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Place Name Variants: Avilion, AfallachBackground Essay Author: Leila K. Norako
The Isle of Avalon, most famous as the final resting place of Arthur in many stories and legends, has neither a fixed location nor a fixed description throughout the literary canon of Arthuriana. Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae (c. 1136) is the oldest extant work including references to Avalon. He calls it Insula Avallonis, refers to the island's alleged healing powers, and claims that Arthur’s sword was forged there. Geoffrey also refers to Avalon in his Vita Merlini as the “Isle of Apples” (Insula Pomorum), an epithet rooted in Celtic, Greek, and Scandinavian mythological traditions in which apples frequently possess magical properties. In both the Historia and Vita, Arthur is transported to Avalon after being mortally wounded, in hopes that he will be healed on the isle (in the Vita Merlini by none other than Morgan le Fay, who is benevolent in earlier Arthurian legends). Support for the theory of Avalon’s Celtic origins stems in part from the folkloric tradition surrounding the Isle of Arran, located in the Firth of Clyde. It has been frequently likened to the island of Emhain Abhlach (“Emhain of the Apple Trees”), a place associated with the Irish sea god Manannan. As Mike Dixon Kennedy suggests in Arthurian Myth and Legend, Geoffrey was likely inspired by the extant Celtic tradition of such a place. It should be pointed out, however, that no conclusive evidence can be found that directly traces the influence of Celtic mythology and legend to the genesis of Avalon and its literary tradition; while speculations abound and are, in many cases, well defended and researched, they cannot be proven. Regardless, Avalon is consistently represented as a mysterious and otherworldly place, even after being associated...

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