It’s Witch Week! Actually, this is my first year participating in Witch Week which is hosted by Lory at The Emerald City Book Review. The theme this year is ‘Dreams of Arthur’ and I have decided to read The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart which is told from Merlin’s point of view. One thing the book blogging community does well is to encourage others to read more widely. Honestly, I don’t read much fantasy and I may not have picked up this book if I were not participating in this event. However, I am so glad I read this book because I really enjoyed it!
Summary from Goodreads: Fifth century Britain is a country of chaos and division after the Roman withdrawal. This is the world of young Merlin, the illegitimate child of a South Wales princess who will not reveal to her son his father’s true identity. Yet Merlin is an extraordinary child, aware at the earliest age that he possesses a great natural gift – the Sight. Against a background of invasion and imprisonment, wars and conquest, Merlin emerges into manhood, and accepts his dramatic role in the New Beginning – the coming of King Arthur.
The Crystal Cave is the first book in a trilogy that is told from Merlin’s perspective. This book, which is narrated by Merlin, opens the story when he is just six years old. We read along as he grows and learns how to use his unusual gift: The Sight. We journey with him through his adolescence where he meets his father, are held in rapt attention as he makes legendary prophesies and witness the dangerous lengths he went to in helping to bring forth King Arthur.
This book is more than just setting the stage for the main event though, which is the coming of King Arthur. Here, we are introduced to the young Merlin: to the boy and adolescent before he becomes the legend we all know him to be. We read how he is influenced by The Sight and how he grows into young adulthood. I enjoyed reading about the ordinary, logical aspects of his personality that are often lost in the legend. It’s interesting how stories evolve over time making someone larger than life. Even in this book, we read how the stories and songs about Merlin were creating a false- although, magically fantastic – picture of him, until they barely resembled the real story.
I liked how the legendary, almost supernatural side of Merlin could be logically explained. There was a valid reason his mother never told anyone who his father was, there was a mathematical precision to moving the stones at Stonehenge and his prophesies with Vortigern show someone quick of mind without removing the prophetic mystery that makes Merlin who he is.
I was disappointed that Merlin’s mother and father never got the chance to see each other again after so many years apart. It would have been nice for them to connect again, even if it was only to be thankful for Merlin. I wonder, if they had the chance to meet again, what would have happened? His mother really suffered in refusing to name Merlin’s father. Did she love Ambrosius? Or was she protecting someone? Her son? Or, perhaps, herself? That is open to interpretation and although I want to say that she loved Ambrosius (and who knows, maybe she did), but, the fact remains that she was a mom, and so, was most likely protecting her son. Then again, it could have been all of the above.
For me, one of the most interesting scenes was when he prophesied before Vortigern. This whole scene from witnessing his mother reveal his father’s identity – in a very engrossing way, – through the prophesies of the dragons and becoming ‘Vortigern’s prophet’. I was completely absorbed in this story. I was all ears, in a manner of speaking, as his mother told the court about Merlin’s father, then later, I was eager to read how he would get out of the predicament he found himself in. It was great storytelling!
As someone who doesn’t read much in this genre, I thought this was a great book to begin my adventures into fantasy because, for me, the story wasn’t so fantastic and magical as to be unbelievable. At times I found myself reading this as though it were historical fiction- my favorite genre! – which speaks well of Stewart’s writing. The magical and supernatural were balanced with a logic and rationality that kept me reading. We read that Merlin was a lonely and odd child who grew up amid rumors of an unholy union between his demonic father and Christian mother. His unusual gift could be viewed as Satanic power that stems from his father (Actually, I was surprised to find out who really passed on that gift). And so, it’s not difficult to believe that this would have shaped him as an outsider going into young adulthood.
This book is very much a story of self discovery for Merlin; he needs to find and make his own way in life and he does just that. This is Merlin before he becomes a legend and before King Arthur.
Thank you Lory for hosting this event! It allowed me to stretch myself and broaden my reading horizons. Now, I want to finish reading this trilogy and see how this story plays out.