Lots of Running Around Historical Sites

Da Vinci Code

A very popular and controversial book by Dan Brown.  The movie starred Tom Hanks as Professor Robert Langdon, a symbologist [fictional career] at Harvard.  Sir Ian McKellan (Gandalf and older Magneto, amongst other roles in his illustrious career) appears as Sir Leigh Teabing.  Alfred Molina (the bad guy in the live-action Sorcerer’s Apprentice, briefly appeared in Prince of Persia, he voiced bad guy Viggo Grimborne in the How To Train Your Dragon series Race to the Edge [love the show, we will definitely cover it down the road]; but he’s most notable as Doc Ock in Spider-Man 2…and may be reprising the role in the upcoming Tom Holland Spider-Man movie) pops in as a bishop.  And the talented Paul Bettany (Dr. Stephen Maturin in Master and Commander, Geoffrey Chauce in A Knight’s Tale, Jarvis/Vision in the MCU, Dryden Vos in Solo: A Star Wars Story, and Lord Melbourne in The Young Victoria) is once again naked at some point as Silas.  The film is also directed by Ron Howard (who has directed Tom Hanks in these movies as well as Splash and Apollo 13).

Angels and Demons was the book’s prequel, but the film’s sequel since they didn’t know if Da Vinci Code would be successful [there are further books in the series, including The Lost Symbol (which I have read) and Inferno, which I just started reading [not nearly as engaging at the moment as Once Upon a Time or Librarians] and unaware they made into a film as well…I shall have to investigate].  Hanks returns as Langdon, joined by Ewan McGregor (Obi-Wan Kenobi, Lumiere in the live-action Beauty and the Beast [where McKellan was Cogsworth], as well as appearing in Miss Potter, Moulin Rouge, and Down with Love) as Camerlengo Patrick McKenna [he was Italian in the book; they changed him to Irish because McGregor is certainly not Italian].  Stellan Skarsgård (Bootstrap Bill Turner in Pirates of the Caribbean, Bill in Mamma Mia, Captain Tupolev in The Hunt for Red October, and he even appears in the MCU as Eric Selvig) is Commander Richter.  If the Inspector looks familiar, he was General Glozelle in Prince Caspian.  (And yes, Alfred Molina provides the opening voiceover).

Da Vinci Code opens with an old man’s death inside the Louvre, Silas searching for answers.  Robert Langdon is called in because of the strange markings…and the police believe him to be a suspect.  He’s helped out by Sophie, who turns out to be the curator’s granddaughter.  Langdon was supposed to meet with the curator, but the man never showed.  Invisible ink at the crime scene reads “O Draconian devil, O lame saint,” and the Fibonacci sequence out of order.  If you rearrange the letters, it spells out Leonardo da Vinci, Mona Lisa.  There are painted the words “so dark the con of man,” leading to Madonna of the Rocks where a cross topped with the Fleur de Lis is found.  Langdon and Sophie follow the clues, after distracting the police.

Langdon goes on to tell Sophie about the Priory of Scion, that worked against the church because it guards the secret of God’s power on Earth.  Opposing the Priory is another secret society, Opus Dei (to which Silas belongs).  Langdon claims that the Templar Knights were the military arm of the Priory, and that the reason for the Crusades were to find an artifact.  They did, but then the church turned on them and killed them.  Langdon tells Sophie they are searching for the Holy Grail.  The key leads to a Swiss bank with a long term safety deposit box.  Inside the box is a wooden box topped with a rose, supposedly the symbol for the Holy Grail.  But the police are onto Sophie and Robert, though they escape thanks to the manager because of a “safe passage clause” that came with the deposit box.  Except he turns on them once they’re safe and tries to kill them.  Robert manages to knock him out and they drive to an old friend of his who is a Grail historian, Leigh Teabing.

Inside the rose box is a cryptex, designed by da Vinci.  A five letter word will open the cryptex, but if it is forced, the secret map inside will be destroyed.  Teabing lets Robert and Sophie in after they have answered three questions.  He then explains that the Holy Grail is not a cup, but instead is a woman.  The bloodline of Jesus Christ; he married Mary Magdalene, but that was not the image that the Church wanted of their Savior, so they hid the secret [I must admit, McKellan pulls off academic speech rather well].

Silas has been after this secret as well and has made his way to Teabing’s house and attacks.  Leigh and Sophie take him down after he knocks Robert out.  Leigh determines they need to head for England now.  They find a clue beneath the rose in the box; they must find a knight interred in London, overseen by a Pope.  They first head to Temple Church, but the knights are effigies, not tombs.  Silas pops back up and kidnaps Leigh.  Sophie and Robert make a run for it and Robert finally deduces that “A. Pope” means Alexander Pope, who oversaw Newton’s funeral (because Newton’s work on gravity angered the church, supposedly). 

We discover that Leigh has been playing both sides of the game.  He is the voice of the “Teacher” that has been instructing Opus Dei.  He sends cops to kill Silas, who accidentally shoots his bishop mentor while trying to escape.  The bishop was also the one who planted the idea with the French police that Langdon was responsible.  Leigh catches up to Sophie and Robert at Westminster Abbey, where they’re trying to figure out what orb is missing from Newton’s tomb.  That orb will be the five letter word they need to unlock the cryptex.  Leigh admits he will do anything to find the Grail.  When he threatens to shoot Sophie, Robert works out the clue.  He then throws the cryptex to Leigh, who crashes to the ground, breaking the cryptex.  The police arrive then and arrest Leigh.

But Robert had worked out the clue: apple.  The scroll inside points Sophie and him to ancient Roslyn, where the tomb of Mary Magdalene lies under starry sky.  Their next stop is Roslyn Chapel in Scotland (supposedly built by the Templars [it was built by the Sinclair family in the fifteenth century]).  The couple ventures into the basement where there are carvings of stars and they find a secret door down further.  But there is no sarcophagus. There is research, detailing the bloodline and Robert finally makes the connection; Sophie was not the curator’s actual granddaughter.  The curator was the Grand Master of the Priory of Scion and he took Sophie in when the rest of her family were killed.  He trained and guarded her; for she is the descendant of Mary Magdalene [yes, the Sinclairs are descendants of the Saint-Clairs of Normandy, France…which Saint-Clair is actually a place name, so not really “the oldest family in France”].

They meet more of the Priory, who will protect Sophie.  Robert advises that she could reveal her secret to the world, but would the living descendent of Jesus Christ destroy or renew faith?  Back in Paris, Robert mulls over the Rose Line, which is a trail that runs through Paris.  He follows it and finds one over the Louvre, where the bottom of the glass pyramid meets a mirrored sculpture.  We’re shown that deep below that lies the actual sarcophagus, beneath the starry sky of Paris.

Angels and Demons begins with a Pope’s death and the ceremonial events that follow.  At the same time, the collider in Cern creates anti-matter for the first time in a large enough quantity to be studied.  Then one of the canisters is stolen.  The Vatican Police visit Robert Langdon at Harvard, requesting his help because it appears that the Illuminati have resurfaced.  He wrote a book on the subject and his recent involvement with the church (meaning the Da Vinci Code) have recommended him to their service.  The Inspector is pleased for Langdon to help, but Commander Ritcher doesn’t trust him.  The four favored Cardinals have been kidnapped and are threatened to be executed once an hour, by the Illuminati.  The Illuminati are a secret society made up by scientists who were persecuted by the church for their radical thinking.

Robert teams up with Vittoria, the lead scientist on the antimatter that was stolen and is now shown to be beneath Vatican City somewhere, where thousands have gathered to find out who will be named the new Pope.  It’s now a race around Rome to discover where the Cardinals are hidden, which may lead to the secret Illuminati church.  First, Robert needs access to the Vatican archives in order to find the first clue, hidden in Galileo’s journals.  Robert is granted access by Patrick; he holds some authority now since he was the Pope’s chamberlain.  (It is an exciting dash around Rome, but hard to write out.)

Robert manages to rescue the last Cardinal; they are too late to save the others each time they get to the marker.  He begins to suspect Commander Ritcher and is almost proven correct when Ritcher is discovered threatening Patrick.  Patrick has the final brand on his chest from the Illuminati.  It is also discovered that the previous Pope was poisoned, but now they have an idea where the antimatter is located.  Patrick agrees to take a helicopter up and let it detonate in the air, rather than below ground.  It seems like Patrick is the hero.

Until Robert has a hunch.  He finds security footage showing Ritcher confronting Patrick.  It was Patrick who arranged for the antimatter to be stolen because he feels that the church is going soft by embracing science.  If he resurrected the Illuminati, it would unite Christianity and bring faith back to the forefront.  Robert and Vittoria go to the head Cardinals and show them the footage.  Instead of them electing Patrick, he is to be arrested, though he burns himself alive before he can be handcuffed.  Instead, the Cardinals elect the final preferred Cardinal, who takes the name Luke, signaling that the world needs faith and science.  In thanks to Robert, he allows Robert to access the archives in order to finish his book, on the condition that in his will, the works are gifted back to the Vatican.

I first read Da Vinci Code for a project in high school; I recall the teacher not wholly agreeing with my assessment on the book, though we did go as a class to see the film when it released.  My friend, who was strongly religious, whispered disagreement with the film during the show.  It has also been proven after the release of his books, that statements Dan Brown makes as “fact” are inaccurate.

My take?  These are exciting and interesting books, a good page-turner.  The movies are also fantastic action-adventure films, but yes, a bit controversial.  I made the remark to a teacher once that I prefer the “Indiana Jones version of the Holy Grail.”  And really, da Vinci and Arthurian legends have little in common; they’re from different cultures, one born in Italy, the other with a strong basis in Britain with influences from France…yeah, you can thank the French for the love triangle.  But because a lot of history is unknown since records are hard to find for some things,  conspiracies are born to explain what we don’t know.  I do recommend both the books and movies as a good time, just don’t take them at face value.

Up Next: The best action-adventure movies, Indiana Jones

Long Live the King!

Merlin – Season 4

The intro to season four upgrades Merlin to “young man” instead of a boy. We pick up in the two-parter The Darkest Hour about a year after the events of season three. Morgana is walking with Morgause in a cart and is discovered by knights. They report back to Arthur that she is on her way to the Isle of the Blessed. Arthur has taken over the running of the kingdom; Uther is frail and aged; he has taken Morgana’s betrayal hard. Agravaine, apparently Ygraine’s brother has shown up to help Arthur as a promise to his deceased sister (why there has been no mention of him before, we’re never told). It is Samhain and Morgana sacrifices Morgause, ripping a tear in the veil between worlds, unleashing spirits of the dead to attack the living. Merlin feels this and collapses. Attacks begin in outlying villages so Arthur, Merlin, and the knights ride out, but they can do nothing against the spirits. Then Camelot is attacked. Not even Gaius knows how to defeat their new foe, but he suggests maybe a sacrifice on the Isle of the Blessed. Arthur, being the self-sacrificing hero who will take on any challenge to protect his people, volunteers. Merlin secretly plans to sacrifice himself in Arthur’s stead. Oh, and Agravaine is in league with Morgana, reporting that the throne will be open to the “rightful heir.” The knights of Camelot ride out, Merlin continues to protect Arthur, even jumping into a spirit and collapsing frozen to the ground.

Arthur sends Lancelot back with Merlin to Camelot, despite Merlin’s weak protestations. On their way, Merlin has Lancelot lay him next to a river. Those spirits heals Merlin so he can return to Arthur and fix the veil. There’s an adorable scene when Lancelot returns to the knights and tells Arthur “bad news…he’s still alive.” We see that Arthur has really come to rely on Merlin. They make it to the Isle of the Blessed and Merlin knocks Arthur out before he can make his sacrifice. But while Arthur is dealing with the old woman in charge of the veil, Lancelot has offered himself as a sacrifice. The world is returned to rights, but now Merlin, Arthur, and Gwen must mourn their friend.

Meanwhile, Morgana has begun to receive visions of a powerful old sorcerer, Emrys, who will be her downfall. Merlin overhears Agravaine asking Gaius about the sorcerer.

It is Arthur’s birthday in The Wicked Day (another title from Mary Stewart’s Arthurian Saga) and a circus arrives in Camelot for the occasion. Uther breaks out of his stupor to attend the festivities. Unbeknownst to the inhabitants of the castle, the circus owner wishes to kill Arthur. They drug him and then try to attack him. Uther steps in the way, taking the blade meant for his son. Arthur is desperate to save his father and considers asking an old sorcerer “Dragoon” for help. (Really, it’s Merlin in a disguise. Arthur actually almost sees through it; he recognizes the eyes). Meanwhile, Agravaine has gone to Morgana and she places a charm on Uther that will reverse any healing magic. So when “Dragoon” goes to heal Uther, the effect is reversed and Uther dies. Arthur blames Dragoon and Merlin feels like it is his fault. But a new day has come and he and Arthur must face their new roles. Merlin waits outside the great hall for Arthur all night, so the young man wouldn’t be alone. Arthur is crowned King of Camelot.

Merlin and Arthur are drawn into a journey to discover a dragon’s egg (if the thief looks familiar, he is; he played Bonaire, the thief in Musketeers) in Aithusa. Merlin manages to save the egg and takes it to Kilgarah. He calls to it in the language of the Dragon Lords, giving it the name “Aithusa.” A white dragon is extremely rare. Kilgarah tells the young warlock that it bodes well for Albion, Arthur, and Merlin.

Arthur is tested as king in His Father’s Son. Agravaine talks Arthur into killing the King of Carlion. Word gets back to his wife, who marches on Camelot. Morgana joins her, referring herself as Gorlois’s daughter and wishes payback on Camelot as well. Arthur decides to fight single combat against the Queen’s champion in order to spare lives; he’s reconsidering his earlier decision, starting to make his own decisions about what kind of king he wants to be. (He even tries to break off his relationship with Gwen, considering to be inappropriate). Merlin helps a little in the battle; Morgana is helping her side as well, so it’s not really cheating. Arthur gets his large opponent to the ground, but does not kill him. He seeks peace with the queen and she agrees. She has a few choice words for Morgana, telling her she clings to bitterness.
arthur merlin hug

Morgana attempts to turn Merlin against Arthur in A Servant of Two Masters, using magic. Luckily, Merlin is very inept at killing Arthur (it’s a bit funny to see him try, and Leon doesn’t bat an eye when Merlin says he’s going to kill Arthur). Merlin manages to disguise himself as Dragoon, who Morgana takes to be Emrys, and destroy the mother beast that’s inhabiting him. There are a few endearing scenes; Arthur is genuinely worried about Merlin when he’s missing and sends knights out to find him. Even when he gets a more efficient servant, he misses Merlin and the banter they have. Gwen happens to see Arthur without clothes while she’s trying to knock Merlin out.

Morgana and Agravaine suspect that Gaius knows the true identity of Emrys, so they come up with a plan in The Secret Sharer to kidnap the old man and use a magical interrogator to wrangle the truth out of him. Agravaine makes accusations against Gaius, but Merlin won’t listen to them and goes after his mentor. He saves Gaius, but Gaius has unfortunately revealed to the interrogator (played by Gary Lewis, he is Colum Mackenize in Outlander and Hrothgar in Eragon) that Merlin is Emrys. But the interrogator is loyal to the old ways and won’t reveal his identity to Morgana. He helps Merlin escape. Arthur apologizes to Gaius; he knows the old man has always had his best interests at heart. Gaius tells the young king that there are others out there protecting him.

Arthur sends Merlin as a physician to a village in trouble in Lamia. Merlin quickly deduces that the ailment the victims are suffering is the result of magic. He and the knights begin to make their way back to Camelot, until they run into bandits who are tormenting a young woman. Proving themselves gallant, the knights rescue the girl. But she shies away from Merlin and Gwen. And then the knights start arguing with each other and turn on Merlin. (There are several fanfiction stories that detail the emotional toll that takes on Merlin; his friends, who have protected him against others, now scorn him). Merlin determines this Lamia girl is the cause of the problem and it’s due to magic. Indeed, Gaius informs Arthur when they go to investigate that the Lamia were created by the Priestesses of the Old Religion to control men, but they grew too powerful. The knights start falling prey to her; Gwen and Merlin to the rescue, well, Arthur helps a bit.

Lancelot is back from the dead in Lancelot du Lac. Morgana finds out that Arthur proposes to Gwen and decides to bring Lancelot back to throw a wrench in the works. Lancelot enters the jousting tournament held in honor of the proposal. Merlin and the knights are pleased that Lancelot is back, but Merlin quickly discovers all is not well. Lancelot doesn’t remember that Merlin has magic. (That’s because Morgana didn’t know, so couldn’t plant that information in Lancelot). Merlin starts to worry that Lancelot is after Arthur. No, Lancelot means to beguile Gwen, through an enchanted bracelet. Arthur discovers the couple kissing (with some help from Agravaine; it’s all a trap). Lancelot and Gwen are thrown in the dungeon; Lancelot, coached by Agravaine, drinks a potion to die. Agravaine counsels Arthur to put Gwen to the death for her betrayal. Arthur cannot see her dead, so exiles her. They were one day from their wedding; she had waited years, why could she not wait one more day, Arthur asks. Gwen cannot answer. She still loves Arthur but she couldn’t help herself around Lancelot. Merlin, who had figured out that Lancelot was a shade, takes his friend for funeral rights and rids him of the enchantment. Lancelot wakes for a moment to thank Merlin, dying peacefully again. Merlin knows Morgana is behind the events, but cannot prove it to Arthur.

An old mission comes back to haunt Arthur in A Herald of the New Age. The knights accidentally disturb a druid shrine; Elyan drinks from the well. He’s taken over by the spirit of a child who had been slaughtered and goes after the king. The other knights assume he’s acting out due to his sister being banished. Arthur in the meantime is out of sorts after visiting the shrine. Merlin and Gaius investigate the shrine and try to stop Elyan’s attack. Arthur eventually admits to Merlin that Uther had ordered Arthur to lead a raid on a druid camp. Arthur was not able to stop his men from killing innocent women and children, resulting in the restless sprits at the shrine. He was young and inexperienced and wanted to prove himself. Elyan, still possessed, confronts Arthur and Arthur apologizes, offering himself for the mistakes he made. The child spirit forgives Arthur and leaves Elyan. (A little jolt from the episode when I realized that they were using salt circles to repel spirits; a basis of Supernatural, lol).

We catch up with what Gwen is doing in The Hunter’s Heart. She has moved to a village where she has old friends; but it’s attacked by bandits. Their leader spares her and speaks to her. Unfortunately, he’s in league with Morgana. Morgana discovers that Gwen is at the camp and sets after her. She catches her and transforms her into a deer. Meanwhile, Arthur has made an alliance with the promise of marriage to the Princess Mithan of Nementh. Mithan is beautiful an kind and we really can’t dislike her. She gently chastises Arthur for causing Merlin more work. She genuinely likes to hunt, a favorite pastime of Arthur’s. Merlin tries little tricks to put Arthur and Mithan off each other, due to loyalty to Gwen. Then comes the hunt, and they cross paths with a transformed Gwen. Merlin realizes the disguise and goes after the deer after Mithan shoots her. He heals her, but Gwen refuses to return to Camelot; she understands the damage she did. Arthur has also found the ring that he had proposed to Gwen with, that Gwen was still wearing until her transformation. He is in no mood to continue the hunt. Arthur realizes that Merlin was right; he still loves Gwen, despite her betrayal, which confuses him. But he cannot marry Mithan. He draws up a new treaty, giving her the disputed lands. She graciously leaves.

Morgana’s plans come to fruition in the two-parter season finale The Sword in the Stone, bringing in more elements from classic legend. Agravaine signals the attacking army into Camelot. Arthur is injured, but Merlin drags him out of the castle, magically taking his will (though there’s not much left after seeing both Morgana and Agravaine at the head of the army). Gaius, Elyan, and Gwaine are left in Camelot to aid Arthur’s escape. Morgana tortures Elyan for information and makes Gwaine fight to win supper. Leon and Percival are in the woods with the townsfolk who could escape. Merlin plans to take Arthur to Ealdor. They come upon battle couple and smugglers Tristan and Isolde. Arthur acts as a simpleton until his will returns, but Tristan dislikes kings and they butt heads. Arthur also feels defeated; he must not be the king he should be if his family members keep betraying him. Merlin points out that it’s not his fault; they just desire Arthur’s power for themselves. Morgana sends Agravaine after Arthur (I can’t tell if Agravaine truly cares for Morgana or if he just doesn’t trust her and wants to stay on her good side).

Merlin and Arthur do make it to Ealdor, along with Tristan and Isolde. They reunite with Gwen, but have to run again when Agravaine catches up. Merlin offers again to hang back and protect the rear. Kilgarah comes in handy to destroy most of the force chasing them and in the caves, Merlin uses magic to defeat the rest. Agravaine is impressed by Merlin’s deception, claiming that they are more alike than they had realized. Another toss when he makes a move against Merlin and Agravaine is dead. Tristan is surprised that Arthur risks his life to go back for Merlin.

sword in the stone

They reunite with the other knights, but Merlin still has to convince Arthur to continue the fight. He spins a tale for his friend, claiming it’s from Gaius, about a sword that the first king of Camelot had buried in a stone. When Camelot’s need was most, only the true king of Camelot could retrieve it. Merlin convinces Arthur to try. Arthur struggles at first, but Merlin urges him to believe. And the sword comes clean out (well, it was Merlin who had put Excalibur in the stone in the first place). Arthur is back and leads his knights into Camelot. Tristan and Isolde agree to fight alongside him. Sadly, Isolde is killed in a face off against the leader of Morgana’s army. Merlin had earlier snuck into Camelot disguised as Emrys and puts a burning straw doll under Morgana’s bed. So when he and Arthur face her, she cannot cast any spells. She flees. She faces off with Gwen and almost finishes the other woman, but Merlin secretly rescues her at the last minute. Morgana is wounded and flees into the woods.

Arthur mends his relationship with Gwen and proposes again. She is crowned queen. And the little white dragon, Aithusa returns and heals Morgana in the woods.

I liked the twist that the sword in the stone was more about raising Arthur’s confidence. Merlin keeps leading Arthur to his destiny to become the greatest ruler Albion has ever known. Gwen’s brief affair with Lancelot did not bring down the kingdom and it was more brought on by magic. Merlin is proving to be Arthur’s most loyal companion and I love that Arthur is recognizing that. There’s times he will be kind and sincere to his friend, but they keep up their banter. I don’t think they would know what to do with themselves if they weren’t giving each other and hard time and calling each other names.

Next Time We wrap up with Season Five.

Goblins, Dwarves, Sidhe, and Manticores…Oh My!

My apologies that I forgot to post this last week.

Merlin-Season 3

We come back to Camelot a year after the ending of season two with the two-parter Tears of Uther Pendragon; Morgana has been missing a year. Uther refuses to give up on finding her. She wanders into a camp that Arthur and Merlin are investigating. And for a moment everything seems well. She’s happy to be home in Camelot, telling Uther she’s seen the evil he’s fighting and promises to be a better ward. She puts Merlin’s mind at ease over his worry that she’ll remember him poisoning her. Morgana forgives him; he was just trying to protect his friends. Then, the smirking starts. She rides out to meet Morgause, calling her “my sister.” Morgause has a spell that requires the tears of Uther, which Morgana has collected. They’re put into a cauldron along with a mandrake root, it emits a magical cry. Morgana is to tie the dripping root under Uther’s bed every night. It will twist his unconscious fear and make him lose his mind. Back in Camelot, the root takes effect; Uther starts seeing those who died at his hand, ghosts of the past haunting him.

Merlin stumbles upon the root, hiding under Uther’s bed and witnesses Morgana change it. He follows her and discovers her meeting Morgause. He’s subsequently captured, tied up, and left to die. Those creepy scorpions are back and sting Merlin. He cannot break the chains, even with magic. He calls Kilgarah and the dragon saves him. The dragon counsels the young warlock; the boys did what he thought was right, which takes courage. But his seeing goodness in people could be his undoing. Morgana is the darkness to Merlin’s light, the hatred to his love. Back in Camelot, Cenred’s army marches on the citadel (I equate it to Helm’s Deep). Morgause and Morgana are aligned with Cenred, Morgana their traitor on the inside. Merlin and Gwen show their support for Arthur, who has to take control while his father is incapacitated. Merlin tells his friend “it is your fate t be the greatest king Camelot has ever known…victory today will be remembered for every age until the end of time.” Gaius follows Morgana when she sneaks away and discovers that the young woman has raised an undead army. Merlin rushes down to stop her. Morgana makes the same mistake as Morgause and underestimates Merlin, not knowing he has magic. He triumphs and the skeletons collapse. Cenred leaves when that force fails.

Goblin’s Gold is a lighter story, after the dramatic start to the season. Merlin accidentally releases a goblin into the castle. When he tries to capture the devil, it flies into Gaius and overtakes him. He then plays tricks on the castle, at one point hilariously giving Arthur the ears and bray of a donkey. The goblin, as Gaius, frames Merlin for magic and he’s arrested. The young man escapes and takes refuge at Gwen’s home. They come up with the plan to temporarily kill Gaius to force the goblin out. Things get hairy when they have to scramble for the antidote, but everything is put to right. Arthur believed Merlin about the goblin and even laid a trap for Gaius; he knew that Gaius would never condone Merlin executed. It shows that he views his servant truly as a friend.

Gwaine is introduced in the episode named after him. He ends up helping Merlin and Arthur during a bar fight; he’s injured in the process, so they take him with back to Camelot for Gaius to heal. Merlin instantly befriends the young man. A melee is to take place in Camelot and two of the thugs from the tavern intend to kill Arthur for standing up to them, using magic blades that appear blunt but really aren’t, and crystals to disguise themselves as knights. As knights, they harass Merlin. He stumbles upon the truth and intends to get proof for Arthur. Gwaine helps and takes the blame. But Uther is firm in his knight’s code; a peasant cannot accuse a knight. Gwaine is banished from Camelot. Arthur tries to argue for his new friend, but Gwaine distrusts nobles (even though his father was one) and willingly leaves. During the melee, Merlin has no choice but to secretly use magic to protect Arthur. It ends up Arthur against the two thugs, though another knight steps into help. The thugs are killed and Gwaine is revealed. Uther holds to his decision to banish the man, even though that’s twice he’s saved his son.

The Crystal Cave recalls common elements of Arthurian legend. (The Crystal Cave is the first book in Mary Stewart’s Arthurian saga series). While Arthur and Merlin are out in the woods, they’re attacked and Arthur is injured. Merlin tries to use magic to heal when an old man appears; Taliesin. He heals Arthur then shows Merlin to the Crystal Cave, where magic began. Merlin is a powerful sorcerer and can use the crystals to see all of time. Merlin sees a future where Morgana stabs Uther. Back in Camelot, Gaius cautions that all may not be as it seems. But things start happening that Merlin saw in his vision. Arthur gives Morgana a dagger for her birthday, matching the one that Merlin saw, at Merlin’s inadvertent advice ironically. When Morgana sneaks off to see Morgause, Merlin follows and causes her to fall down a flight of stairs. She’s slowly dying. When Merlin can no longer stand watching everyone else’s grief, he goes out to call Kilgarah. The great dragon at first refuses to help save Morgana, but Merlin uses his power as Dragonlord to force the dragon. Merlin has also overheard Uther reveal to Gaius that Morgana is actually his daughter, begging the older man to use magic to save her. Gorlois was away fighting and Viviane had gotten lonely, he explains. No one can know, for Arthur’s sake. We see Morgana’s eyes move minutely. Later, after Morgana is healed, she tells Morgause. The older woman realizes that this gives Morgana a legitimate claim to the throne. Now they’ll redouble their efforts to kill Uther. Merlin’s vision proceeds, he’s stopped nothing. He races after Morgana who decides no time like the present to kill the king. She uses magic and accidently starts a fire and blows a window, waking Uther, but smoothly covers, cowering like a damsel in distress. Life is more complicated now; Arthur is all that stands between Morgana and the throne.

The Sidhe return in The Changeling, the hid a faerie in a baby princess and twenty years later, she’s old enough to wed Arthur in an effort to permanently bind the two kingdoms. This will put a Sidhe at the heart of Camelot (and that can’t be good). Her nurse, Grunhilda, is played by Professor Sprout from Harry Potter. Turns out, Grunhilda is a pixie, servant to the Sidhe. Arthur struggles with his love for Gwen, which Morgana has begun to notice. Uther insists that Arthur for the sake of the kingdom, his own feelings be damned. Arthur goes through with the proposal. Merlin slips Elena a potion to eject the faerie, killing it, Grunhilda, and the leader of the Sidhe. An instant effect takes on Elena; she’s more polished and prim, but still her personality (which is kind of awesome). She and Arthur stand in front of Camelot, prepared to take their vows, but come clean to each other that they don’t have feelings for the other. The wedding is called off and her father tells Uther that Arthur has the makings of a great king; times are changing. Merlin tells Arthur he knows what it’s like to have a destiny you cannot escape, for everything to be planned out and have no say.

Gwen is reunited with her brother, Elyan in The Castle of Fyrien. She is kidnapped by Cenred as a way to get Arthur. Cenred threatens Elyan if Gwen does not bring Arthur to him. She doesn’t want to tell Arthur, but Merlin convinces her that the best way to have help is to tell Arthur. Merlin, Gwen, and unfortunately Morgana ride out with Arthur to rescue Elyan. They’re caught, since Morgana is a traitor and Cenred plans to torture Arthur. The young people escape, grabbing Morgana in the process. Elyan is reported to have been away for four years and felt like he couldn’t come home, even when his father died.

Arthur takes on a quest in The Eye of the Phoenix to prove that he is worthy of the throne. He is to retrieve the trident from the Fisher King in the Perilous Realms. Legends state that the Fisher King was a powerful sorcerer and when he was wounded and it became infected, so did his land. But he’s supposedly still alive. Arthur is to undertake this quest alone and unaided. Merlin worries for Arthur, but the prince orders him to stay home. Then Merlin spots the bracelet Morgana gifts Arthur and its strange stone. Gaius uncovers that it is a phoenix’s eye and it will consume Arthur’s life force. Merlin races after Arthur, but stops for help; Gwaine. Arthur, steadily weakening, makes it to the merlin fisher kingbridge in the Perilous Lands, guarded by a dwarf (we recognize Warwick Davis, famed as Wicket from Return of the Jedi, Professor Flitwick and Griphook from Harry Potter and Nikabrik from Prince Caspian). He informs Arthur “you must be Courage,” he will need Strength and Magic to complete his quest. When Arthur dismisses magic, he warns the lad not to. Arthur almost drowns, due to the bracelet and Merlin and Gwaine come to the bridge, meeting the dwarf. Magic and Strength have arrived. Back in Camelot, Gwen reveals to Gaius that she suspects Morgana to have magic. Wyvern, an offshoot of dragons, almost eat Arthur in the Dark Tower, but Merlin’s there to save him. He’s separated from Arthur and Gwaine and speaks to the Fisher King. The king has been waiting for the right time. This was truly Merlin’s quest. The real prize is water from the lake of Avalon. When need is greatest, it will show Merlin what to do. In exchange, Merlin gives the king the cursed bracelet so he may be released to death.

An old friend of Gaius’s return in Love in the Time of Dragons. Alice was his fiancée years ago, right before the Purge. Gaius helped her escape, but stayed behind to not draw suspicion. Now she’s returned to Camelot with magical remedies, and a creature in a box: a manticore. Merlin hears them speaking one evening and doesn’t trust Alice. Gaius won’t hear it. Alice helps Gaius with his potions, including one for Uther. She drops poison in it one day and administers it to Uther. At that point, Gaius believes Arthur and they rid the world of the manticore. Uther blames Alice (Arthur figured out she was the one to give Uther is remedy) and sentences her to death. Gaius cannot plead with the king, but still manages to help his old love escape.

Morgana tries to split up Gwen and Arthur in Queen of Hearts when she has a vision of Gwen as queen. She gets the couple to spend alone time in the woods (it is a rather romantic picnic), then arranges for Uther to ride by them, catching the couple kissing. Uther orders Arthur to end the relationship, Arthur refuses. Morgana then plants an enchantment in Arthur’s room, so Gwen will be arrested as a witch. Merlin plans to invent a sorcerer to get Gwen freed; he’ll disguise himself as an old man, Dragoon the Great. That part works. The changing back doesn’t. He’s arrested and sentenced to be burned at the stake; though he gets a chance to tell Uther and Arthur off. Gaius works out a potion to change him back and Merlin escapes long enough to down it. This is the start of the running joke that if Arthur cannot find Merlin due to magical needs, people claim the young man is in the tavern. Gwen is free and the young couple’s feelings haven’t changed, but they cannot show it.

Another sorcerer comes to Camelot for a tournament in The Sorcerer’s Shadow. Ghillie (Harry Melling again [Dudley]) is tired of being bullied and uses magic to help in the tournament. Morgana has also pitted Uther and Arthur against each other (probably hoping that Uther will be killed in the tournament). When the two face each other, Arthur has to let his father win to save face. Then Uther has to face Ghillie in the finals. Merlin tries to get Ghillie to promise not to use magic, but Ghillie is enjoying the fame he’s gotten. He even shows the other man his powers; he understands how lonely it is to be more powerful than any man you know and live like a shadow. To be special and pretend to be a fool. Merlin has to make the choice; let Ghillie kill Uther, or protect Uther and harm another sorcerer. Kilgarah cautions that if Uther is killed by magic, it will harden Arthur’s mind. Thus, Merlin works against Ghillie. Uther spares the boy in the end (obviously not knowing about the magic). Uther reveals he knew what Arthur had done; he’s followed his son’s progress all along, but he’s grateful for the actions. Arthur is truly ready to be king.

Another two-parter ends the season, The Coming of Arthur. It opens on a scene of slaughtered knights, figures moving through them. They come to Sir Leon and heal him with a magical cup. Sir Leon returns to Camelot and reports that Cenred was responsible for the attack and it was the Druids who healed him. Gauis and Uther realize that the Druids have the Cup of Life, as Gauis informs Merlin, it was not destroyed on the Isle of the Blessed, it is eternal. Uther wants the cup and sends Arthur after it, for there is another legend attached to the cup; a warlord used it to create an immortal army. Camelot is in danger. Arthur doesn’t tell Merlin where they’re going but takes him anyway. Morgana overhears the plans and reports to Morgause, who instructs Cenred to be ready. But a slave trader captures Merlin and Arthur first. There, they’re reunited with Gwaine, whom Arthur has to face in a challenge. The boys try to throw the fight without appearing to do so, but Merlin causes a distraction that gets them out. The trio continue on the search and find the Druid camp. The Druids hand over the cup to Arthur, but really to Emrys. An attack from Cenred’s men injures Arthur and lets the cup fall into enemy hands. Morgause creates an immortal army, then kills Cenred and marches on Camelot. The trio does eventually make it back to Camelot to discover dead littering the streets from the attack, they discover Elyan and make their way into the castle. Arthur and Merlin go after Uther, the rest are to wait for them in the woods. Uther is being led into the great hall, facing Morgause. She takes his crown and Morgana steps out. She claims the throne, as daughter to Uther. Arthur is shocked by the news and he and Merlin withdraw.

The second part picks up a week after that ending; Merlin, Arthur, Gaius, Gwaine, and Elyan are hiding in the woods. Morgana is trying to persuade the knights of Camelot to her side, but they resist. She lines them up in front of a firing squad and instead shoots the crowd. Gwen plays along as a loyal servant, but plans to help Sir Leon escape; Leon will know where Arthur is hiding and he is the only hope Camelot has. Morgana and Morgause eavesdrop and figure they can use Gwen as a way to find Arthur, a simple tracking potion in a drink does the trick. Merlin uses the water from Avalon that the Fisher King gave him, revealing Freya. She tells him that only one weapon can slay the dead, a sword burnished by dragon fire, which lies in the lake. Kilgarah still serves Merlin and helps the young sorcerer retrieve the blade, but has him swear that when he is finished with the sword, he put it where no man can wield it. If the blood is emptied from the Cup of Life, the immortal army will fall.

merlin knights of the round table
L-R: Leon, Percival, Arthur, Lancelot, Elyan, Gwaine

Arthur and his companions are forced to retreat once Leon and Gwen finds them. They’re aided by Lancelot and a new man, Percival (Merlin had sent word to Lancelot), taking refuge in an abandoned castle from the time of the ancient kings. Inside, Arthur discovers a round table. He instructs his companions to sit and speaks of the old tradition of equality for all. Tomorrow, he will rescue his father, who is with him. Lancelot is the first to stand. These men believe in the world that Arthur will create. All join him; well, Merlin tries to stay seated as a joke, but he doesn’t have a choice. Arthur then does something he know his father would disapprove of, he knights Elyan, Lancelot, Gwaine, and Percival. Lancelot comments to Merlin that evening that the servant is the bravest of them and Arthur should really be knighting him, but doesn’t know. The men make their way back to Camelot, Lancelot planning to help Merlin destroy the Cup. Gaius enters the fray against Morgause after she flings Merlin, giving Merlin the chance to knock over the Cup. The immortal army explodes. Morgana enters to find an injured Morgause and screeches. Her magic is out of control, the walls start crumbling and they disappear.

A new time is dawning. Arthur may need to take charge; Uther is very distressed by the events with Morgana and her betrayal. Gaius tells Merlin, since no one else will, “Well done.” Merlin follows his promise and sticks the sword in a stone.

I liked the inclusion of more traditional elements of Arthurian legend, such as the Crystal Cave, but Merlin does run into the problem that often arises from prophecies; as Yoda has taught us, the future is always in motion. This is one possibly future and Merlin gets consumed by it. In trying to prevent that future from happening, he almost causes it. But he also doesn’t get the best instructions. Downfall of many fantasy wizards: I’m going to warn you about this but be very cryptic. Like the dragon. The Fisher King story was a nice inclusion as well and more and more Arthur is being shown that magic is not inherently evil, but circumstances always come about that he can’t trust it. Woo at seeing the knights of the Round Table, finally! Arthur is coming into his own now. Merlin still staunchly supports him, even behind the scenes. They’ve come a long way from wanting to kill each other.

Now, my Shide and Fae are not like the ones in this show, but it’s good to see differing views, so I can craft my own. Pick and choose which bits I like. As much as Morgause is the enemy, there is something I admire in the way she deals with Cenred, an attitude I hope to emulate in my characters: commanding, she does not outright threaten Cenred until the end. She pulls him along and I swear Cenred wants to sleep with her and she may even let him, knowing that ultimately she has the upper hand.

Next Time: Season Four

Merlin Gets to Call Arthur a Prat

Merlin – Season 1

In a land of myth, and a time of magic…The destiny of a great kingdom lies on the shoulders of a young boy. His name…Merlin.

merlin opening

Ran on BBC for five seasons from 2008 to 2012 featuring younger characters; young adults, before they became famous. For those who watch British television, it has some familiar faces and names (a whole bunch have appeared in Doctor Who). Colin Morgan (he was the teenage boy in the episode Midnight, and did go on to have a small part in The Huntsman: Winter’s War) leads the cast as Merlin with Bradley James by his side as Arthur. Angel Coulby (again, a small role in Doctor Who, The Girl in the Fireplace) is Gwen and Katie McGrath (a variety of roles; leading lady in A Princess for Christmas opposite Sam Heughan [before he became Jamie Fraser in Outlander] and Roger Moore, a small part in Tudors, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, she was Zara in Jurassic World and has had reoccurring roles in Dracula and Supergirl) is Morgana. Veterans Anthony Head (has appeared in Doctor Who, Buffy, Galavant, and Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters) is Uther Pendragon, Richard Wilson (who has also been in Doctor Who) is Merlin’s mentor Gaius, and John Hurt (The War Doctor, Ollivander in Harry Potter among over 200 credits and recently passed in 2017) voices the Great Dragon. It’s not specifically set in England; all of the place names being fantasy related. The show centers in Camelot, though the features a castle that actually exists in France.

We open with The Dragon’s Call, the dragon narrating that no young man, no matter how great, can know his destiny (this is before the opening was used before each episode). Merlin walks into Camelot just as Uther decrees a sorcerer executed. He has banned magic from his kingdom and they have enjoyed twenty years of peace. An old woman curses Uther and disappears. Merlin heads for Gaius’s chambers and demonstrates his innate magical ability when he saves Gaius from falling. Yeah, that’s going to be an issue; the boy was born with magic and cannot help it. And now lives in a city where he will be executed if found out. Morgana opposes Uther’s harsh law on magic (she’s not aware of her legendary abilities at this point), and shows herself to be a strong female to openly stand up to her guardian. Merlin meets Arthur as the prince is tormenting a servant; Merlin refuses to show proper decorum, referring to Arthur as a prat. He ends up in the stocks, twice, meeting Gwen as well, who is Morgana’s servant. The old woman from before has transformed herself into a famous singer in order to get into the palace (played by Eve Myles who is Gwen Cooper from Torchwood and Doctor Who and was Mrs. Jenkins in the Victoria series).

Throughout the episode, Merlin hears a voice calling him. He eventually ventures below the castle and encounters a dragon. The Great Dragon informs the young warlock that his and Arthur’s destines are entwined. Arthur is the Once and Future King, destined to unite Albion and bring magic back. Merlin’s role is to protect the young man; a duty that Merlin is not keen on at the beginning. Nevertheless, when the witch puts everyone to sleep and tries to kill Arthur, Merlin uses his powers to save the prince. Uther “rewards” him for his loyalty by making him Arthur’s servant; neither boy is terribly happy about the appointment.

Valiant brings a tournament for knights to compete. Arthur is expected to win since he’s the prince. The knight Valiant however has a magical trick up his sleeve to ensure his victory; a shield with three snakes that can come to life and do his bidding. Merlin eventually discovers the shield and tries to convince Arthur to drop out of the tournament. The servant manages to get the prince to believe his accusations, but they have no proof and Arthur is embarrassed in front of the king. He dismisses Merlin, but Merlin will see his duty through. Morgana also has dreams of Arthur dying and even tries to persuade him to save himself; Arthur cannot back down from the fight. Merlin discovers a way to bring the snakes to life on his own and quietly does so in front of the whole court. Morgana throws a sword to Arthur, who dispatches the snakes and Valiant. There’s almost a tender moment between the two after, but they bicker with each other. Merlin is once again Arthur’s servant and their lives carry on.

A plague breaks out in The Mark of Nimueh, caused by the sorceress Nimueh (played by Michelle Ryan who was in the Doctor Who episode Planet of the Dead). Merlin struggles to learn when it is appropriate to use his powers. (He is often in the position of: “Merlin, don’t do this thing.” And Merlin does the thing). He heals Gwen’s father when he falls ill, but that simply causes more problems. Gwen is accused of being a sorceress and Merlin tries to cover for her. Arthur talks him out of any consequences by saying the boy is in love with Gwen (they are adorably awkward around each other at times) [reminder, no Arthur does not know that Merlin has magic, he’s simply saving a friend]. Gaius and Merlin figure out it’s an Avank monster and gather Morgana and Arthur to destroy the beast. Gwen is saved, but Gaius and Uther both know the sorceress responsible.

The Poisoned Chalice is one of my favorite episodes, since it shows the tight friendship that Arthur and Merlin have already built. Nimueh sneaks into Camelot as part of King Bayard’s court, there to sign a treaty with Uther. Nimueh poisons a cup that is given to Arthur, then disguises herself as a servant and speaks to Merlin, spurring him to take the cup to save Arthur. When the poison takes effect after a moment, it drops him to the ground. Gaius figures out what the poison is and the antidote, but it’s a dangerous mission. Arthur barely hesitates, agreeing to retrieve the ingredients. Uther forbids his son from the mission. Arthur, encouraged by Morgana, disobeys his father and rides out. He battles a few beasts and encounters Nimueh, who leaves him to die by giant spiders (why did it have to be spiders?) While a fever rages through Merlin, he mutters magic, which Gaius has to cover in front of Gwen. He conjures a blue sphere to light Arthur’s way, and even urges the young man to save himself. Arthur grabs one vital flower and escapes. Uther puts him in the dungeon for his disobedience; he’ll just have to get a new servant when he’s let out (Uther has a habit of being cruel). Gwen manages to sneak in and get the flower and Gaius has to secretly use magic to make the antidote. Again, it takes a moment for the draught to take effect, but Merlin recovers. Huzzah!

We meet Lancelot in the self-titled episode (remember, played by a fresh faced Santiago Cabrera; later to be Aramis). He saves Merlin from a griffin attack and is injured in the process. Upon waking in Camelot, he expresses his lifelong desire to be a knight. One problem: the First Code. Knights must be from noble families; Lancelot is not. Merlin magics his way around that, including his friend in the lineage of a noble house. He encounters the librarian, Geoffrey of Monmouth (as in the writer of The History of the Kings of Britain, one of the earliest developed narratives of King Arthur). Lancelot proves himself in a test against Arthur and is knighted. But it’s all ripped away when Geoffrey discovers the lie. Arthur has no choice but to imprison Lancelot. Meanwhile, the griffin has come to the castle. It is a magical beast and can only be vanquished with magic. Merlin has a plan and is aided by Lancelot (who, upon being let out of prison by Arthur, insists on staying and goes to Gwen for weapons and aid. Gwen in turn fetches Merlin). Lancelot charges at the beast while Arthur lies knocked out. Merlin mutters his incantation and the lance glows, defeating the griffin. Uther refuses to reinstate Lancelot’s knighthood after his heroic deeds. While Arthur fights his father, Lancelot quietly reveals to Merlin that he knows of the boy’s magic; he heard the incantation. But he won’t reveal the secret. He does agree to leave Camelot.

Morgana becomes very ill, “all but dead” in A Remedy to Cure All Ills. A man comes to Camelot spouting that he has a remedy to cure all ills and will see to Morgana. In fact, the man is a sorcerer and caused the illness (with a creepy bug). He cures Morgana, which was something Gaius was unable to do, calling into question Gaius’s outdated methods and age. Uther offers the position of court physician to the man, retiring Gaius. Gaius intends to leave Camelot, though Merlin begs for him to stay; the man has been more than a father to him and Gaius admits he looks on Merlin like a son. The sorcerer causes Uther to fall ill next. Gaius confronts the young man, realizing he recognizes him; he was a boy during the Purges and his parents were burned by Uther for using magic. We also find out that Gaius knows the great dragon beneath Camelot. The dragon counsels Gaius that Arthur cannot unite Albion until Uther is dead. Merlin manages to rescue his mentor and reverse the sorcerer’s illness. Gaius is reinstated and Uther is none the wiser to the magical ailments that went on under his nose.

The Sidhe (an Irish term for faeries, a carryover from when they were considered gods) make an appearance in The Gates of Avalon. Merlin and Arthur are out hunting and come across bandits attacking and father and daughter. Arthur rescues them (with secret magical assistance from Merlin) and escorts them to Camelot. They’re invited to stay and Arthur clearly is infatuated with the daughter Sophia (played by Holliday Grainger. Among other roles, she is Anastasia in the updated Disney Cinderella movie). Arthur has Merlin cover for him so he can spend time with the young lady, landing Merlin in the stocks twice (this is the season Merlin spends in the stocks).

Meanwhile, Morgana has been having dreams of Sophia drowning Arthur; she saw Sophia before the young woman stepped foot into the castle. Indeed, Sophia is trying to drown Arthur; Merlin follows her father to the woods one evening and overhears their plan to sacrifice Arthur so Sophia can regain her immortal life as a Sidhe. Morgana goes to Gaius, who believes her and sends Merlin after them. He destroys the Sidhe and rescues Arthur. And still ends up punished.

The Beginning of the End (very ominous) introduces the Druids. A young Druid boy (who looks like a young Merlin) and his father are chased by guards; the boy is injured and the father is captured. The boy calls to Merlin – mentally, for aid, calling him ‘Emrys’. Merlin helps him and hides him with Morgana. Morgana quickly becomes attached to the boy, holding him as they hear his father executed. Uther demands the boy be found; any who harbor him will face execution as well. The boy’s wound becomes infected and Merlin is hesitant to bring in Gaius. Merlin seeks counsel from the dragon, and the dragon reveals that the boy will be Arthur’s downfall. Morgana, Gwen, and Merlin try to sneak the boy out, but Morgana and the boy are caught. Uther is furious at Morgana. Arthur is more sympathetic than his father and agrees to help get the boy to the Druids. Morgana will dine with Uther so she cannot be suspected. Arthur will get the boy out of the dungeon, but he needs Merlin’s help. Merlin almost doesn’t follow through, heeding the dragon’s caution of future danger. But he comes through and Arthur manages to get the boy to the Druids. Only then do we find out the boy’s name: Mordred. Uh oh.

Another element from the legend comes into play in Excalibur. Nimueh raises a knight from the dead on the same evening Arthur is officially crowned as prince of Camelot and Uther’s heir, now that he is of age. The knight breaks into the festivities and throws down a gauntlet. Sir Owain picks it up and will face single combat. Arthur would rather face the knight than have his knights be sacrificed. Gaius suspects and with the help of Geoffrey confirms the black knight is Sir Tristan du Bois, Uther’s brother-in-law, killed by Uther’s hand when Tristan challenged him after his sister Igraine’s death. Owain is killed by the black knight in combat and the gauntlet is thrown again. Uther stops Arthur from picking it up, instead, Sir Pelenor will face the challenge. He fares better the next day, but still falls. Merlin has noticed both times that wounds that should kill the black knight don’t. He’s once again dealing with a magical entity. Arthur this time throws down his gauntlet; he will face the black knight. Everyone tries to talk Arthur out of it; he will be killed. Nimueh visits Uther and we discover they used to be friends. Uther had asked for her help to give his wife a son. But she was not to know that it was Igraine’s life that would be lost to gain Arthur’s. This is why Uther despises magic. Uther finally goes to Gaius for help; a sleeping draught.

In the meantime, Merlin has been working on another plan. A sword burnished by dragon fire can kill a wraith. Merlin gets such a blade, promising to the dragon that only Arthur will wield it. It gains an inscription that reads on one side: Take me up, and on the other: Cast me aside. There’s a hiccup when Arthur is sleeping and Uther takes his place, including the sword. It’s does its job, but the dragon is furious. He orders Merlin to take the sword where it can never be found; the young man throws it into a lake (this is the sword from the opening sequence). Arthur confronts his father about his actions and Uther finally admits to his son that he is not a disappointment.

Merlin returns home during The Moment of Truth. His mother, Hunith comes to Camelot begging help; raiders are attacking their village. But they lie in another kingdom and Uther cannot send knights, it would look like an act of war. Merlin will return with his mother, intent on staying so he can look after her. Gwen and Morgana accompany him and they’re joined later by Arthur. Arthur encourages the men of the village to fight and stand up to Canan and his goons. One young man is outspoken against him, Will, Merlin’s old friend. His father had been killed serving a king and so he doesn’t trust nobles. Will incidentally knows that Merlin has magic and debates with him on using it, so he can spare the village. But Merlin must keep it a secret from Arthur. Gwen and Morgana join the men in the fight (wearing impractical mail). Merlin finally has to use magic, which Arthur witnesses. But Will was standing next to Merlin so it could have been either of them. Will takes a bolt for Arthur and as he dies, he takes credit for the magic; what can Arthur do? Kill him? Hunith talks her son into returning to Camelot; she sees that he and Arthur are friends; two sides of the same coin. The day will come when the truth will be known.

Arthur slays a unicorn hunting one day in The Labyrinth of Gedref, causing a curse to befall Camelot. Overnight their crops die, then the water turns to sand. An old man appears and tells Arthur he must face several tests to lift the curse. One evening, Arthur and Merlin, while looking for the old man, come across a peasant stealing food. Arthur lets the man go. Water returns. But when they venture to the woods, the peasant taunts him and Arthur fights him. The remaining grain rots and Uther decrees that the food must be saved for the army. But Arthur cares more for his people than for himself and refuses to give the order. Merlin persuades the old man to give Arthur a final test. Then follows Arthur through a labyrinth. At the end, Merlin sits across from Arthur at a table, two goblets, one filled with poison. Merlin tries to talk Arthur into letting him drink the poison; he is only a servant. But Arthur tricks him and drinks all the contents. ‘Twas ultimately not poison and Arthur wakes. The crops re-grow overnight and Camelot is saved. Arthur buries the unicorn horn and proving that he has a pure heart, the unicorn lives again.

Gwen’s father is caught consorting with a sorcerer in To Kill the King and sentenced to execution. Morgana takes pity on him for Gwen’s sake and tries to help him escape. He is killed. Morgana is furious for Uther for the way he handled the situation. If it involves magic, he loses all rational sense. He locks her in the dungeon overnight for her backtalk. Arthur pleads with him off camera in the morning to release his ward. So she decides that Uther must die and allies herself with the sorcerer. Under the pretense of visiting her father’s grave, Morgana gets Uther into the open. Merlin follows and takes care of the other men. But at the grave, Uther reveals he looks upon Morgana as a daughter and appreciates that she makes him question his actions, like her father did. From now on, he tells her, I want to listen more and quarrel less. Morgana no long wishes Uther dead and when the sorcerer attacks, she stabs in him the back as he tackles Uther.

The first season ends with Le Morte d’Arthur (like Malory’s tale). Arthur, Merlin, and his knights are in the forest, hunting the Questing Beast. They lose Sir Bedivere to the beast (like in the tale). Morgana has another dream of Arthur dying and in distress begs him not to go back out. He does and in a cave is scratched by the beast. Gaius states that a bite from the Questing Beast is fatal, there is no cure. Uther tries to carry his son to his room, but falls to his knees in the courtyard. Gaius tries to make the lad more comfortable, but Merlin searches for another answer. The Questing Beast is tied to the Old Religion and carries the power of life and death. Merlin goes to the dragon for help. He’s instructed to go to the Isle of the Blessed and strike a deal, a life for a life. Merlin willingly gives his life for Arthur. But he meets Nimueh on the Isle. She gives him water from the Cup of Life. With it, Arthur is healed. And Merlin strangely doesn’t die.

Instead, his mother arrives back in Camelot, gravely ill. Merlin is furious at the dragon for misleading him. The dragon insists that Merlin must do everything in his power to free the dragon, to free magic. Merlin tells the dragon he will not be back. Now, Merlin can’t find Gaius. He races after his mentor, who has chosen to give his life for the boy. Merlin strikes out at Nimueh, bringing lightning upon her. The balance of the Old Religion has been appeased. Gaius lives, Arthur lives, we see some tender moments between Uther and his son, along with a moment between Gwen and Arthur. Merlin tries to say goodbye to Arthur without really saying goodbye and being the men they are, they can’t really tell each other how they feel; that they’re friends and they’d miss each other. It’s another of my favorite episodes.

The theme of destiny runs throughout the series. The Great Dragon harps on it anytime Merlin asks for help. Gaius refers to it. Others speak to Arthur about his destiny as king. It’s a lot for two young men to take on, particularly when they don’t know the full extent. We as the audience know they’re ‘destined’ to become legends. For now, though, they’re teenagers. Merlin has to hide a part of himself from the person he’s supposed to protect. They all make mistakes. It’s fun to see these characters more human. Not as legends, but as young people, relatable.

Morgana’s costumes in particular have a modern flair. This is a fantastical take on the legend, rather than a historical take (Last Legion, King Arthur. Those have their places. This is fun). What made these characters into who they are? How did Arthur and Merlin have such a strong bond? It’s adorable to watch Arthur become protective of Merlin so soon. While he was raised by a sometimes-tyrant like Uther (he truly loves his son, he just has a funny way of showing it), Arthur is a different man than his father. He puts everyone else before him; well, he still gives Merlin a list of chores to do.

We will continue this discussion in Season Two next time.

Giving the women of Arthurian legend their due

Mists of Avalon

Based on the book by Marion Zimmer Bradley; I read the book when I was doing research for my Morgan le Fae capstone project (in order to complete my Creative Writing major; and at 876 pages, I am pretty sure it is the longest book I’ve read). It has greatly influenced elements of the fantasy series I am planning: how the Faerie kingdom works, heck it’s influenced character names. I also made a deal with my brother; he said he wouldn’t read it since it was about women, I found that sexist. In return, I would read Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy and a Clive Cussler book. And after having Morgan le Fae vilified by almost every other version of the tale; mainly since she is a female with magic (Merlin has magic, but since he’s a man, he’s good…that bothered me a lot in Mary Stewart’s Arthurian Saga), I cheered that this presented the characters in a better light (well, more so in the film than in the book; the book is heavily pro Morgaine and the Old Ways).

The film was actually made for TV in two episodes. It stars Anjelica Huston (she was the stepmother in Ever After) as Vivianne, Julianna Margulies as Morgaine, Joan Allen as Morgause, Samantha Mathis (she’s older Amy March in Little Women) as Gwenwyfar, Caroline Goodall (the mom in Princess Diaries) as Igraine, Edward Atterton (he plays jerkass Atheron in an episode of Firefly) as Arthur (he’s nicer in this role), Freddie Highmore (he’s the lead in The Good Doctor amongst other roles) as young Arthur, and Hans Matheson (Lord Coward in Robert Downey Jr’s Sherlock Holmes, and Thomas Cranmer in The Tudors) as Mordred. Loreena McKennitt’s Mystic’s Dream features in the movie several times (I was already familiar with the artist when I watched the movie).

The film is really told as a flashback by Morgaine. She tells us that most stories about Arthur are lies and the true story is not known. The story takes place in a time of violent upheaval in Britain; the Saxons are invading. They need one great leader to unite them all. A major point of contention is the Old Ways worshipping the Mother Goddess and the new religion of Christianity. The Old Religion embraces Christianity, able to coexist. Christianity…not so much. Morgaine’s father was a Christian man, Goloris, Duke of Cornwall. Her mother was Igraine, who still secretly followed the Old Ways. Igraine’s sister Morgause lived with them and she was more open about following the Goddess. Their eldest sister is Vivianne, the Lady of the Lake. She and Merlin come to Cornwall to speak to Igraine. The current king, Ambrosis is old and due to name a successor, but they’re looking further ahead to the future. They’ve seen one who will unite Britain, but he needs to be born to two who follow the Old Ways. Igraine is to bear the king, but not by Goloris; instead to one who bears a dragon tattoo. Morgause offers, but Vivianne shuts her down. Igraine refuses. But she and Goloris attend the king, where she meets Uther Pendragon, and man who bears a dragon tattoo. He sees her afterwards and they speak of a recognition they both feel; they were lovers in a former life. Igraine still tries to resist, but it doesn’t help that Uther is named Ambrosis’s successor. Goloris notices Uther’s interest in his wife and he is turned against the High King.

But Igraine later has a vision of Goloris attacking Uther and acts to warn Uther. The two men face on the battlefield. The magic weakens Igraine. The next day, Merlin comes to Cornwall with Goloris, who goes up to see his wife. Morgaine also has the gift of Sight and realizes that the man is not her father. Goloris’s men bring his body back to Cornwall and it is apparent that the man with Igraine is Uther. He takes Igraine and Morgaine to Camelot and makes Igraine his High Queen. They do seem to love each other and it’s cute when Uther sits alongside Morgaine as they wait for Igraine to give birth. Morgaine gains a little brother, Arthur, whom she loves dearly. Their time of happiness comes to an end when Vivianne and Merlin show up; both children must be fostered. Morgaine and Arthur both cry when they’re separated; Arthur goes with Merlin and Vivianne takes Morgaine to Avalon.

women of mists of avalon
Morgause, Morgaine, Vivianne, and Igraine

Avalon lies near Glastonbury, where the Christians have erected a monastery. To get to Avalon, one must pass through a lake covered in mist. A powerful priestess can part the mist. The Old Religion teaches balance between good and evil; the Mother Goddess rules over Nature and all Nature is sacred. Morgaine acquires power over the elements and joins the sisterhood. Igraine sees this and whispers to Uther “she’s been taken.” A visitor comes to Avalon once Morgaine is an adult; she hopes it is Arthur but instead it is her cousin, Lancelot, son of Vivianne (his father is never mentioned in the film and mentioned once in the book). Lancelot wishes to have his mother’s blessing to fight alongside the other knights against the Saxons; she wishes that he would stay in Avalon. She sends Lancelot and Morgaine to the Stone Circle. Morgaine is attracted to her cousin, but then they hear the bells of Glastonbury and Lancelot catches sight of a pretty young nun and asks Morgaine to part the mists. The young Christian is Gwenwyfar; Lancelot asks her to stay in Avalon a while, but Morgaine returns the mists. Lancelot leaves.

Morgaine is prepared for the Beltaine rights, the Great Marriage. She will play the Virgin Huntress and bed the Great Hunter. They are both masked. Afterwards, Morgaine hopes that the man was Lancelot…well, about a minute after that we see the man in question washing up. Not Lancelot. The man expresses his desire to see the woman again to Merlin, Merlin names the man Arthur. (Uh oh). Arthur must set out for Uther, who is the midst of battling Saxons. Arthur arrives in time to block a blow to the king, but he still dies. A vision of Vivianne instructs Arthur to take up the sword, Excalibur, a sword from Avalon; though he must swear to obey the Old Ways. He rallies the troops and wins the fight. Morgaine returns to Camelot for her brother’s coronation. He swears to deal fairly with both Druid and Christian; he will rule a kingdom united. Her aunt Morgause has wed King Lot of Orkney (in the Scottish Isles). Lot even mentions that if one man could save Britain, it’s Arthur. Igraine plans to retire to Glastonbury and ask for forgiveness for her actions against Goloris. The priest assures Morgaine that her mother has friends among the Christian community and they will take care of her. Arthur is thrilled to see his older sister again. He tells her that he intends to marry Gwenwyfar, but there is another woman that occupies his thoughts: he knows not her face or her name; they were both masked. Morgaine realizes with horror what happened. She confronts Vivianne, who holds that everything has been done in the name of saving Avalon. Vivianne hopes that Morgaine will follow her as Lady of the Lake. Morgaine rejects the offer; she will still follow the Goddess, but not Vivianne; she will never set foot in Avalon again. She will keep the child she now carries, but she will not let Vivianne train.

In the meantime, Arthur has put Gwenwyfar in the care of Lancelot. They are ambushed and once they escape, they speak of the brief moment they had between Avalon and Glastonbury. They cannot fight their attraction to each other and passionately kiss (more uh oh).

Morgaine takes refuge with Morgause in Orkney. Lot urges his wife to let the child die so their son will be Arthur’s successor (a nephew would take precedent over a cousin). Morgause, for some unknown reason, uses dark magic to curse Gwenwyfar; she will bear no sons for Arthur. The woman intends to follow her husband’s instructions, leaving the babe in front of an open window in the middle of winter. But in a fever after giving birth, Morgaine reveals to Morgause that the boy’s father is Arthur. Morgause has a cunning plan; be the influence on the boy and then when he ascends the throne, it will be her will done in the kingdom. Morgause dislikes Vivianne and doesn’t trust her (doesn’t make Morgause a good person, but it’s one redeeming quality she has, that she does not blindly follow what Vivianne decrees.) The Morgaine telling the story as flashbacks comments that it was this point that altered the fate of Britain forever; a new dreadful power was born. Several years later, Morgause suggests that Morgaine returns to Camelot to see her brother. Morgause will keep Mordred with her in Orkney (not the best idea).

morgaine and arthur
Sister and brother reunited

So Morgaine returns. Arthur is once again pleased to see his sister again (I find it adorable, their sibling affection…we should all know by now that it’s one of my favorite relationships shown). Gwen attempts to befriend Morgaine, though she admits the other woman frightens her since she follows the Old Ways. She summons the courage to ask her sister-in-law for herbs and spells to help her conceive; it is her greatest wish and desire to give her husband a son. Morgaine visits Lancelot; she still harbors affection for the young man (though I notice that the adults of the film barely age, not till the very end). She also knows of the affection that Lancelot shares with Gwen. Lancelot declares he loves Arthur more. Unknown to the pair, Arthur is watching from above. Another of Arthur’s knights, Accolon catches Morgaine’s attentions. He too follows the Old Ways. At the next Beltane, Morgaine gives a charm to Gwen to help her conceive. Following the information he has gained, Arthur asks Lancelot to bed his wife with him (he’s also a bit drunk when he asks this, but states that he wouldn’t be able to ask if he wasn’t drunk). A child conceived in the king’s bed will be the king’s child; he feels he is at fault for their childless state (nope, Morgause’s fault). All three agree. Accolon follows Morgaine and they spend the evening together.

Afterwards, Lancelot is upset with Morgaine for the charm. “How can I go back to the way things were?” Morgaine counsels he is not to blame for loving Gwen. But to help the situation, Morgaine arranges for Lancelot to marry Elaine, a young lady who is attracted to Lancelot. At the wedding, Gwen confronts Morgaine that her charm failed, there is still no child. She feels guilty for even turning to magic and the circumstances of that night. So she plots. She notices that Morgaine seems happy with Accolon. Accolon’s father, King Uriens of North Wales attends at the wedding and is an important ally of Arthur. Arthur wishes to reward his old friend, who wishes to marry. Gwen suggests Morgaine as a match (this is when I begin to dislike Gwen). Arthur has his sister’s best interests in mind and they ask Morgaine, but Gwen deliberately keeps mum on who exactly Morgaine is agreeing to marry. Arthur is shocked at Morgaine’s acceptance, but announces the betrothal. Morgaine is surprised to find herself engaged to the father, not the son. But she carries on and moves to North Wales. She finds that she is actually happy there.

On Avalon, Vivianne knows that Gwenwyfar tricked Morgaine. She confronts Merlin, but there was nothing the old man could do. Sadly, the time has come for Merlin to die. (In the book, another young man takes up the mantle of Merlin of Britain). Merlin comforts Vivianne that they haven’t failed; they’ve always done what they thought was right for Avalon. But he urges her to find some small measure of happiness. Mordred is their best hope now.

Speaking of Mordred, he has come to manhood. Vivianne appears, asking him to be Avalon’s champion. Arthur cannot be relied on any longer, he is beginning to forget the Old Ways. And he does not have an heir. Vivianne tells the young man that he is the king’s son. Mordred says it cannot be; his mother is the king’s sister. To Vivianne, that doesn’t matter; his blood is strong in magic. When Mordred speaks to Morgause, she cautions that Mordred cannot take the throne now; Arthur’s flame has never burned brighter, his knights will tear apart anyone who challenges him. Instead, he needs to discredit the king. And the best way to do that is through his queen. Mordred weeps; he’d rather love his father like everyone else does. He’d rather love his mother, Morgaine. He is already weary of God and the Goddess and Fate (he’s sympathetic, for a moment). But he drinks to Arthur’s death.

Mordred goes to Camelot, asking to be one of Arthur’s knights. He wins his place when he bests another in a duel. Arthur embraces him happily as his nephew. They’re a bit surprised to learn Morgaine had a child; she does not speak of it as there was sadness in his making (that’s one way to put it). After a while, Mordred confronts Arthur about his due. He asks Arthur to name his successor and reveals the truth of that Beltane ceremony years ago. Gwen begs Arthur to dispute it, but he cannot. Lancelot later finds Gwen crying and she reveals the truth as well. Mordred has planned this and has knights waiting to arrest them when they’re found kissing. The couple escapes. Arthur refuses to pass judgment on the matter; he loves both Lancelot and Gwenwyfar. He leaves the matter to Mordred.

Morgaine intends to return to Avalon after Uriens’ death, but she is attacked and injured. She tries to sail to Avalon, but cannot part the mists. Instead, she comes upon Glastonbury, where a nun spots her. It’s her mother, Igraine. When Lancelot and Gwen ride from Camelot, he takes her to Glastonbury, where she sees Morgaine. She apologizes for separating the siblings, it is her greatest sin, coming between their love. Morgaine is brought up to speed and rides back for Camelot, to save her brother and her son. The Saxon’s final assault on Britain has begun. Morgaine meets up with Vivianne on the road to Camelot. Vivianne confronts her sister Morgause when they arrive. This is not what the Goddess intended. Indeed not, it’s Morgause’s will. Morgause tries to stab Vivianne, but instead she’s the one who falls to the blade. Mordred cuts down Vivianne in retaliation.

Morgaine goes to her brother and rallies him to take up Excalibur again and stand against Mordred. At the battle, Lancelot returns to Arthur, bringing more men, but the Saxons still outnumber them, now with Mordred at the lead. The two face off on the battlefield (why do they take off their armor? Idiots) while Morgaine rides from Morgause’s and Vivianne’s pyres to stop them. Mordred mortally wounds Arthur, and Arthur strikes Mordred down in return. Both have tears in their eyes. Mordred’s last word is “mother” as Morgaine holds him. Arthur asks “take me home, sister. Take me to Avalon.” They set sail. But the mists still won’t part for Morgaine. Perhaps it has been lost due to their disobedience. Arthur offers Excalibur, Avalon’s sword, as a sacrifice. Morgaine throws it into the lake. The mists separate for a moment. “We’re home, Arthur.” But Arthur dies. The mists cover again. The bell of Glastonbury tolls. Avalon has faded from the world of men; only Glastonbury marks the spot now. The Saxons overran Britain and the Goddess was forgotten. Though many years later, Morgaine wonders if perhaps it survived, as the Virgin Mary.

As I summed up in my paper on the characterization of Morgan le Fae, Mists of Avalon delves into greater detail on elements of traditional Arthurian legend. It explains why Excalibur is magical, it includes how the sword ended up in the lake and its connection to the Lady of the Lake. I don’t think it gives great reasoning on why Mordred became evil, aside from influence from Morgause. Honestly, Morgaine should have kept Mordred with her. That could have prevented some problems. He stated he loved his parents and literally a minute later is plotting their downfall. This story gives a reasonable explanation for how a child came from a union between brother and sister, without being completely *squick.* The whole “for the greater good” excuse is annoying. It’s annoying in Harry Potter and just about everywhere else it is used. Vivianne is portrayed as a grey character. She honestly believes what she is doing is right, but the methods are not great. And she didn’t know that Mordred was being raised by Morgause? How did she think that was going to turn out?

I typically have liked Gwen in other tales, naming my main character after her, but not in this retelling. She’s petty and whiny. The Gwen from Mercedes Lackey’s book is an excellent role model; but I have my character pretty well figured, though she, as much as my story, has evolved over the years. Heck, my plot has evolved since I wrote my capstone paper. After reading Mists of Avalon, my focus shifted to Morgan. And I’m still doing research!

Re-watching this film, after the mental evolution of my story, has changed my feeling on some other characters. Lancelot is mainly fluff, there because the legends say he is. Again, a reasonable explanation is given for the love triangle and I believe that Arthur is progressive, and a good man, to allow it to carry on. It does cause problems with his knights. I mean, overall, characters typically have good intentions in the beginning. But everything becomes complicated and scheming gets in the way. I like this portrayal of Arthur. He is truly a good man. The three women: Vivianne, Igraine, and Morgause (the book states they echo the Mother Goddess and I just realized that their inspiration for my characters make mine echo the Goddess as well…not sure how I did that, but nevertheless, cool) have good and bad sides, like good characters should.

Some of the costuming is better at times; what the ladies where in Avalon is…well, I understand they were going for a fantasy look, but I’m not sure it was the best portrayal. Some of Gwen’s gowns are pretty, as are Morgause’s. Some of Morgaine’s gowns are not as successful. The fur on Mordred at the end was ridiculous.

This ultimately is one of my favorite portrayal’s of the Arthurian legend (the other, you may be able to guess, is BBC’s Merlin series). It’s a complete story and aspects are answered. The movie does not delve too deeply into the religious differences (unlike the book). (I’m looking at you, First Night and King Arthur).

So, next time, we’re on to the first season of Merlin.

And if anyone has questions or is interested in my paper on Morgan le Fae, let me know!

“Wart” is a Horrible Name for a Child

The Sword in the Stone

This was the first iteration of the Arthurian legend I was exposed to; luckily it was not the version that got me interested in the legend. Overall, it has a good message for kids about education and that the best way to move up in the world and to be someone of importance is to have a solid foundation. Brains over brawn, and all that. But just like the source material, T.H. White’s The Once and Future King, I contest it’s characterization. (A tiny bit of background on me as I avoid delving into a rant…I have done some reading on Arthurian legend and my capstone project from college was on Morgan le Fae, where I read The Once and Future King, Le Morte d’Arthur, Mary Stewart’s Crystal Cave sequence, and The Mists of Avalon among other interpretations and I am aware there are several ways of looking at the legend.)

Carrying on…Disney’s movie opens on a storybook, though added this time, singing! And glosses over a decent chunk of the legend…like Uther. Arthur’s father. Though, considering he committed adultery in order to beget Arthur…not the most child-friendly backstory. Disney sums it up as “the good king died.” The country descended into chaos, but lo, magically, a sword appeared in a stone in London town (historical note: not called London at that time). Inscribed upon the sword in gold letters: “Whoso pulleth out this sword of this stone and anvil is rightwise king born of England.” Many tried and failed. The sword is eventually forgotten and England falls into the Dark Ages. (Further historical note: that is not how the Dark Ages happened).

sword in the stone
Forgot that I had done this…there is an “attraction” at Disney where you can attempt to pull the sword from the stone. “King” has been changed to “Ruler” in the inscription.

We first meet an old man with a long white beard, blue robe and hat, complaining about the lack of electricity and plumbing; our first hint that he is not all he seems since even as kids we have figured out those didn’t exist in the Middle Ages. He’s preparing for “someone important” to drop by, as he tells his talking owl, Archimedes. Fate has willed that he will guide a young boy to his place in the world. We next meet said young, scrawny boy – Arthur, called Wart, and muscular Kay. Wart messes up Kay’s shot and rushes into the woods to retrieve the arrow. Demonstrating his lack of grace again, he falls into the old man’s home (landing on the carefully placed chair). The old man introduces himself as Merlin, a wizard who can see centuries into the future (and possibly time travel; in The Once and Future King, White writes that Merlin lives backwards in time). He has futuristic plans and models laying about his home, such as a locomotive and starts expounding that children need a good education. He agrees to accompany Wart back to the castle to begin. A memorable scene of nonsense words packs up his belongings, though Merlin cautions young Wart that magic won’t answer all problems.

Wart’s foster father, Sir Ector is against Merlin’s insistence on an education for Wart at first. His method for raising the klutz is a demerit system and assigning chores (not wholly a bad notion, it does teach responsibility, the excess is the problem). Pellinore brings word of a [jousting] tournament in London that will decide who will be King of England (question: was this not tried before?) Wart correctly explains that only men of proper birth can become knights (and thus, compete in the tournament); Wart being an orphan can only hope to train as a squire, an assistant to a knight. Merlin is tricky and wrangles an agreement for education from Ector. Merlin’s method of teaching involves transforming himself and Wart into different animals. Their first go-about is as fish where we are treated to a diddy teaching us about “for every to there is a fro, for every up there is a down,” and ultimately, brains beat brawn.

Merlin’s next lesson, after magically setting the dishes to wash themselves (not quite as disastrous as Mickey’s stunt with the mops) is to turn him and the boy into squirrels, whose lives are full of trouble. We learn alongside Wart about love (and how persistent female squirrels are about pursuing a mate). I felt a little bad with Wart at how broken-hearted the young girl squirrel was when she found out Wart was human. Next, Wart is turned into a bird and is briefly tutored by Archimedes. Unfortunately, they come across another house in the woods; this time, belonging to Mad Madam Mim. (Note: Mim does not appear in other versions of the Arthurian legend, though there are several other witches, including the Lady of the Lake, Morgan le Fae, and Queen Mab). She takes delight in gruesome and grim games and wishes to destroy Wart since he is friends with Merlin. Merlin shows up to save Wart and is challenged to a wizard’s duel (different from Harry Potter), where the opponents transform themselves into different animals to order to kill each other. Merlin wins in the end by becoming a germ (to her purple dragon; the music at that point reminded me of the music from Sleeping Beauty when Maleficent was a dragon).

merlin and mim wizard duel

Wart is given the news at the castle that he will accompany Ector and newly knighted Sir Kay to London for the tournament. Merlin is disappointed and a bit outraged that Wart still prefers to be a squire rather than continuing his education. He blows himself to Bermuda and the tournament arrives. Unfortunately, Wart has forgotten Kay’s sword back at the inn, which is now locked. He spies a sword in a churchyard, stuck in an anvil and pulls it out. Pellinore realizes that the sword young Wart handed Kay is the legendary Sword in the Stone. He and other knights urge Arthur to show them where he retrieved it and pull it out again. He does so and is crowned King of England. Merlin comes back when Arthur wishes for help ruling the country. The wizard’s parting words are about Arthur’s tale living on for centuries, even being made into “motion pictures.”

I’ll finish the Disney movies and circle back to other interpretations of Arthur (I loved BBC’s Merlin, despite its deviation from traditional legend). It’s a subject I’d love to do more research on; I’ve got some books, but a very long reading list. Until then, any questions? Comments? What’s your favorite legend or myth?

Up Next: Jungle Book