promises to do her will; he goes with her to an other-world dwelling that she builds, and then as a result of his promise he is obliged to defend the abode ... the enchanter loves the fay and seeks her love; she promises to grant it to him on condition that he teach her his magic art. When she has built for him the other-world dwelling, the narrative is ended, and Merlin in his remaining history is represented as a melancholy victim of imprisonment, whose confinement is utterly devoid of activity. Complete submission to the will of his mistress involves for him no knightly deed ... but simply the surrender of his skill to her control (Paton 212).

The Estoire de Merlin states that Viviane often returns to be with Merlin in his solitude. Her reason for trapping him is selfish, perhaps, but not intended to hurt him–it is, in fact, very human. At this stage, she remains a positive figure. Her association with Merlin is a loving one, and her motives are those of an infatuated girl.

     Yet in the Lancelot, which was the source for the Estoire although the Estoire covers an earlier period in the legend, the relationship is described more briefly and matter-of-factly. It simply states that "when the young lady had learned as much as she wanted from Merlin, she played a final trick and sealed him in a pit in the perilous forest of Darnantes ... And that is where he remained, for never again did anyone see or hear of him or have news to tell of him" (Lancelot 12). The Estoire de Merlin repeats the story in much greater detail and from a more overtly sympathetic perspective. It had already been established that Viviane would be the woman who raises Lancelot, who is unquestionably a benevolent figure. There must be some consistency of character, and the character who appears as the compassionate and intelligent mother of Lancelot cannot also be the woman who mercilessly imprisons her teacher and leaves him to die, so the story of Viviane and Merlin is told sympathetically, as a love story. This version of events does not diminish the benevolence of the Lady from the Lancelot. The Lady who takes Lancelot from the world to nurture and care for him does the same to Merlin; only the motive is different. Her loving nature in the Merlin coincides with the primary role of mother which Ninianne takes on in the Lancelot: "she renounces sex in favor of motherly love, and thus will get herself a baby without having to endure the normal preliminaries" (Berthelot, "Merlin," 173). This domestic role and the consequential sympathetic rendering of the Merlin story remove what is threatening from the Lady and her magic. This episode, however, is also easily susceptible to a less sympathetic, more negative treatment.

     The Post-Vulgate Merlin contains a very different version of the Merlin and Nymue relationship. Nymue–now Ninianne or Niviene–appears at Arthur's court as a maiden huntress in pursuit of a white brachet and being pursued by a knight. Sir Pellinore rescues her and brings her back to court, where she remains and becomes the beloved of Merlin. The mage lusts after Ninianne unceasingly, though "he did not dare ask her to do anything for him, because he knew well that she was a virgin," and she responds with malice: "she knew well that he wanted nothing but her virginity, and she hated him mortally for it and sought his death by any means she could" (Merlin Continuation 259). Eager to learn from the magician, she follows him to Brittany and the Lake of Diane , assuring him that she loves him while plotting against him. Finally she imprisons, and possibly even kills Merlin to be rid of him: "there was never afterwards anyone who could move or open [the sarcophagus] or see Merlin, dead or alive, until she herself came there" (261). There is nothing merciful or compassionate in the act. Later, Ninianne takes Merlin's place, to an extent, at Arthur's court. She protects the king from Sir Accolon in Morgan le Fay's plot with the false Excalibur. In the Post-Vulgate Merlin, there is no surviving account of any connection between Ninianne and Lancelot.

     Overall, this text depicts a much colder, more malevolent Nymue than we see in the Vulgate Lancelot and the Estoire de Merlin. In the Post-Vulgate Merlin, she does not have the wife and mother roles to imbue her with compassion. The maiden huntress who appears at Camelot immediately calls to mind the goddess Diana, a pagan goddess of virginity and the hunt, known to be cold and sometimes murderous of her lovers, as in the story of Actaeon. In fact, in the Post-Vulgate Merlin, Merlin takes Ninianne to visit the tomb of Faunus, another lover of Diana's "who loved her to excess, and she was false to him and killed him by the greatest treachery in the world" (Merlin Continuation 246). Ninianne is intrigued by the story.[1] Instead of being characterized as a blameless Christian lady, this version of Nymue is deliberately paralleled to Diana. This is true to an extent in the Vulgate Cycle, where Nymue is the goddaughter of a Diana who predicts she will be loved by the wisest man in the world, but in the Post-Vulgate Ninianne's relationship with Merlin is compared to Diana and Faunus: "Niviene's terror of and revulsion at the very idea of sex is much closer to the Diana-prototype" (Berthelot, "Demonizing" 97). To some extent, Ninianne's cruel treatment of Merlin is rationalized by his attempts at seducing her; however, this certainly does not mitigate her actions. If she hates Merlin so, why does she continue to tolerate him as her teacher? This version of Nymue is very different from her predecessor in the Vulgate Cycle; there is "never an indication that Niniane loves Merlin" and "a strain of duplicity is perceptible in her character, as in the nature of a sorceress who entices heroes to their own undoing" (Paton 216). Without the role of foster-mother to Lancelot to give cause to a softening of the character, Nymue becomes a devious and unlikable character. It is true that, immediately after this incident, she comes to Arthur's rescue by disarming Accolon, but this is because she knows Merlin cannot, since she has put him permanently out of the way. This, however, is her sole positive contribution in the text, and she clearly remains a dangerous sorceress.[2] Despite the skills which she has acquired from him, she is not an equivalent replacement of Merlin. Her primary role in the Post-Vulgate Merlin, therefore, is to deprive Arthur of one of his greatest allies.

     Sir Thomas Malory, arguably the most important author of the Arthurian tradition in English, demonstrates a familiarity with the Post-Vulgate Merlin in his depiction of the Lady of the Lake , now called Nymue. He chooses, however, to rehabilitate the character so thoroughly–perhaps to create a foil to the evil Morgan le Fay, or perhaps because of some knowledge of the earlier traditions which associate her with Lancelot, Malory's ideal knight–that she becomes one of the most positive figures in the legend. Malory introduces Nymue into Le Morte D'Arthur in an episode taken from the Post-Vulgate Merlin. She enters Arthur's wedding feast chasing a white brachet and is kidnapped by a knight so that Arthur dispatches Pellinore to retrieve her. When next she appears, Nymue is "one of the ladies of the lake," and Merlin is "assotted" with her: "And always Merlin lay about the lady to have her maidenhood, and she was ever passing weary of him, and fain would have been delivered of him, for she was afeard of him because he was a devil's son" (103). This fear of Merlin is derived too from the Post-Vulgate Merlin; here, the language is not so strong, but Nymue, unlike the Vulgate Ninianne, certainly does not intend to return to Merlin in his imprisonment: "she wrought for him that he came never out for all the craft he could do. And so she departed and left Merlin" (Malory 103) After this event, Nymue returns several times to protect Arthur from the wiles of Morgan le Fay, such as when she helps to defeat the plot of Morgan and Accolon to kill the king with his own sword, Excalibur.  

     Malory, however, departs from the Post-Vulgate version of the Lady of the Lake in several very marked ways. He does not put her into the role of foster-mother to Lancelot. Indeed, it is mentioned that "the Lady of the Lake confirmed him Sir Launcelot du Luke," but there are certainly at least two Ladies of the Lake in Malory, of which Nymue is only one, for she is first named as one of the Lady of the Lake 's damsels. Christopher Dean concludes that "two different people are called the Lady of the Lake , the designation has to be a title rather than a personal name. ... The Lady is important enough to have a retinue of maidens about her and her successor seems to be chosen from this group" (Dean 3-5). There is some debate as to which Lady is meant here. Holbrook believes it is Nymue because "the other Lady of the Lake had died before Lancelot was born;" Dean disagrees, saying that this Lady is "not Nyneve obviously because she is far too young and because she was not Lady of the Lake at that point in time" (Holbrook, "Malory" 174; Dean 7). In either case, in addition to protecting Lancelot, the Lady of the Lake now protects Arthur and his entire court, extending into episodes which Malory derives from no previous source, but invents himself. In Malory alone, Nymue is responsible for exonerating Guenever of attempting to poison one of the knights at court, and she is also present at the healing of Sir Urre. The most prominent of Nymue's new adventures in Le Morte D'Arthur is her healing of Sir Pelleas after he is rejected by the Lady Ettard. She enchants Ettard so that she dies of love for Pelleas, and Pelleas in turn hates Ettard: "and the Damosel of the Lake rejoiced Sir Pelleas, and loved together during their life days" (Malory 140). After this, Nymue is referred to as Sir Pelleas's loving wife. The end of Le Morte D'Arthur has Nymue for the first time as one of the ladies who escorts King Arthur to Avalon.

     Though one of Malory's primary sources for his Nymue episodes is the Post-Vulgate Merlin, his interpretation of her character could not be more different. Here she is recreated in a positive light, with the difference evident even in subtle changes and adjustments made in his retellings of the Post-Vulgate. The first example of this comes with Nymue's first appearance, when she is rescued by Sir Pellinore. Although in Malory's source Nymue is loud and somewhat overdramatic when she falls from her horse, here she "reveals an unshrinking and practical nature with the capacity to direct action. ... Malory's abridgement provides Nymue, perhaps unintentionally, with heroic endurance" (Holbrook, "Malory" 177-8). It is not clear whether or not Malory intends for his language to be more favorable, but it the effect is nevertheless significant. Then, too, Nymue is largely exonerated of blame in the Merlin affair. As Holbrook notes,

Merlin is depicted as a lecherous old man: her motives for incarcerating him are that she is tired of his sexual interest and also that she is afraid of him. ... Nymue's protection of her virginity is significantly essential in all medieval variations of the story, perhaps being based on a traditional link between sexual intercourse and mantic prowess. In Malory's sympathetic treatment, at least, it also reflects the medieval ideal that chastity in women is virtue (Holbrook, "Malory" 180-1).

This parallels the Diana-like nature of the Post-Vulgate Niviene, but here all of the malice retained in the Post-Vulgate is removed. Nymue does not hate Merlin, and the air of vengeance and triumph with which Niviene traps the enchanter is not present here. Niviene is notable for her guile, but "Malory's Nymue especially does not fit the label 'wiley temptress' inevitably applied to Merlin's lover" (Holbrook, "Malory" 171). The pagan associations of Nymue to Diana have also been removed. She later ascribes her powers as an enchantress to God, for "being convicted in a righteous judgment seems more devastating than being victimized by a sorceress" (Holbrook 182). All diabolical traces in Nymue's magic are thereby removed. This is the same sort of exoneration attempted in the Vulgate Cycle, and here, again, Nyme ultimately takes on a respectable, domestic role–not this time as a mother, but as the wife of Pelleas.

     Malory also contradicts the Post-Vulgate Merlin by returning Nymue to her role as protectress. In her earliest incarnation, Nymue is the protector of Lancelot. Though Malory may or may not be aware of this, intervening texts maintain enough of this role that she becomes in Malory the protector of all of Arthur's court. This is manifested in several incidents which Malory adds to the Arthurian saga himself–Nymue is in the ship that takes Arthur to Avalon, and she becomes the "savior and beloved wife of Sir Pelleas" (Holbrook, "Malory" 181). This episode, entirely of Malory's invention, signals the complete redemption of Nymue's character, and may be included entirely for that purpose. After this, Christopher Dean notes that she is "no longer remembered for putting Merlin under a rock, she is now the lady 'which had wedded Sir Pelleas'" (Dean 4). After this episode, Nymue's entrapment of Merlin is never mentioned again; her status as the wife of Sir Pelleas and her helpfulness to Arthur's knights is. Unlike in the Post-Vulgate Merlin, her aid to Arthur's court extends far beyond the episode of Accolon and the false Excalibur. It is important to note that in Le Morte D'Arthur, Nymue has prophetic vision, and therefore, in a remnant of her role as Lancelot's protector, warns him never to fight with two other knights. One of these was Pelleas, so we may assume that "there her primary interest was in Pelleas" (Holbrook, "Malory" 184). At another point she lets it be known that the queen is innocent of poisoning a knight and names the correct offender, again likely protecting the queen due to her connection to Lancelot, yet by that time she has gained a reputation as a lady who always "did great goodness unto King Arthur and to all his knights through her sorcery and enchantments" (Malory 799). In this way, Nymue takes Merlin's place as Arthur's magical helper and adviser. Unlike in the Post-Vulgate Merlin, she is a worthy replacement for Merlin; indeed, Dean argues that she is even an improvement:

there can be no doubt that in one way Nyneve fills the assigned role of Arthur's supporter better than Merlin does ... Nyneve is young and better fits with the image of a new king and the new idealism that has come to the land. Secondly, Merlin turns in the end to evil, lustfully desiring Nyneve, whereas Nyneve ... properly marries Sir Pelleas. Thirdly, even though she helps Arthur, Nyneve makes no attempt to control him (Dean 6).


In adopting the accepted female role of the wife, Nymue conforms more than Merlin ever did. Malory depicts Nymue as an extremely benevolent character; especially considering his Post-Vulgate source, his Nymue is the kindest and most helpful to Arthur's court. It is not coincidence that she is also the most "traditional" in her role here. She does not dwell beneath an illusory lake, she does not rule over a kingdom of ladies, and unlike prior Ladies of the Lake in Malory, she is not even accompanied by her retinue of damsels. Her companion becomes Sir Pelleas.

     Malory clearly develops Nymue as a foil to the other prime magical female figure attached to Arthur's court, Morgan le Fay. These characters had long been paired in Arthurian legend, and Malory simply highlights the differences between them. This is especially significant as Berthelot points out that "it is easy to suggest that both characters were but one at the beginning ... When Christian tenets enter the scene and mix with old patterns, it may have been expedient to split this figure in two: the good fairy, and the bad, or the devilish, magician" (Berthelot, "Merlin" 166). The reason behind this is likely related to the way in which each figure relates to Arthur's court and the characters around her. In her early appearances in works such as Chretien de Troyes's Yvain, Morgan, too, is a benevolent healer. Her turn toward malevolence takes place in the Vulgate and Post-Vulgate, where the texts are adapted to a Christian audience by associated magic with evil and the devil. At this point, Nymue has the domestic role as Lancelot's foster-mother to make her character acceptable. Morgan, on the contrary, hates Lancelot, "the outcome of her hatred of Guinevere, and after she once had taken her place in romance as the fay who constantly sought to harm him, the Dame du Lac, Lancelot's guardian, naturally was represented as ready to foil her designs" (Paton 195-6). Morgan and Nymue are the most strongly identified with one another in the Post-Vulgate Cycle, where both have similar romantic relationships with Merlin, the only difference being that Morgan does sleep with the wizard and does not learn all of his secrets. In this text, where both are so strongly associated with Merlin and with magic, neither are portrayed very positively. The Vulgate puts Nymue in the role of mother, and Malory puts her in the role of the wife of Sir Pelleas, and her portrayal in each of these texts becomes positive, while Morgan remains as a negative presence. In Le Morte D'Arthur, in fact, Nymue "can be seen as the supernatural power for good that stands behind Arthur's throne and supports him when he needs that kind of help. She can in this way be seen to balance the supernatural power for harm that threatens Arthur's life and kingdom, namely Morgan le Fay. The Lady of the Lake and Morgan are thus a balanced pair" (Dean 5-6). In the end of Le Morte D'Arthur, both Morgan and Nymue are present in the barge which carries Arthur to Avalon, balancing each other, providing both hope and uncertainty about his ultimate end. Yet it is important that Morgan had been in the barge before Malory, and Nymue had not. After the thorough blackening of Morgan's character, placing Nymue in the scene reinforces the idea that Arthur is going to a good place, in the arms of a benevolent wife/mother figure. Altogether, Malory recreates Nymue as a powerfully benevolent figure by retelling certain events from the Post-Vulgate Merlin in a more positive light and adding new episodes in which she aids Arthur's knight and marries one of them; he emphasizes these good actions so strongly that Nymue, rather than Merlin's betrayer, becomes Arthur's savior, a transformation which is evidenced when she accompanies the ladies who take Arthur to Avalon.

     Nymue's positive portrayal suffered an abrupt reversal at the hands of Alfred, Lord Tennyson, who devotes an entire idyll solely to the story of how she enchants Merlin. In his Idylls of the King, Tennyson covers every phase of Arthur's reign, from the king's crowning to his death. Throughout the poems, Merlin represents the visionary, the poet, and the guiding hand behind the ideal reign Arthur is trying to achieve. The mage's defeat at the hands of a temptress foreshadows the defeat of Arthur's purpose by Guinevere's immoral actions. Nymue is now "the wily Vivien," (Tennyson 116), far different from any version of the character out of the medieval romances. Whereas in Malory Merlin was constantly following Nymue, attempting to lay with her, now Vivien is the pursuer, and Merlin the pursued. Vivien is no longer the daughter of a king; rather, her father died in battle against Arthur, and she was raised at the court of the evil King Mark. She comes to Camelot with the intent of tarnishing the good name of Arthur's knights: "I bring thee back,/ When I have ferreted out their burrowings,/ The hearts of all this Order in mine hand--/ Ay–so that fate and craft and folly close,/ Perchance, one curl of Arthur's golden beard" (Tennyson 117-118). It is only after Arthur fails to be ensnared by her spiteful advances that Vivien turns to Merlin, here depicted as an old man in fear of losing his life's work. He is not now willing to tell Vivien the fateful spell she asks to learn; she obtains it by seduction: "she call'd him lord and liege,/ Her seer, her bard, her silver star of eve,/ Her God, her Merlin, the one passionate love/ Of her whole life" (Tennyson 138). Nor is Vivien like the Ninniane of the Vulgate, who intends to entrap Merlin in order to keep him with her. Vivien's purpose is destruction of the Round Table, and so she maliciously locks Merlin away in an ancient oak in Brittany to prevent him being any further use to Arthur and his kingdom. Although he suspects this, Merlin cannot resist the temptress.

and what should not have been had been,

For Merlin, overtalk'd and overworn,

Had yielded, told her all the charm, and slept.

Then, in one moment, she put forth the charm

Of woven paces and of waving hands,

And in the hollow oak he lay as dead,

And lost to life and use and name and fame.

Then crying, 'I have made his glory mine,'

And shrieking out, 'O fool!' the harlot leapt

Adown the forest, and the thicket closed

Behind her (Tennyson 138).


Vivien does not appear again in the Idylls after this incident, either to redeem herself or to do further damage. Her entire purpose is accomplished with this one act.

     Tennyson is the author who, after centuries of evolution toward benevolence, removes the "taming," domestic roles from Nymue completely, much as the Post-Vulgate Merlin does, and here, too, the result is a villain more along the lines of contemporary portraits of Morgan le Fay. By the Victorian period, Nymue's reputation, aided by her portrayals as the wife of Pelleas, foster mother of Lancelot, and helper of Arthur, is virtually spotless. One contemporary critic states that, "In the Anglo-Norman romance, not a single word does the trouvere put into Vivienne's lips which is not spotless and untainted, and might not be uttered by the purest-hearted Christian lady" (Gurteen 190). This perceived purity was doubtless the goal of these early romances, but Tennyson, in focusing solely on the Merlin episode of the legend, removes all of that purity and re-envisions Nymue completely. The same critic is outraged by what he sees as a perversion of the legend: "the poet, in this instance, has utterly ignored poems, traditions, and romances, and has departed most widely from all pre-existing versions of the legend. In fact, he has invented a Vivienne unknown to any previous writer, the creature and invention of his own brain" (Gurteen 184). This reaction was not unanticipated by Tennyson. Originally "Vivien" was named "Nimue," and the poem was drafted with this title, but "he altered the name from Nimue to Vivien ... because Burne-Jones said that Nimue, the Lady of the Lake , was too gracious a character to have this story fastened upon her" (Jenkins 204). Vivien is now the reverse of the innocent maiden protecting her virginity. She is a seductress, and she is determined to use her wiles to destroy Arthur's court. In the Vulgate Cycle, the nurturing impulse of the mother is justified by making Ninianne a nurturing lover, but not even this redemption remains for Vivien: "We must remember that it was only after she had failed with Arthur that she turned to Merlin. Obviously, she felt nothing for him. She had no fleshly motive for her wickedness nor did she need any. Merlin was never more than a way for her to attack the Order of the Round Table" (Dean 27). This is exactly Morgan's goal in most interpretations of the legend of this period; Morgan le Fay does not feature in the Idylls, and Vivien seemingly takes her place. The fact that removing the domestic roles which are normally attributed to Nymue places her character in the same position as Morgan tells a great deal about the importance of these roles. In the Victorian era, this is especially true, as the importance of the domestic role for a woman was almost as important as it had been when the Vulgate Cycle first tamed Nymue: "As presiders over hearth and home, women who violated their duties or disrupted the domestic order by sexual indulgence were perceived as the worst possible threat to society" (Umland 276). Placing a woman in a dominant sexual role such as Vivien adopts in Tennyson's idyll reverses the order of nature. It also places Merlin in the role of a helpless victim, a dimension of the episode not seen to this extent before: "The active Merlin of Malory, unable to restrain his lustful desire for Nimue, became the passive Merlin of Tennyson, sorely besieged by an insistent woman. In this way the poet reversed the roles of the two protagonists" ( Staines 27). For the first time Vivien seduces Merlin, removing all sense of justice or even reason which may have been present in the episode before. After this, Vivien's purpose is achieved, and she never appears again in the idylls. There is no way to redeem her for such ruthlessness, and Tennyson does not try. Without Merlin, Arthur is without an advisor. Pelleas has an idyll of his own, but Vivien does not appear in it, nor does any equivalent character who might have the healing effect which Nymue does in Le Morte D'Arthur. Without Nymue's love, he becomes bitter and disenchanted, and denounces Arthur's court. Tennyson's statement is clear: an untamed woman is dangerous, and to demonstrate this he removes the taming influence of centuries from Nymue to show her as a more malevolent type of fairy lover.

     Modern treatments of Nymue have continued to accommodate a wide range of interpretations. The novel format has enabled the creation of a more rounded character, especially in works written by female authors such as Mary Stewart and Marion Zimmer Bradley. The extent to which each portrayal is positive, however, still depends largely on the extent to which Nymue behaves in a nurturing manner toward the figures of Lancelot, Merlin, and Arthur, often still in the wife and mother roles. In Mary Stewart's The Last Enchantment and The Wicked Day, Nymue appears as a singularly powerful figure, but also as Merlin's faithful companion and then the wife of Pelleas. She comes to Merlin eager to learn his craft, and even early in her training in the arts of prophecy is able to speak plainly to King Arthur: "'If there is something within oneself, something burning to be free, one knows of it' A look straight at him, equal to equal. 'You must have known it. I was still unborn, hammering at the egg, to get out into the air'" (Stewart Enchantment 327). Since the first of these works is told from Merlin's point of view, the relationship of these two characters and eventually the entrapment episode receives the main focus. Although Nimue first disguises herself a boy to receive Merlin's tutelage, he soon discovers her real identity, and the two form a very loving and trusting relationship. They live together in the cottage Merlin has built as though they are husband and wife: "We were the same person. We were part of each other as are night and daylight, dark and down, sun and shadow" (Stewart Enchantment 334). The idea of the two lovers as one person reaches a new level when an apparently dying Merlin brings Nimue to his crystal cave and passes his powers on to her so that she can continue to help Arthur in his place.

     As in the Vulgate Cycle, in The Last Enchantment the trapping of Merlin is less a betrayal and more an act of love. In fact, Mary Stewart presents us with perhaps the most positive extant rendering of this episode.

Nimue held my hand, and saw them with me, star for star, and held the cordial afterwards to my lips, while Galapas and the child Merlin, and Ralf and Arthur and the boy Ninian, faded and vanished like the ghosts they were. Only the memories remained, and they, now, were locked in her brain as they had been in mine, and would be hers for ever. ... gradually, as a bee sips honey from a flower, Nimue the enchantress took from me, drop by drop, the distillation of my days (Stewart Enchantment 345).


At Merlin's request, Nimue acquires all of his life experience and in so doing becomes his equal and an able replacement for him at Camelot. Moreover, she does it with the blessing of her dying lover. This is not the forceful extraction of a fateful spell seen elsewhere, rendering Nimue far more sympathetic in the part she must later play, as emphasized when she says to the recovered Merlin, "'after your death I must be Merlin. ... I had to do it, hadn't I? Force the last of your power from you, even though with it I took the last of your strength? I did it by every means I knew'" (Stewart, Enchantment 418). It is Nimue's love earlier love for Merlin which enables her to shut in his cave without any foul intention, and through her acquisition of Merlin's power Nimue not only is equal to Merlin but, in a way, becomes Merlin. In one of her brief appearances in The Wicked Day, she tells Mordred, "'Merlin saw, and he made the prophecy, and I am Merlin'" (Stewart, Wicked 246). Later, after Nimue has warned Arthur about the approaching Battle of Camlann, the king has a dream in which "standing in a boat, poling it through the shallow water, stood Nimue, only it was not Nimue, it was a boy, with Merlin's eyes. They boy looked at him gravely, and repeated, in Merlin's voice, what Nimue had said to him yesterday" (Stewart, Wicked 430). Nimue, therefore, is no second-rate substitute for Merlin at Arthur's court. All this while, however, she also "belongs" to some man. After Merlin's seeming death, she quickly becomes the wife of Pelleas, and remains so throughout The Wicked Day. More powerful and more sympathetic, arguably, than ever before, Nimue retains the domestic roles initially created to lessen her power and her threat. Though they do not define her character or make her into a stereotype, is telling that she is more sympathetic as a character in part because of these roles.

     In The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley takes a different approach to the character of the Lady of the Lake . If the Dame du Lac and Niniane of the Vulgate were originally separate characters merged into one, Bradley severs them from one another again–in fact, she turns the Lady of the Lake typically embodied in Nymue into three separate characters: Viviane, Niniane, and Nimue. All of these women are priestesses of a pre-Christian Goddess religion centered on the Island of Avalon , and the novel centers around their struggle to keep their religion viable in an increasingly Christian Britain . Viviane is the Dame du Lac who raises Lancelot, here not simply his foster mother but his biological mother. Niniane is the Lady of the Lake after Viviane's death, stepping into a role she knows she is not prepared for and which should have gone to Morgaine; she is also Mordred's lover. Nimue is the novice who is instructed to avenge Avalon by entrapping Kevin, the Merlin, who has stole items from their Holy Regalia and converted them into Christian symbols. Each of these characters possesses a great deal of power, and none can be seen in a wholly negative or wholly positive light: "Because Bradley has divided the one Vivien figure among so many women, each woman becomes intelligible and motivated; each woman is a character, not a type or a role" (Fuog 82). Of the three, Viviane is the only one who steps into the role of wife or mother–in this case, she is Lancelot's mother, but she is not the wholly benevolent, nurturing mother of the Vulgate Lancelot. From an early age, Viviane attempts to manipulate her son into accepting a role of power on Avalon, even when it becomes clear that this is not the path he has chosen: "'His father would give him land and estates in Brittany, but I saw to it before he was six years old that Galahad's heart would always be here at the Lake'" (Bradley 140). Morgaine, too, sees Viviane as a mother-figure, and is also manipulated by her. It is due to Viviane's machinations that Morgaine conceives a child with her brother, an incident which causes an all-but-irreparable breach between them. This is not the behavior of the pure, loving, domestic mother the Lady of the Lake in the Vulgate Lancelot was created to be. Instead, the role of mother here is a role of power and, far from trying to protect her "children," Viviane uses them to achieve her political ends. That she regrets what she sees as the necessity of doing so, however, prevents the character from complete malevolence. Viviane is attempting to what is best for Avalon, regardless of the personal cost.

     The other two incarnations of the Lady of the Lake in The Mists of Avalon are reminiscent of their counterpart in the Post-Vulgate Merlin in their freedom from any domestic role. Neither of them, however, resemble the fierce virgin huntress: "[Niniane and Mordred] had not parted when that season was over; and whenever, after that, in his comings and goings, anything had brought him to Avalon, she made it clear that she wanted him, and he had not said her no" (Bradley 598). Niniane, though she loves Mordred, also tries to acquire power for herself through him. This relationship dynamic, in fact, is typical of the relationships in The Mists of Avalon, resulting a general lack of the sort of compassionate, untainted love which Nymue shares with Pelleas in Le Morte D'Arthur: "Because power is limited and everyone wants it, men and women are always already in conflict; there is not equality, only struggle" (Fuog 86). Even Nimue's relationship with the Merlin Kevin, which comes to exhibit a real love between the two characters, is founded in a play for political power. Niniane and Morgaine send the virgin Nimue to seduce Kevin and ensnare him. The language Bradley uses and the fact that Nimue plays the part of seductress show the episode's strong basis in Tennyson, along with the fact that "Vivien and Nimue maintain the fiction that the men are seducing them" (Fuog 76). In addition, Nimue has power over Kevin here in the realm of magic.  She does not come to him to be taught anything, and she imprisons him "with a spell from her own knowledge and training on Avalon" (Fuog 78). Nimue's purpose, like that of Tennyson's Vivien, is fulfilled in this single episode; neither appears afterward–in Nimue's case this is because she has killed herself. She has betrayed her lover just as surely as Vivien betrays Merlin in Tennyson, but while Vivien takes a cruel joy in her treachery, Nimue cannot live with it. Though Nimue and Kevin never live happily together as Stewart's Merlin and Nimue do or as Merlin and Niniane of the Estoire de Merlin do after she weaves her spell of imprisonment, they do share a tortured love: "Day by day she wove her spell, with touches and glances and whispered words, as the moon waned away toward darkness. ... never, never in all the years of seclusion had she suspected herself of being capable of such passion, such hunger, and she knew that her spells were enhancing it in herself as in him" (Bradley 791). In Tennyson, Vivien's sexuality is a large part of her evil nature. In the twentieth century, this is no longer the case: "Nimue's sexuality is something positive, something that can be used to avenge treachery and bring  a traitor to justice" (Fuog 81). The betrayal, not the seduction, is what is important–the lack of compassion which tends to be associated with the incarnations of Nymue whose influence does not extend beyond the Merlin episode. While Bradley's Nimue does betray Merlin to his death, however, "Nimue's motivation, unlike Vivien's, is not petty" (Fuog 78) and she does show compassion for her victim. None of the representations of the Lady of the Lake in The Mists of Avalon, therefore, can be considered simply as "good," or wholly positive. Still, each character draws sympathy, largely because it is easy to trace and understand her motivation. In The Mists of Avalon, Nymue again becomes a fundamentally ambiguous character, or set of characters, like the figures from Celtic myth–equally capable of doing great harm or great good.

     From her origins, Nymue has been a character imbued with power, especially power associated with magic. Over time, this quality came to be viewed as threatening, particularly by an audience becoming increasingly Christian and concerned with issues of sexuality. The safe role for Nymue was that of wife or mother, domesticated versions of the fairy abductress and fairy lover. Even in the earliest extant sources, the increasing domestication of the Lady of the Lake can be seen. First she becomes the loving foster-mother of Lancelot, and then the wife of Sir Pelleas. When these roles are removed, the character automatically reverts to a more ambiguous state at best. In works such as the Idylls of the King, she reaches the extreme usually occupied by Morgan le Fay (in Le Morte D'Arthur, for example) of the evil enchantress. Today, the ability of authors to draw more psychologically round characters has made this strict categorization more difficult, but traces of the pattern can still be detected. Rather than being turned into a more malevolent sorceress, Nymue has largely taken on the role of the "good fairy" in the Arthurian legend, but episodes such as the imprisonment of Merlin still present problems for those wishing to draw a wholly benevolent portrait of this Lady of the Lake . Still, even texts such as the Vulgate Lancelot and the Estoire de Merlin, Malory, and Mary Stewart, which dwell on this episode in depth, do not necessarily draw negative conclusions or lay the blame at Nymue's door. The only works in which the character is entirely negative are the Post-Vulgate Merlin and the Idylls of the King. What separates these two works from the others is that neither of them contain episodes which might soften Nymue's character or show her in another light; she never shows herself in a role more sympathetic or acceptable to the audience, such as that of loving wife or concerned mother. In both instances when Nymue appears only as the ambitious enchantress, she is also wicked and villainous.



Berthelot, Anne. "From Niniane to Nimue: Demonizing the Lady of the Lake ." On      Arthurian Women: Essays in Memory of Maureen Fries. Ed. Bonnie Wheeler. Dallas : Scriptorium, 2001.

---. "Merlin and the Ladies of the Lake ." Merlin: A Casebook. Ed. Peter H. Goodrich and     Raymond H. Thompson. New York : Routledge, 2003.

Bradley, Marion Zimmer. The Mists of Avalon. New York : Ballantine Books, 1982.

Dean, Christopher. The Lady of the Lake in Arthurian Legend. Lewiston , NY : E. Mellen, 1993.

Fuog, Karen E. C. "Imprisoned in the Phallic Oak: Marion Zimmer Bradley and Merlin's Seductress." Quondum et futurus. 1.1 (1991): 73-88.

Gurteen, S. Humphreys. The Arthurian Epic: A Comparative Study of the Cambrian,  Breton, and Anglo-Norman Versions of the Story and Tennysons Idylls of the King. New York : Haskell House, 1895.

Holbrook, Sue Ellen. "Elemental Goddesses: Nymue, the Chief Lady of the Lake , and her Sisters." On Arthurian Women: Essays in Memory of Maureen Fries. Ed. Bonnie           Wheeler. Dallas : Scriptorium, 2001.

---. "Nymue, The Chief Lady of the Lake , In Malory's Le Morte Darthur." Arthurian   Women: A Casebook. Ed. Thelma S. Fenster. New York : Garland , 1996.

Jenkins, Elizabeth . The Mystery of King Arthur. New York : Coward, McCann &           Geoghegan, Inc., 1975.

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Stewart, Mary. The Last Enchantment. New York : Morrow, 1979.

---. The Wicked Day. New York : Morrow, 1983.

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[1] Berthelot argues that Diana is made into a negative, lecherous character in order to make Niniane appear comparatively positive: "The Post-Vulgate Suite in effect blackens the Diana-figure it uses as a model or inspiration for Niviene in order to offer a positive reading of Niviene's character" (Berthelot Demonizing 97). Given the direct connection between the two characters, however, this is not likely; the result is not flattering to either character.

[2] Berthelot suggests that "by assuming Merlin's function of supernatural advisor at Arthur's court, Niviene justifies her acts and becomes respectable" (Berthelot Demonizing 98), but her interference in this one incident hardly indicates an adequate replacement for the man who had previously helped Arthur constantly, certainly not to an extent which justifies her murdering him.