August 03, 2021

#08-117: The Story of Merlin

in an engraving, a long-bearded man with a fierce nose looks into a huge book. The man seems to be wearing black robes and a black cap.
A fiercesome wizard

Note: Move over, Harry Potter: Meet the prototypical wizard named Merlin--advisor to King Arthur and a true wonder worker--in this lesson on BUZZWORDS!

Get Ready: Do you enjoy fantasy stories, filled with wizards and witches and the like? If so, what's your favorite? If not, why not?

Most modern readers know about Gandalf, the wizard in The Lord of the Rings. And many more know Dumbledore and his ilk. But do you know the wizard that started it all, in literature at least?

I'm talking about Merlin, kingmaker and advisor to none other than the great King Arthur.

There is no single book that tells all of Merlin's story, but when we put together the various sources, an interesting profile emerges.

As a boy, Merlin was without a father--rumor had it that his mother had been visited by a demon, which accounted for his powers. Others make him the son (or grandson) of a king. In any case, he was seen as uncanny, and the other boys either taunted him--or ignored him.

His first major public feat was performed for King Vortigern, an historical Celtic figure who fought the Saxons in the fifth century. In the legend, Vortigern was building a tower, which repeatedly collapsed before completion. Vortigern's advisors told him to sprinkle the blood of a fatherless child on the foundations, so Merlin (sometimes called in this story "Ambrosius") was brought before the king.

But instead of becoming a sacrifice, the boy proved his worth by divining the true cause of the problem: two dragons, a red and a white, were fighting in an underground lake beneath the tower's foundations. When Vortigern ordered the place excavated, the freed dragons continued their fight in the air, and the red defeated the white--that is, symbolically, the Celts beat the Saxons. This was Merlin's first official prophecy.

In another story, Merlin witnessed the savagery of war, which drove him mad. He fled to the woods and became a naked, hairy madman, Myrddin Wyllt: "Merlin the Wild." His madness was cured by a historical saint named Kentigern.

Among his other works, Merlin is said to have built Stonehenge (which actually dates to long before his time) by transporting the huge stones from Ireland. He also arranged a deception through which King Uther Pendragon was able to sleep with Lady Igraine, wife of Uther's enemy, Gorlois. The result of that "tryst" (actually a rape) was Arthur, whom Merlin took away immediately after his birth to be raised by a foster family. It was Merlin, too, who arranged the famous "Sword in the Stone" incident, by which Arthur became king, and he designed Arthur's Round Table.

But even the wisest person can sometimes behave foolishly. It is said that Merlin took on a beautiful young female student--some say she was Arthur's half-sister, Morgan le Fay, and others that she was Nimue, the "Lady of the Lake"--and taught her all his magic. She then turned his power against him, and trapped him forever in a cave (though some say a tree).


Read more:

Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. divined
  2. excavated
  3. ilk
  4. kingmaker
  5. madman
  6. rumor has it
  7. savagery
  8. taunted
  9. tryst
  10. uncanny

  1. sort; type
  2. a crazy person
  3. seemingly supernatural
  4. people say; I have heard
  5. found out through magic
  6. brutality; barbarity
  7. a secret meeting by lovers
  8. the power behind an important leader
  9. dug up
  10. teased; made fun of

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for August 3, 2021

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. e; 2. i; 3. a; 4. h; 5. b; 6. d; 7. f; 8. j; 9. g; 10. c