Browsing Books: Searching for Merlin Edition

Day’s book has also been released under the title The Quest for King Arthur

My mother used to say that the passions we most care about come to us by accident. That certainly was true of my affection for Merlin, smaller stories of whom intrigued me through childhood as I learned of Arthur, as well as when a set of books my mother purchased—and I initially ignored—mystically beckoned, revealing to me not more of Arthur, but rather the wizard I really wanted to know. I’d never experienced anything like him—whether within words, my own imagination, or memories of a past so distant their familiarity still remained somewhat vague, though shimmering.

Not unlike that day all those years ago, something summoned me recently. I reached into our armoire and pulled out the box set of a television series, The Adventures of Merlin, my son and I had “discovered” about eight years ago. I’d had no intention of re-visiting the show, yet into the Xbox the disk went and drawn I was back into the saga of someone I was first entranced by as a small child. Catching me unaware, Merlin once more drew me close, reminding me of his presence, and perhaps that I hadn’t been paying quite enough attention. He had never been demanding before; perhaps it was my own guilt I felt. Whatever the case, I made plans to seek out more to either revitalize my awareness or add to it. I immediately broke out my unfinished copy of Nikolai Tolstoy’s The Quest for Merlin and made a weekend date with the library.

As it turns out, perhaps the best items are at other branches, though that remains to be seen; I’ve requested a few items and will assess them when they arrive. What I did obtain, though not exactly what I’d been hoping for, will at least get me started as I commence my next journey with Myrddin Emrys, whose misted path I hope might become clear and brightly colored.

The Search for King Arthur (David Day) – I’d actually borrowed this book before, and it is one of several from today focused on the king, but the only one in which Merlin has his own chapter. Of course, all the major characters receive one but, not having found precisely what I’d been seeking, this will perhaps best move me forward. Few volumes focus entirely and exclusively on Merlin, for he and the others are woven together in a complex of symbolism and extended metaphor, but it is certainly possible to pick through the threads and re-discover much of what has retreated to the backs of our minds.

Romance of the Grail: The Magic and Mystery of Arthurian Myth (Joseph Campbell) – Compiled from lectures Campbell presented over the course of his lifelong journey studying mythology and “the larger patterns and meanings revealed in these myths.” Containing metaphors for the human stages of growth, Campbell believed they exemplified the development of humanity and discusses reflections, from all over the world, on the stories.

In the Land of Giants: A Journey Through the Dark Ages (Max Adams) – Seemingly linked in theory to Campbell’s ideas, Adams’s volume is “[a] cultural exploration of the Dark Age landscapes of Britain that poses a significant question: Is the modern world simply the realization of our ancient past?” While it does not appear to speak at all of Merlin et al., except possibly in passing, I was attracted to the travel angle and the author’s focus within the locales of their ancient past. “Part travelogue, part expert reconstruction, In the Land of Giants offers a beautifully written insight into the lives of peasants, drengs, ceorls, thanes, monks, knights, and kings during an enigmatic but richly exciting period of Britain’s history.” For me, much of this excitement stems from the possibilities of understanding regarding these more ordinary people within the times we still speak of today.

Finding Arthur: The True Origins of the Once and Future King (Adam Ardrey) – Arthur is really from Scotland, Adams posits (a claim he also makes for Merlin); the victors wrote the story and that’s why Scottish Arthur has been erased and recast as an English Christian king. I’m pretty sure I have borrowed this book before but never got a chance to read it; today I picked it up because I’m certainly open to reading what’s behind his assertions, and I probably should. It is true, after all, that the victors write the history. I confess to having heard of this theory before but not really giving it much airtime. It sounds a bit fantastic and, truth be told, I’m a little concerned it will come off as conspiracy theory-type reading. At the same time, truth is stranger than fiction, so who knows? I probably shouldn’t worry about whether I end up agreeing or not, liking  it or not. It’s a dive into history, which is always fascinating. However, I may switch over to the Merlin volume instead, given my limited reading time and how I’m currently needing to divvy it up by topic.

Worlds of Arthur: Facts and Fictions of the Dark Ages (Guy Halsall) – My dilemma related to the previous book entry, and indeed the book itself, can safely be ignored, according to this author. He doesn’t call Ardrey’s book out by name, at least not in the blurb, but does discount works that claim to reveal “the truth” behind the “historical” Arthur, who is largely a figment of the imagination anyway. I am a little intrigued at what might be the truth that is much more fascinating, as per jacket description, though flipping through the book brought me to one page with the following sentence: “Unless some important new written sources are discovered, which is unlikely, the construction of a detailed narrative political historical account is quite out of the question and always will be.” This seems rather restrictive to me, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned about history is that it often surprises us (perhaps because we fail to heed its warnings). It also reminds me a bit too much to Allison Weir’s assertion, in the opening pages of The Princes in the Tower, that we are unlikely to ever gain better evidence than what we already have regarding Richard III’s involvement (her “evidence” being laughably suspect, but that’s another story), and gives me a bit of an allergic reaction. Still, we’ll approach with caution and see where it takes us.

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