MERLIN V MERLIN!!
Brought to you by OBS Staff Member Karolina Avalon
I make it absolutely no secret that I have a complete weakness for the Arthurian Legend. I have since I was a child. I’m not totally sure what captured me about the legend; That a young boy could seal his fate as Britain’s saviour by pulling a sword from a stone? The dedication that the knights of the round table showed their king? Lancelot’s and Guinevere’s deplorable (in my young mind) betrayal? Merlin and Arthur’s camaraderie and battles? The fact that there were references to dragons? It could have been all of the above reasons, or none of them, Whatever it was that captured MY imagination, it’s been a long standing fascination for me – and, I’ll be honest – I’m not that easy to enrapture. So, when BBC came out with their version of Merlin, with the idea of telling the Arthurian legend , not only from Merlin’s point of view, but from a YOUNG Merlin’s point of view, I was intrigued. Wary, but intrigued.
I watched the ads with trepidation, not sure how I would feel about one of my long standing favourite legends given this twist. There was something incredibly intriguing about the beautiful, white medieval castle and the young, dark haired , almost unearthly looking Merlin putting a finger to his lips and telling us to “Keep the Magic secret”. So, I watched the first episode. I followed the wide-eyed Merlin down the alleyways of Camelot. I gasped in horror at Uther’s cruelty towards those with Magic. By the time Merlin stopped in Camelot’s courtyard to apprehend a blond haired, blue eyed prat who turned out to be one Arthur Pendragon, I was hooked.
No, BBC’s version of Merlin isn’t the Arthurian Legend. I get so frustrated when people point this out, especially when there is no one version of the legend, as there is no one version of Robin Hood. Yes, BBC’s Merlin is sometimes crazy and silly and aimed at children. But, the essence of the Legend is there, embodied in the characters and the wonderful actors who portray them. So, with that in mind, and in preparation for Season 4 Merlin, I thought I’d introduce CLASH OF THE LEGENDS: Merlin style. I’ll pick the main characters of the Arthurian Legends , give a quick run down (because honestly, I could be here forever otherwise- not that I mind, but I’m sure you have other things to do) and compare them with their BBC counterparts. And, if you all see fit, you can let me know who you think is better and why.
So, without further ado, let’s start with the big guns. Move over, Boy Who Lived – it’s Merlin Versus Merlin! *lightning crashes*
SPOILERS FOR THE ARTHURIAN LEGEND AND FOR BBC MERLIN
MERLIN FROM THE ARTHURIAN LEGEND
Disney’s version of Merlin from the once and future King
Most commonly depicted as an old man with a long white beard, Merlin actually first appears in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s writing, History of the Kings of Britain (12th century), as a young boy.. The King Vortigern wanted to build a castle for himself in the region of Snowdonia. Every time the walls reached a certain height, they fell to the ground. The druids, who were advisers to the King, told him that only the boy with no father could stop this from happening – by watering the stones of the castle with his own blood. Soldiers were sent out to search for such a boy, and, lo and behold, when they reached the town of Carmarthen – they heard a boy being taunted for being ‘fatherless’. He was the son of a local princess, but his father was thought to be of the faery race. The soldiers brought the child to their king; but instead of allowing himself to be sacrificed, the young Emrys Ambrosius (later known as Merlin) released two dragons, who were fighting below the hill- and were causing the walls of the castle to crumble. As the released dragons fought in the sky, the young Emrys chanted a number of prophecies. Vortigern, now chastened, spared the boys’ life, and declared him the greatest prophet.
This prophet went on to be the advisor to many , and most importantly for our purposes, Uther Pendragon. Uther Pendragon becomes one of the most powerful Kings, and , with Merlin’s help, sires Britain’s greatest King -Arthur. The legend goes that Uther, filled with lust for Gorlois of Cornwell’s wife, Igraine, asked for Merlin’s help in wooing her. Merlin uses his magic to make Uther the likeness of Gorlois – and, while Gorlois is of in battle – a battle in which he dies – Uther sneaks into Igraine’s room and from their union, Arthur is born.
Merlin is a strong figure in Arthur’s life. It’s Merlin who orchestrates the sword in the stone challenge, making it known that only the true King of Britain can pull the sword out. When Excalibur breaks, it is Merlin who takes Arthur to the lady of the lake. Merlin advises Arthur in his battles and his quest for the holy grail. And, it is Merlin who assists Arthur in continuously defeating his half sisters, Morgause and Morgraine. However, according to Monmouth – it was Merlin and Morgraine who carried the slain Arthur to his final resting place -Avalon.
Some legends say Merlin had a sister (a seer as well)- and that he was responsible for his sister’s childrens’ deaths. Also, it’s possible that Merlin was more than one person, sometimes being referred to as Merlin Ambrosius, Merlin Emrys, Myrddin Wyllt (Merlin the wild/mad). According to Monmouth, he was responsible for Stonehenge. According to Thomas Mallory’s Le Morte D’Arthur, Merlin created the legendary round table. Sometimes Merlin’s father is not a faery, but an incubus. Sometimes his mother is a priestess. TH White has Merlin living backwards in history (hence his prophecies and eccentricities). Merlin’s ‘history’ is is shrouded in mystery. He even appears in writings from the city of Bath in the 1400’s.
Merlin’s love is Vivienne. Or Nimueh. This is the name of either the lady of the lake, or of a princess. There is not only discrepancies on who she was, but also her affection to Merlin. Some legends say she loved him, but he did not return her affections, and others maintain it was the other way around.
Merlin’s end comes in the form of Nimueh (the legend’s Lady of the Lake); he is either trapped in a cave, or in a tree for all eternity. And, for all of Merlin’s prophetic abilities, he was never able to properly warn his friend and King, Arthur Pendragon, of the betrayal of the love of his life, or his death at the hand of his son.
BBC MERLIN (played by Colin Morgan)
Picture from the official Merlin BBC site (season 1 Merlin)
As young man, Merlin arrives in Camelot, wide eyed and fresh. Within the first five minutes of his arrival – he witnesses the execution of a man accused of magic. This automatically launches him (encouraged by his mentor Gaius) to be less than truthful with everyone he meets. Merlin is from a small village, known as Ealdor, outside of Camelot’s lands. He grew up with his mother , Hunith, a poor farmer woman, and never knew his father, who left (and later it is revealed he left due to Uther, and was a dragon lord). This Merlin has no pointy hat, the only thing that shows he is a warlock, and a powerful one, is that his eyes flair yellow. Merlin receives a magic book from Gaius in the first few episodes of season 1, but by season 2 and 3 Merlin is quite apt at yelling out the appropriate old English spell to suit his needs.
Many people, such as Uther, Arthur, and even Gaius, view Merlin as a bumbling idiot and not worth noticing. For the most part, this serves Merlin’s purpose perfectly, as he gets overlooked by people such as Nimueh, Morgause, and, in season 3 , his once close friend, Morgana. However, there are very clear moments where it is very evident that Merlin resents this description and perception, knowing it is a shield to hide who, and what, he is from the forces that could prevent Arthur coming to the throne.
Arthur and Merlin’s relationship is rocky from the start. Merlin stops the young Arthur , showing off to his friends and bullying a servant. At the time , Merlin has no idea Arthur is, and is thrown into the dungeon for his treason towards the kings’ son. This, however, does not stop him goading Arthur again, and them coming to blows. At the end of that fight, Arthur proclaims “There’s something about you, Merlin.” Merlin saves Arthur’s life, and, as a reward, is placed as Arthur’s manservant by King Uther. This starts a habit between the two boys – they fight and bicker constantly, but would die for each other as well. They (at different times) drink poison for each other, defy Uther for each other, save each other from bandits. There is also a suggestion in season 1, during a challenge and battle with Nimueh (who I will look deeper at individually) , that the boys have a psychic link of some sort. Arthur will treat Merlin horribly, but then go to all lengths to save him, and even talks to him, not Guinevere, about his mother Ygraine and her death. He also admits his love for Gwen (this version’s Guinevere) to Merlin, and follows him to Ealdor when it is under siege. In turn, Merlin is completely devoted to Arthur, readily admitting he would serve Arthur until the day he dies, that his life is worth less than Arthur’s, and that he will always be with him. Merlin also delights in pointing out Arthur’s follies, and giving him names like “prat”, “clot pole” and “dollop head”. However, it is Merlin who rallies Athur to fight for Camelot by the end of s3. By the end of season 3, even though Arthur has no idea of Merlin’s magic, the two are definitely firmly entrenched in each other’s lives and destinies.
Merlin’s relationship with Uther is interesting. Generally Uther either ignores Merlin or treats him like a simpleton and a waste of space – but when Arthur is acting strange or something’s wrong, it is Merlin he turns to. Merlin has had every reason to loathe Uther, as Morgana does in the show – and has opportunities to kill him, but never has. There seems to be a begrudging respect on both sides, and Merlin’s understanding that Arthur may not be ready to be king -although it is discussed at the end of s3, with Uther’s madness.
Merlin is around when Arthur uncovers the round table, and sits to Arthur’s right. He is very close friends with Gwen, and is her confidante (and crush in s1) during the show, as well as Arthur’s confidante. Merlin has his own confidante in the form of the Great dragon, who cryptically tells him of his and Arthur’s future. Merlin himself has started making prophetic proclamations as of season 3. Merlin’s love is Freya, a woman who was cursed and changed into a creature at the stroke of midnight. It was his love for her that almost made him abandon his destiny with Arthur – until Arthur unwittingly killed her. Merlin took her to a lake, where she became the legendary Lady of the lake. BBC’s Merlin has also glimpsed at the crystal cave, which told him the future (or so he thought). Oh, and the druids in the show refer to Merlin as his druid name -Emrys.
This Merlin has fought a variety of mythical creatures, saved a unicorn, become a dragon lord (with the death of his father) , helped forge Excalibur, hid Excalibur, and created the sword in the stone challenge for s4. He has conquered life and death by fighting and winning against Nimueh and getting the cup of life. He is Arthur’s tormentor, tormentee, friend and confidante. He is a powerful warlock who is coming to terms with how powerful he is. He is a loyal friend and loving and kind. He has , however, made major mistakes – like although knowing of Morgana’s downfall, not acting on it, and also allowing Mordred to live, and these mistakes do keep coming back and will play a huge part in this story – or at least so it seems.
Colin Morgan as Old Merlin from BBC Merlin, season 3 ep 10: the queen of hearts.
So, that’s it! Merlin v Merlin done! Who do you think won? Why? Was there anything that you loved that I didn’t mention? Do you think BBC’s Merlin will end up in a tree? Please note ; this is very much a crash course in Arthurian Legend – there is so much more to both characters of this rich legend. I have to say, one of my favourite things in Merlin BBC (besides the relationship between Arthur and Merlin) is the mesh of the most prominent Merlin legends out there.
Thanks for reading, and let us know what you think in our forum!!
Clash of the Legends, part 2, Arthur v Arthur is also now up!
One of the great things about the new BBC version of Merlin is that, by breaking a few rules, it has created a whole new take on the legend that is totally relevant to today’s society. I have noticed that at no point in the first three seasons do they mention Christianity (which was a HUGE theme in most versions of the Arthurian legend), probably to open the audience up to people of all religions. The girls in the show have spirit and certainly aren’t afraid to speak their minds, but ultimately the thing that draws me to this version over the many others I have come across before is Merlin himself. Both the way he is written and the way he is played (by Colin Morgan) allow the audience to connect with him and care about him and his journey. He is funny, serious, an idiot capable of very human mistakes and a wise and loyal friend. I hope that the producers at BBC don’t feel too bound to end up in the same place as all the other versions of the story, but remain true to the characters they have built. This is a show that deserves to remain on air for many more seasons to come!
I think the BBC creators have hinted that they want to keep to the essence of the legends – and someone could argue that the old religion versus the new – after purge life that Uther is promoting is a nod to the christian values that were highlighted in the Legends as Chretien de Troyes developed – but of course – it’s not being painted in the most noble light in the BBC version. I would love to see how they carry out these characters journeys- and only time will tell on how closely they will stick to the legend! Thanks for your comment!
I’m not really an expert in the matter, but one of the things that I find most beautifulI about this story is that you can tell this stroy in so many different ways. I love all versions of the legend, but the young Merlin version of BBC is my absolute favorite, certainly since season 3 when it became a bit darker and when they introduced the character of Gawain (I hope you discuss this character as well). Personally, I don’t think that Merlin will wind up in a tree, or that Arthur will die. But offcourse you can never be sure.
I’m totally not an expert in this either, but as I mentioned, it’s one of my long standing favourite stories. I definitely love the variations of the legend, as well as the underlying morals and themes that seem to run through them all. Another thing that I love (that you sort of mentioned) is that I don’t think they wil show the fate of BBC’s Arthur and Merlin – but they are hinting that it’s heading towards that of the legend. Merlin in a tree- I must admit my wacky sense of humour would kind of like to see it, just to see how BBC would tackle that particular part of the legend, but it’s definitely not a requirement! And yes, Gwaine will be mentioned later. Thank you for your comment!