* Prices may differ from that shown
The legend of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table is a mythical cultural icon that Britain has cherished and puzzled over for centuries now. There are God only knows how many different versions of the same basic tale, and as a result theres the straight-laced warrior version, the romantic Camelot version and the completely fantastical magical Merlin version. Last years disastrous film outing with Clive Owen was surely proof enough that the public dont want the dull, Arthur-was-just-a-brave-but-regular-guy version. Since Stephen Lawhead is a science fiction author, and the book in question is entitled Merlin, a.k.a Arthurs dark, magical sidekick, you could be forgiven for thinking this novel would be a nice, escapist exploration of the preposterous side of the Arthur legend. However, you would be entirely WRONG. Lawheads series of, and I laughingly use the phrase, fantasy novels is actually a five piece set of dry, dull narrative that hardly nods a head towards any mystical goings on.
Merlin is in fact the second instalment of the Pendragon series, and it follows up Taliesin in much the same way; as a very boring vehicle for Stephen Lawhead to parade his history skills. It is quite feasible to read Merlin without having read the first novel, since each book in this series merely tells the tale of one generation without leaving any threads unsolved. In other words, youre reading five books about five different people, all of whom are supposed to be closely related yet require separate books Lawhead having some contract issues perhaps? Ah, whatever, my point was that you can feel free to read this as a stand-alone novel.
The novel, unsurprisingly, begins with Merlins childhood, detailing his slow magical training. Dont hold your breath for any nice mystical elemental conjuring or transfiguration, or even any little old spell...Merlins super duper magical skill is to understand animals how exciting. Not. If Id been keen to read about animal conversations Id have gone for Dr. Doolittle. Considering Merlins part in the Arthurian legend has always been a mysterious, and sometimes dangerous, one, you could expect a little spice in his history, or at the very least a darkness to his character. Unfortunately, one of Lawheads main problems is his lack of characterisation, and Merlin, in the end, is a poor, one-dimensional personality with no charisma, and who is in no way the compelling figure we are all familiar with. Lawhead instead portrays Merlin with the flair of a historical biographer rather than a fantasy novelist, and it makes for an extremely dull read.
The plot itself is somewhat absent, and the novel merely plods through Merlins life like a passive bystander with little interesting analysis to make. The story only picks up when the character of Arthur himself is introduced, which leads me to believe that Lawheads intention was always to concentrate solely upon this legend alone. However, the romanticism that has always made his tale so appealing is sadly left out, making for a dry read about his war conquests and allegiances. Once again, reading was somewhat like reading a history log.
The narrative, as I have already stressed, is very dry. Lawhead also frequently (and confusingly) veers from one narrative stance to the other, and since more than one comes in the form of the thoughts of animals, things become a bit muddled. The animal sections are confounding and entirely pointless, the only reasoning behind them that I could surmise was Lawheads last-ditch attempt to include some fantasy aspects. Its a lacklustre effort, though, and merely annoying.
The be-all and end-all of the matter is that Lawhead has taken a perfectly interesting, compelling legend with great fantasy potential, and wasted it by trying to maintain too much historical context/reality. Merlin as a non magical character is merely boring, as is his plodding past. The next time I delve into the Arthurian legend, it will hopefully be with a healthy dose of romanticism, if only to keep the myth alive. If we were all to go by Lawheads version, I could see the story slipping into obscurity very, very soon
An epic set Against the Backcloth of a Roman Britain and Celtic Legend.