This important addition to Arthurian scholarship traces the origins of Merlin, unearthing consequential new material.
The Merlin of myth was a legendary magician and prophet in the court of King Arthur. Ardrey uses etymology, newly discovered historical documents and a fair dose of logical thinking to trace the roots of this forgotten man to sixth- and seventh-century Scotland, a radical discovery given that scholars have long proposed the real Merlin lived a century earlier in England and/or Wales. “If I am right,” writes the author, “British history for the period from the late fifth to the early seventh century stands to be rewritten.” Ardrey casts Merlin as an exceedingly influential politician, scholar and commander in chief whose real story was suppressed by Christian writers for nearly 1,500 years, his clout undermined by slander that he was a madman. He was, says the author, a defender of the old way in a century defined by two major conflicts—the Angles against the Britons and the Christians against the Druids. Along with his twin sister Languoreth, Queen of the Britons of Strathclyde, Merlin was a central player in an epic fight that would determine the politics and faith of a nation for centuries to come. Unfortunately, Ardrey’s passion for his subject is often buried under dry, thesis-style prose; while he provides a sound defense for his scholarship, he misses the opportunity to make the book accessible to a wide readership. The included timeline is helpful, but the book lacks maps, family trees or even a “cast of character” list, all major omissions. Still, the discoveries of the real birthplace, battlefields and final resting place of Merlin, the man, as well as the many intriguing riffs into the lives and bitter rivalries of other important figures of that time, provide enough fodder to maintain reader interest.
Too academic, but still a significant book for die-hard Merlin fans and skeptical scholars.