Friday, July 10, 2015

Magic Merlin

I FINALLY finished The Mammoth Book of Merlin edited by Mike Ashley.  It took a while, but I'm finally ready to ramble about it so yay me.  The book is a short story collection about the enigmatic and magical wizard advisor to the mythical King Arthur.  The various authors spin many different takes on the man with varying measures of success, here are the ones I liked the best.  As always SPOILERS AHEAD!

Dream Reader by Jane Yolen - Merlin is a young boy with no name in the start of this story of the young magicians childhood.  He is taken in by a traveling circus where he is shepherded and guided by a mage named Ambrosious and a singer named Viviane. Merlin learns that the dreams he has are prophetic and decides to stay with his friends.  I like the mix of innocence, simplicity, and magic in this great origin tale.

The Horse Who Would Be King by Jennifer Roberson - This was the only truly humorous story, and funny it was.  Essentially this tale attributes most of Merlin's plans to a magic horse who is much more intelligent then most people.  Deciding that no matter who is crowned King, Merlin will be the real power behind the throne, the horse comes up with a plan to put the stable boy Arthur on the throne.  Amazingly this works and we get the Sword in the Stone.

Namer of Beasts, Maker of Souls by Jessica Amanda Salmonson - This story is probably the most abstract, yet most complete...if that makes any sense.  Here we get to see Merlin in many of his mythical forms and we also get to see the Morgain, in various incantations as well.  The story is a love story, a creation story, a mythic story and an epic story.  It's hard to put into words what I liked about this particular style, but it did stick with me.

The Death of Nimue by Esther Fiesner - Here we move to a moment with the sorceress Nimue, who is now old and ready to die.  She tells her youngest daughter that she stole most of her power from Merlin and sealed him into a tomb to sleep.  Nimue is now ready to give up her power and die.  Unfortunately for her, Merlin no longer wants it and condemns her to immortality.  Nimue's daughter willingly takes on the mantle of power freeing her mother to die.  I like this one because it gives us the responsibilities and hazards of power.

Merlin Dreams in the Mondream Wood by Charles de Lint - Here we bring Merlin closer to the present.  In this tale, a young girl befriends a Merlin trapped in a tree in a garden that is part of an unusual house.  Her pure, unselfish love free's him and she forgets about him until becoming an adult.  All I know is this story makes me go talk to all of the cool looking tree's I can find...just in case.

The Dragon Line by Michael Swanwick - This story brings us to the present/future and Mordred, illegitimate/incestuous son of Arthur and his half sister has endured to the future and is now spending all his resources looking for Merlin to help him save the world from it's own destruction at the hands of humans.  Mordred and Merlin clearly do not get along, but Mordred needs his help.  It comes to light that Merlin killed the real Arthur as a babe and replaced him as his own son, making Mordred his grandson.  This story is dark, weird, and one of my favorite.
Overall this was not one of my favorites.  Most of the stories felt like they dragged on for quit a bit.  You may notice that most of the stories I liked the best were not even about Merlin at all.  It felt like most of the stories were pieces of much larger stories that would only really make sense or be interesting if you knew the whole thing.  I felt like the short story format did not actually work all that well for most of the stories in the collection and wanted more actual "short stories" that did not need as much background info.  I actually had to force myself to get through this collection, not because the writing was bad, just because the format did not work.  I felt if more stories had actually been written as short stories instead of pieces lifted out of a larger whole (which is what happened with most stories according to the authors notes) that this book would have worked much better.  I am disappointed because I LOVE Merlin and all his incantations and was looking forward to the different ways his story could be told.  Overall I give the collection a 5 out of 10 Swords in the Stone and wish it had been better.  Happy Reading Everybody!

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