Monday, June 25

Stephan Lawhead: Merlin

The second instalment in the five book Pendragon Cycle, Merlin, is a kind of autobiography of the famous wizard told in retrospect.
He tells of his childhood in the halls of Avalon, his kidnapping by the hill folk and eventual escape, his coronation, his marriage, the murder of his wife and unborn child and the madness that follows through to his political machinations that result in the hiding of the future king Arthur and eventually this book ends with him plunging the famous sword into its stone.
Demystifying the traditional picture of a powerful wizard, this book describes Merlin as a prodigy whose thirst for knowledge is fed by a wide variety of sources and whose abilities are consolidated by years of practice. Merlin’s supposed powers here are a result of his ability to apply his uniquely broad education and insight. Though Lawhead keeps some of the magical elements of the story these play a minor part and are the exception rather than the rule. There is a heavy focus on Merlin as a Christian. We also see him as a son, friend, husband, king and madman before his final appearance as the magical advisor we recognise from legend.
While this story didn’t have the same world building that was so well done in Taliesin, Lawhead nevertheless, manages to bring Dark Age Britain to life.
I was a little put off by the emphasis on the Christian nature of Merlin’s spirituality, mainly because in the bulk of my reading it is Arthur who adopts the Christian faith. Merlin has always been presented as an adherent of the Druidic Path and I feel it suits his "historic" character better than this alternate representation.
I quite liked the mundane explanations for some of the more fantastic elements of the Arthurian legend. Particularly well done was the way Merlin occasionally refers to the absurdity of the stories that have grown up around certain events.
The one thing that I found incredibly frustrating was having no concept of Merlin’s age or more specifically the time line of events. Merlin is said to be old and appears to have outlived many of his contemporaries. Still at the end of this book his Atlantean mother, grandfather, servant and aunt are still all alive and well (it is said that they have longer life expectancies due to their heritage). It made it very difficult to get a picture of how much time was passing and approximately how old the other characters were during the major events. Detail that was perhaps not strictly necessary for the story but that would have cast it in a clearer light.
Overall I liked this book. It presents a reasonably believable story with well-developed main characters. I shall certainly be continuing on with this series. - Lynn

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