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Morgan Le Fay, an enchantress and yet also a healer, is the half sister to King Arthur according to legend and literature.

Throughout Arthur’s reign, Morgan schemes to remove Arthur from his throne, even attempting to take his life, but does not succeed. Morgan brings danger and mystique to the Arthurian stories.

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Her Character

Some characters in literature are clearly good or evil, the protagonist or the antagonist, but other characters are not so easily labeled or defined. Morgan Le Fay is one of the latter.

Although she is the half-sister of King Arthur and understood as his enemy, she is also a healer. However, Morgan Le Fay is generally thought to be evil and extremely dangerous.

Why Is She Important?

Thomas Malory, the author of Le Morte de Arthur, adapted the character Morgan Le Fay from Celtic legends, where she was already an established enchantress and shape shifter, as it were. Morgan is the older half-sister of King Arthur and the daughter of Queen Igerna and Gorlois.Morgan cannot be trusted and easily disguises herself to achieve her own purposes. She can change her appearance, becoming old, young, beautiful, or ugly, at will.

Morgan Le Fay brings to Arthurian legend what every good story needs–mystique, and the ever-present possibility of danger. Morgan represents the ‘beautiful evil,’ as it were, the yearned-after desire that can destroy. Because of characters like Morgan, we have a strong Celtic root of storytelling magic, from which spring other villains in tales told throughout the generations.

Stories of Morgan Le Fay

Vita Merlini

In 1150, the poet Geoffrey of Monmouth first introduced Morgan Le Fay in a poem called Vita Merlini, as the eldest of nine sisters living on an island called the Isle of Apples. There she practices witchcraft, healing, and shape shifting.

Her half brother, Arthur, is injured in the Battle of Camian and brought to her home to be healed by her skillful hands. So, it seems the relationship between Morgan and Arthur starts out well.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

But that is not to last for long. Morgan appears as an unattractive, old woman in the poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. In this famous poem, a green knight appears at the Round Table during a post-Christmas celebration, challenging someone to chop his head off with an ax in return for the favor of chopping off the contender’s head on New Year’s Day the following year. King Arthur hesitates momentarily, but then takes the challenge, only to be dissuaded by Sir Gawain, who himself volunteers.

Sir Gawain chops off the Green Knight’s head, but the knight is enchanted, and after being decapitated, picks up his head and rides off. The tale goes on, leaving Sir Gawain whole and healthy, but it is only at the end of this tale that we realize who is behind it all: none other than Morgan Le Fay. It seems her chief desire was to frighten King Arthur’s wife, Queen Guinevere. Once more, Morgan entwines herself into tales, attempting to test, deceive and foil the happiness and plans of others.

Le Morte D’Arthur

In Le Morte D’Arthur, written by Sir Thomas Mallory in 1485, Morgan Le Fay creates a duplicate of Arthur’s famed sword, Excalibur, which she gives to Sir Accolon, a knight she hopes will fight and defeat her half-brother.

Excalibur is the magical sword given to King Arthur by The Lady of the Lake, in a sense knighting Arthur with the task of protecting Britain. The sword itself cannot be broken, and the scabbard keeps its owner from being injured to the point of death. Thus, if Morgan Le Fay could fool Arthur into thinking he has Excalibur when in fact he has the duplicate, she could quite possibly cause his death.

Here we see the duplicity in Morgan. At times, she is the healer and, at times, the murderess.The story goes on to indeed show that Morgan has managed to give the false sword to Arthur and the genuine Excalibur to Sir Accolon. However, The Lady of the Lake intervenes by revealing Morgan’s scheme to Arthur, who cancels the fight.

Morgan doesn’t give up easily and steals Arthur’s scabbard. Arthur gives chase, so Morgan tosses the scabbard into a nearby lake and shape shifts into a large stone. In a pretense of repentance, Morgan creates a lovely jeweled cloak, which she sends by way of a servant girl to give to her half-brother, who by now must be irritated by Morgan’s tricks. Once again, The Lady of the Lake warns Arthur, who insists that the servant girl try on the cloak.

In a literal ‘killing of the messenger,’ we see the girl immediately consumed by flames. Drats to Morgan, who is foiled, again!Later, after King Arthur dies, Morgan arrives by ship to honor the king, once again residing on the Island of Apples as a healer. Full circle, we still find Morgan to be as mysterious and dangerous as ever.

Learning Outcomes

Following this lesson, you’ll be able to:

  • Explain who Morgan Le Fay is and the importance of her character in Arthurian legend
  • Describe the most famous stories of Morgan Le Fay

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