Arthurian Literature: The Evolution of Merlin Essay

Arthurian Literature: The Evolution of Merlin Essay

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Arthurian Literature: The Evolution of Merlin         

    In all the long history of literature, some fictional characters have loomed above others, written about again and again by various authors of various eras. Arthurian literature is one area of fiction that has always been popular for writers to recreate in new versions, and one of the most intriguing characters of all Arthurian literature is Merlin, the magician/ prophet who aids Arthur early in his reign. As the Arthurian saga develops, so does Merlin, changing from an aloof, druidical character into a more human, magical being, though always retaining some traces of his Welsh origins.

Merlin gains his first mention in eight ancient Welsh poems attributed to the Welsh bard Myrddin. (Bruce) Signs of his Welsh, druidical heritage are all through the verses. One poem invokes an apple-tree to hide Merlin from his pursuing enemies, and magical apple-trees are common in Welsh fairyland. Another of Merlin's purported poems is addressed to a little pig, and in another he mentions a wolf as one of his few companions. Both of these animals are common devotional cult-objects in Welsh druidism. One poem indicates that Merlin/Myrddin spends a great deal of his time with deer, perhaps even appearing in the form of a stag and living as one. This description is reminiscent of the Welsh stag-god Cernunnos, "The Horned One," who appears as a man with a stag's head and associates with deer. (Tolstoy) In the Welsh poem "Ymddiddan Myrddin a Thaliesin" ("The Dialogue of Merlin and Taliesin"), written down around 1050, we receive our first indication of Merlin's most prominent gift in later literature, that of prophecy. The poem ends with the lines "Since I, Myrdin, am next after ...

... middle of paper ... of the great and enigmatic characters of the Matter of Britain and, for that matter, of all literature.

  Works Cited

Bruce, Dr. James Douglas.

The Evolution of Arthurian Romance. Gloucester, Mass.: Peter Smith, 1958.

Loomis, Roger Sherman.

The Arthurian Romance. London: Hutchinson & Co. Ltd., 1963.

Loomis, Roger Sherman, ed.

Arthurian Literature in the Middle Ages: A Collaborative History. Clarendon Press, 1959.

Ownbey, E. Sydnor.

Merlin and Arthur: A Study of Merlin's Character and Function in the Romances Dealing with the Early Life of Arthur. Vanderbilt University, 1932.

Paton, Dr. Lucy Allen.

Studies in the Fairy Mythology of Arthurian Romance. New York: Burt Franklin, 1960.

Tatlock, J.S.P.

The Legendary History of Britain. Berkeley & Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1950.



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