Morgan Le Fay has been portrayed in various styles and forms throughout history. Her character has been proposed to be good or evil, depending on the century and author that is followed. The fact she is seen as the hero and villain makes her an intriguing character.
One of the first accounts of Morgan is in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Vita Merlini.
In these early descriptions of her, she was a shape-shifting saint who was aligned with the sea. The earliest version of her name, Morgen, actually means seaborn and is derived from Welsh Mythology.
She appeared in Avalon as the eldest sister of nine and a great healer. She saved Arthur after he was fatally wounded in the battle of Camlan by using her magical healing powers. She was seen as a natural force like the wind and used her power for good.
Morgan the Villain
However, that changed when, in the 13th century France, she seemed to undergo a series of adjustments that turned her into a dark force with ambitions to take Arthur’s throne and manipulate men for her own benefit. Her motives are no longer seen as pure, and she becomes an antagonist with dark powers such as flying, raising the dead, turning men into animals and controlling monsters such as dragons.
She was given the epithet of Le Fay in the 15th century by the author Thomas Mallory. The name is derived from a supernatural woman of the Celtic mythology. This was when her name became intractably linked to the word Fay or “fairy.” She was considered a water spirit. The water spirits were essential to Celtic lore, but the magical annotation that Mallory linked to her name seeped through history and remains today.
By the 19th century, Morgan was tainted by the Christian bias and was portrayed as an evil seductress. She used her magic and powers to get what she wanted and destroyed those who opposed her using shapeshifting and magic capable of controlling monsters.
The relationship between Morgan and Merlin is one of much discussion also.
Various texts speak of their affair and attraction, though some say Morgan was the pursuer and chased Merlin until he caved to her feminine wiles. While others pronounce that Merlin sought Morgan and developed a relationship with her. Most texts agree that he was the principal teacher of her magical abilities, though, and he was a significant influence in her life for a time.
Through all of history, the fact that Morgan took Arthur to the Isle of Apples, Avalon, to save his life is a crucial piece of information. Most tales declare Arthur and Morgan are half-siblings, though the details often differ.
One piece of information that is not well explored is that in the French stories Morgan had a child with her Husband King Urien of Gore or perhaps the lover, Guiomar, with whom she had an affair while married to Urien. There is minimal talk about the child until he is an adult when he is described as her son, Ywain, and also a great knight. This information isn’t added to the story until the 13th century.
Modern, 21st century, incarnations of Morgan le Fay see her as a villain in the story. She is portrayed as a megalomaniac who wants to overthrow Arthur and has no goodwill towards her fellow sorcerer Merlin. She is a power-hungry seductress and will stop at nothing to get what she wants.
Though some recent work portrays her in a softer light, she is an easy villain to cast as she has always been cast as powerful. Power and femininity quickly turned to wickedness in the earlier centuries.
Morgan’s story has not been left in the past, she has trickled down through time and gained fresh eyes after her first appearance in a comic book. That was none other than Black Knight #1 penned in 1955 by Stan Lee.
Marvel comics later picked up on the Morgan le Fay character, portraying her as the supervillain. In their rendering of her, she was half-fairy and a half-sister to Arthur. She could project her astral form into the future leading to feuds with ‘modern day’ Dr.Strange, Iron Man and the Avengers. She was also immortal, which is the reason given as to her proficiency in the dark arts. Her immortality was said to come from her half-fairy heritage, though, and along with that, she was made sensitive to iron or steel in both her astral and physical forms.
In the 1970’s she was the enemy of Spider-Woman and a former lover of Dr.Doom. The later had traveled back in time to seek her help in freeing his mother’s soul from hell.
DC comics soon followed suit and cast Morgana as a villain in their comic titled “The Demon” in 1972, created by Jack Kirby. She then enjoyed an extended storyline that had her battle against many of their characters, including Superman, Wonder woman and Batman. Under DC comics, she was no longer immortal but had to steal her immortality from other beings.
More recently Morgan has made her way into video games in both the Marvel and DC comics worlds. In both, she is portrayed as the villain.
In Lego Marvel Superheroes 2 she created a dragon in her plot to take Arthurs throne. And in DC comics Batman: The Brave and the Bold, she teams up with the Clock King and must be defeated by Batman.
There have been dozens of movies featuring Morgan Le Fay in her various forms and as both the hero and the villain. Some notable stars have portrayed her including Elizabeth Hurley in the upcoming Runaways, Helena Bonham Carter in Merlin (miniseries 1998), Alice Krige in The Sorcerers Apprentice (2010) and Laura Rees in Young Arthur (2002).
Even Morgan’s name has been debated. She is also credited under the names Morgan(n)a, Morgain(a/e), Morg(a)ne, Morgant(e), Morge(i)n, and Morgue(in). Creating some confusion, depending on the story, as to her origin.
Though every retelling or variation differs, the story of Morgan never depicts her as anything other than a powerful magic being. Whether she is good or evil is up for debate, though perhaps she is neither and both.
One thing is certain, Morgan’s character is here to stay in the Arthurian legends and main-steam entertainment. Whether she is portrayed as a vengeful antagonist or a misunderstood protagonist, she is an entrenched part of the, and the story is richer for her.