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Arthurian Literature: The Evolution of Merlin

Arthurian Literature: The Evolution of Merlin

In all the long history of literature, some fictional characters have loomed above others, written about again and again by various authors of various eras. Arthurian literature is one area of fiction that has always been popular for writers to recreate in new versions, and one of the most intriguing characters of all Arthurian literature is Merlin, the magician/ prophet who aids Arthur early in his reign. As the Arthurian saga develops, so does Merlin, changing from an aloof, druidical character into a more human, magical being, though always retaining some traces of his Welsh origins.

Merlin gains his first mention in eight ancient Welsh poems attributed to the Welsh bard Myrddin. (Bruce) Signs of his Welsh, druidical heritage are all through the verses. One poem invokes an apple-tree to hide Merlin from his pursuing enemies, and magical apple-trees are common in Welsh fairyland. Another of Merlin’s purported poems is addressed to a little pig, and in another he mentions a wolf as one of his few companions. Both of these animals are common devotional cult-objects in Welsh druidism. One poem indicates that Merlin/Myrddin spends a great deal of his time with deer, perhaps even appearing in the form of a stag and living as one. This description is reminiscent of the Welsh stag-god Cernunnos, “The Horned One,” who appears as a man with a stag’s head and associates with deer. (Tolstoy) In the Welsh poem “Ymddiddan Myrddin a Thaliesin” (“The Dialogue of Merlin and Taliesin”), written down around 1050, we receive our first indication of Merlin’s most prominent gift in later literature, that of prophecy. The poem ends with the lines “Since I, Myrdin, am next after …

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…ne of the great and enigmatic characters of the Matter of Britain and, for that matter, of all literature.

Works Cited

Bruce, Dr. James Douglas.

The Evolution of Arthurian Romance. Gloucester, Mass.: Peter Smith, 1958.

Loomis, Roger Sherman.

The Arthurian Romance. London: Hutchinson

Arthurian Features in That Hideous Strength

Arthurian Features in That Hideous Strength

Tales change with every teller. Features may be added or subtracted, stories may be broken apart or combined. Often the story-teller will adapt the tale for his own purposes to emphasize some theme of his own. C. S. Lewis uses and modifies older sources in many ways in his novel That Hideous Strength, incorporating themes and portions of Arthurian literature to add color and emphasize the subjects of his plot.

Lewis includes many direct references to older Arthurian literature in his novel. The leader of his group of heroes is the former philogist Ransom, at first known as “Mr. Fisher-King,” who has a wounded foot. The name and the wound are obvious reminders of the Fisher-King myth which produces the quest for the Holy Grail in Malory, and the allusion is further supported when for his meal he is served only “a small flacon of red wine, and a roll of bread” (Lewis, p. 149) — reminders of the Last Supper and the resulting relics that the Fisher-King is associated with. Lewis’ tale differs in that the Fisher-King is the same person as the Pendragon. Yet his tale also combines a quest for holy things (eldilic help through Merlin) to heal the sickness of the land with a great, climactic battle against evil, thus merging the two characters’ functions as well as their attributes. Also, as in earlier versions of the story, the Pendragon disappears after his final battle is completed, and the crowning conflict itself takes place in a dense fog which obscures everything.

When Merlin arrives, his full name is given as Merlinus Ambrosius, the name he is given in one of his earliest appearances in Arthurian literature, Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Reg…

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…e medieval world may have been closer, in a way, to the truths of the universe than most of us modern, advanced, proud, scientific, atheistic, ambitious people. Science can be a great blessing, but only if it is used correctly and for the good of all humanity and, more importantly, all creation. Though Lewis deals with small, unimportant people — fellows of small colleges and maids from small towns — he places them in a setting and situation of Arthurian scope, and thus brings out the great nobility of ordinary man.

Works Cited

Lewis, Clive Staples.

That Hideous Strength. Macmillan Publishing Co.: New York, NY (1946).

Malory, Sir Thomas.

Works. Eugene Vinaver, ed. Second edition. Oxford University Press: New York, NY (1971).

White, T. H.

The Once and Future King. The Berkley Publishing Group: New York, NY (1958).

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