While the books of Mary Stewart’s Merlin Trilogy can be read as stand-alone books, they are best read as a trilogy. The first book, ‘The Crystal Cave’ follows Merlin’s life up to the conception of King Arthur. This book follows on and covers the time from the birth of Arthur, through to the time that Arthur becomes King. The third book, ‘The Last Enchantment’ covers the rest of Merlin’s life. There is also a sequel, ‘The Wicked Day’ which describes Mordred’s life.
Once again, Mary Stewart presents a unique interpretation of the Arthurian legend. In this story Merlin and Arthur are cousins and Merlin is responsible for keeping Arthur secret and safe and ensuring his training for the role of King.
King Uther has decided that he will only acknowledge Arthur as his heir if he has no legitimate sons. So, Arthur must be kept safe and ignorant of his parentage. Arthur is secretly taken from Tintagel shortly after his birth and spends his early childhood in Brittany with Merlin’s childhood nurse then joins the court of a minor British King (Ector) to receive his training in arms.
While he is with Ector, Arthur befriends the keeper of a chapel in the forest – this, of course, is Merlin in disguise. In this way Merlin is able to train Arthur and teach him the stories surrounding his life. Also staying with Ector is another noble son, Bedwyr (known as Lancelot in other versions of the story).
As Uther’s health begins to fail, Arthur is brought out of hiding and presented as the King’s heir. And of course the famous sword – Caliburn is found and taken from the stone by Arthur.
I enjoy the way that Mary Stewart has made Merlin very human and very fallable. I also enjoyed that Arthur has been given a reasonably believable childhood with the triumphs and insecurities that come with it.
This is a brilliant series and I can’t wait to keep going with ‘The Last Enchantment’.
Book Published 1973