November 17, 2023

#08-359: The Death of Merlin

Nimue and Merlin (detail) (Wikimedia)

Note: Even the wisest of wizards can be a fool for love. Case in point: the humbling of Merlin.

Get Ready: Why do you think folk stories are told with so many variations?

In the 15th century, a knight named Thomas Malory set about to record an organized account of the life of the legendary King Arthur, taken from various sources. The story is so long that it is almost always published in two volumes. And yet, the work is titled after only one event in the story. It is called Le Morte d'Arthur--the "death of Arthur."

It seems the title is a classic mistake, and not the one Malory intended at all. It was meant to be the title of only the final section of the whole, but when Malory ended that portion, "Thus endeth this... book [meaning "section"] entytled le morte Darthur..." it was taken as the name of the entire book.

But it is not entirely wrong. From his conception through his birth, testing, kingship, and final battle, Arthur's whole life seems to have been aiming for that one defining moment. And Malory's account of his death and the disposition of his remains is certainly one of the most stirring in the entire story.

But Malory's is only one of a myriad of accounts of Arthur's life. And the same is true of his wizard and advisor, Merlin. The only point the various accounts of Merlin's death have in common is that he was trapped by a female student.

Was she his lover? Was it requited? Was she a woman, or an adolescent girl? Was it in England, Brittany (a peninsula on the northwest coast of France), or Wales?

What was her name? Morgan le Fay? Nyneve, Nymue, or Nimue? Viviane? Niniane? Was she a (or the) Lady of the Lake?

And in what was Merlin trapped? In a tree? In a cave? Under a large stone? In a pit in the ground? Or in a crystal tower, which through magic appeared only as a mist to passersby?

Was Merlin truly deceived? Or did he allow it to happen? Or knowing what was happening, did he somehow lose the power to stop it?

The only outline we can derive from the many, many stories is this: Merlin had a talented female student. Whether out of possessive love or vaunting ambition, she decided to set him aside--but not kill him. Using the powers he had given her, she eternally suspended him in either a natural or supernatural state. Some say she could still visit him, and that his voice could still be heard after he was gone.

But some say it was just the wind in the trees.


Practice: Match the term to its definition:

  1. adolescent
  2. deceived
  3. myriad
  4. passersby
  5. possessive
  6. requited
  7. stirring
  8. supernatural
  9. suspended
  10. vaunting
  1. not of this earth
  2. excessive
  3. prevented from continuing
  4. returned
  5. people going past
  6. fooled
  7. demanding too much love
  8. moving; exciting
  9. large amount
  10. teenaged

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for November 17, 2023

1 comment:

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