8.28.2013

Currently Reading: The Crystal Cave

The Crystal Cave (Arthurian Saga, #1)"Do you want to go into the crystal cave again?"

"N-no, I don't. But I think perhaps I should. Surely you can tell me that?"

He said heavily, after a few moments: "I think you must go in, yes. But first, I must teach you something more. You must make the fire for yourself this time. Not like that—" smiling, as I reached for a branch to stir the embers. "Put that down. You asked me before you went away to show you something real. This is all I have left to show you. I hadn't realized... Well, let that go. It's time. No, sit still, you have no more need of books, child. Watch now."

Of the next thing, I shall not write. It was all the art he taught me, apart from certain tricks of healing. But as I have said, it was the first magic to come to me, and will be the last to go. I found it easy, even to make the ice-cold fire and the wild fire, and the fire that goes like a whip through the dark; which is just as well, because I was young to be taught such things, and it is an art which, if you are unfit or unprepared, can strike you blind.

Author: Mary Stewart

From Goodreads: Born the bastard son of a Welsh princess, Myrddin Emrys—or as he would later be known, Merlin—leads a perilous childhood, haunted by portents and visions. But destiny has great plans for this no-man's-son, taking him from prophesying before the High King Vortigern to the crowning of Uther Pendragon . . . and the conception of Arthur -- king for once and always.

Little Notes: Stewart's tale of Wales-in-the-time-of-Merlin is vivid and sensory and three-dimensional, depicted in some of the better prose I've come across in epic fantasy—as I would have expected from the author of The Moon-Spinners. It's an Arthurian retelling, narrated by Merlin himself, but more fantastic than historical; it sources Geoffrey of Monmouth, who, the author admits, is a great storyteller and a lousy historian. On the other hand, it posits Merlin as more frequently a good scientist than a magician, so it's quite light on the supernatural for a fantasy novel.

My one criticism of any weight centers around Merlin's belief that all gods of light are one—which struck me as anachronistic, though I could be wrong. Christians like myself will probably find their suspension of disbelief challenged by the outworkings of that; for instance, when Merlin's One God directs him to aid in an adulterous seduction. That aside, however, I thought this novel was superb. I've picked up a number of Arthurian works, and this is the first I've managed to finish. It's beautifully done. I already have the sequel on order.

P.S. Christie, if you haven't read this book, you want to. :)

9 comments:

  1. oooo, I might read this one! I could enjoy Well-Written Epic Scientist Merlin.

    I don't think it's too anachronistic in theory, though it could easily be anachronistic in practice. We don't know a lot about Celtic religion, but historically, monotheistic variants on polytheistic religions can tend to crop up pretty easily, especially if there's a theory-weaving religious caste hanging around with time on its hands to think, "Well, Demeter has three forms and the Romans call Manopos Apollo; maybe they're all the same." Plus, if you're put off by the idea of a bunch of gods fighting with each other all the time and jostling for human attention, but don't like to dispense with the idea of gods entirely, it can feel like a step in a more rational direction to say, "Well, those are all just stories; there's really only one divinity." So it might make a lot of sense for Merlin in-story, if he's both scientifically minded and stuck having visions all the time.

    I guess whether I felt like Monotheistic Merlin was anachronistic would depend on how he was written, whether it feels like something that developed naturally out of Merlin's personality and experience, or if it was just pasted on by the author because she felt like it was obvious.

    Which is just a long way of saying this book sounds super interesting!

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    1. Interesting thoughts! About the only thing I know about the old Celtic religions is that we don't know much about them. In the context of the story, Stewart emphasizes the mythological similarities between Mithras and Christ, and includes some plot developments to anchor Merlin's melding of the two (though he himself is Mithraist--but his mother is Christian). So it does sort of work.

      It IS a fantastic story, and if you're intrigued, I definitely recommend reading it! Can't wait to get hold of the sequel, myself.

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    2. Well, heck, if he's got a Christian mother and there are Mithras people running around, he's got two feet in the door already! :D I'll check it out soon and report back on the readings from my anachro-meter.

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    3. As it's a religion I'm really interested in, the research I've done suggests that the Celts believed in many gods . . . how they were related (if they were aspects of one greater being or not) I don't know. So you have Celtic re-constructionists who firmly disassociate themselves with new age Paganism and the like. But we still don't know enough about them, so even what they believe and practice has to be filled in by a lot of guesswork.

      It sounds like this Merlin has an in-plot reason to suppose a monotheistic religion.

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  2. Do you like the way the teaching of magic is handled? It seems like in a lot of stories, the protagonist is able to master magic too quickly ("just relax, believe, feel it tingle in your toes, and you've got it). Because it's so easy, it undermines the impressiveness and believability of the magic.

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    1. HAHA. I know what you mean. But in this story, there's very little direct teaching of magic (the above quote might be the only example), and the displays of actual supernatural power are mostly along the lines of "The god is using me--I have no control over it." Most of the things that the other characters see as magical are really just Merlin knowing more about physics and medicine than anyone else. I didn't feel like it was a case of arbitrary Phenomenal Cosmic Powers as I remember. :)

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    2. Ah, that makes sense. Sounds like an interesting book!

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  3. THANKS! I'm looking it up on my library's website and adding it o my least right now!

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    1. I want to know what you think of it! I just got the sequel and will be reading it soon.

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