Any fellow reader looking at my bookshelf may wonder why there are so more tomes on the Arthurian legend than any other myths or fairy tales, with versions of the Trojan war/ Iliad coming a close second.
Well, I guess my love of tales of the legendary King and his noble Knights of the Round Table stem from the fact that my very first story book was a volume of Tales of the British Isles. In it, as you would have guessed, are stories of Arthur, Merlin, Galahad, Gawain, Tristan, Percival, and other popular anecdotes surrounding this bunch of noble warriors of a bygone era that grew more mythical with each telling. Growing up, one of my favourite books is Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Mists of Avalon, which offers a different perspective of the legend, which was subsequently made into a tele-movie, watched and loved by yours truly over the years.
So, when it came to Mary Stewart’s saga beginning with The Crystal Cave, then The Hollow Hills and followed by The Last Enchantment, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the series is written in the first person, with Merlin as the narrator. The Crystal Cave recounts young Merlin’s childhood, and takes one through his formative years in his Roman father’s army, right until his father’s death. The Hollow Hills follows Merlin abroad while he waited for Arthur to grow into the magnificent King and ends in his triumph and coronation as High King.
The Last Enchantment then details Arthur’s lifelong work, leading up to The Wicked Day, which I need to hunt down. In this series, Stewart attempts to debunk a little bit, the mystery surrounding Merlin’s magical power, portraying him as a clairvoyant who’s not only perceptive, intelligent and gifted in the arts of music, science and engineering, but is also a master strategist and inspiring mentor. If he’d been born in this century, it wouldn’t be hard to picture him as the CEO or Chief Advisor of a corporate or country. Although the wise Merlin had soft spots which made him susceptible, as all humans do, to errors involving emotions.
Some parts of the books were a little loquacious for me though so I’ll admit to skimming some pages. Stewart has a smooth, soothing narrative style and excels in detailing and fleshing out the background of the story vividly. She’s not just recounting the life and works of some mystical figure, but also reconstructing the events of those turbulent times. You feel that you’re not just reading, you’re learning history all over again.
Those readers who love her other historical fantasy works would find this series equally engrossing.