Tag Archives: Arthurian legend

Merlin (2008 TV Series)

BBC

AKA: The Adventures of Merlin

Status: Complete (5 seasons/65 episodes)

My rating: 4.5 of 5 (if I’m being honest about the show’s merits) or 6 of 5 (if I’m expressing my undying love of this amazing show)

SPOILER ALERT: I’m going to try to make this review as spoiler-free as possible, but there are certain events which are so deeply a part of Arthurian legend that I can’t honestly consider them spoilers and as such, I may discuss the show’s treatment of them, at least a bit. So if you want a completely spoiler-free impression of this show, just go watch it . . . seriously, what are you waiting for?

Into the heart of Camelot, a kingdom where Uther its king has long made the practice of magic a capital offence, wanders a young man for whom magic is such an integral part of his being as his own breath. Merlin. He’s been sent by a desperate mother to be mentored by the one person she trusts, Uther’s court physician Gaius . . . but deeper and more ancient forces of destiny are at work than a mother’s worry. Merlin rapidly becomes fast friends with the Lady Morgana’s serving girl, Gwen, and just as rapidly gets on the bad side of the prattish prince Arthur. But just because Arthur’s a prat doesn’t mean Merlin wants to see him dead, so he manages to save the prince’s life (secretly using magic) and get himself rewarded by becoming the prince’s manservant (what an honor!). Destiny is at work, though, bringing these two together–the Once and Future King and Emrys, the greatest sorcerer to ever live who will help this king unite the land of Albion, little though they may know it. They may, in time, even become friends, although you’d be hard pressed to get Arthur to admit it.

I love Merlin so very much, and it’s one of those shows that gets better with time–both as you get further into the series and as you watch it again. Certainly, it has its faults (which will be discussed in a bit), but the characters grow on you so very much and their relationships are so rich that the problems with the show are easy to overlook (or at least I have found it so). Essentially, this show is a loose retelling of Arthurian legend–and I mean it when I say it’s a loose retelling. There are certain things that carry over strongly from the classic tales such as names/characters (Arthur, Uther, Merlin, Guinevere, Sir Gwaine, Lancelot, etc.) and events (for instance, you can probably guess how the story ends right from the beginning, the tragedies of Morgana and Mordred, etc.). There’s a lot of original material too, though; the Arthurian legends are only a rough framework for what is essentially an original story. As I said above, there are some things this show doesn’t do so amazingly. The first couple seasons can be a bit repetitive (there are memes; just saying) if you’re looking at the plot of each episode in relation to the other surrounding episodes. This does get better as the show progresses, and I also find that it becomes less noticeable as the characters and their relationships grow on you–the episode framework becomes a background on which the characters are displayed, rather than the main focus of the story. The passage of time is a bit strange and hard to keep track of, too; obviously, only about 5 years passes for the actors, but clearly more time does in the lives of the characters over the course of the show . . . it’s just hard to tell how much time, since the actors haven’t aged to match the passage of time (ignoring the times when Merlin goes old, which are fabulous). The other problem I’ve noticed (and I know I’m not the only one) is that certain characters, particularly Uther and Morgana, are (while brilliantly portrayed by their respective actors) written in an overly one-sided sort of way. For instance, I find it hard to believe that Uther could be so utterly single-minded in his hatred of magic as he is portrayed to be. And Morgana’s change of heart seems too abrupt, too lacking in internal conflict, even considering all that she went through to get to that point. But despite its faults, Merlin is one of my absolute favorite shows ever. Merlin’s character is just brilliantly portrayed (thank you, Colin Morgan), with enough internal conflict and richness of character to totally make up for any lacks elsewhere. And there are so many other brilliant characters–Arthur (obviously; Bradley’s work here is fabulous), Gwen (highly underrated; I adore her), Gaius(amazing mentor character), Gwaine (how can you not love him?!), Leon (also highly underrated), and so many others. The relationship between Merlin and Arthur is so good, too. You can clearly see how they both change over time through their growing friendship, going from basically despising each other to “you’re the only friend I have and I couldn’t bear to lose you.” There’s this great bromance between them, full of sass and humor and teasing, but stemming from a friendship that runs deep. And Colin and Bradley do such a great job of portraying this!!! There are plenty of other cool fantasy/legendary aspects of this show, heartbreaking plots, breathtakingly funny bits . . . but it’s their friendship that makes me love this show so very much.

Created by Julian Jones, Jake Michie, Johnny Capps, & Julian Murphy/Written by Julian Jones/Produced by Julie Gardner & Bethan Jones/Starring Colin Morgan, Bradley James, Angel Coulby, Katie McGrath, Richard Wilson, Anthony Head, Nathaniel Parker, & John Hurt/Music by Rob Lane & Rohan Stevenson

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A Question of Motives (Merlin Fanfic)

Author: Alaia Skyhawk

FanFiction ID: 6319981

Status: Complete (80 Chapters)

My rating: 3.5 of 5

If only Arthur had actually been knocked out like he’d been pretending to be. Then he would never have to have known that Merlin, his manservant (and best friend, if he’d just admit it), has been keeping important secrets from him. Like the fact that he has magic. Which is illegal. In a kingdom where Arthur’s father is the king. Awkward. . . . Now Arthur has to decide how to carry on from here, and Merlin in turn has to determine how to handle Arthur’s newfound knowledge. Of course, if they can work through the initial awkwardness of the situation, hang onto the deep friendship they share, they could turn this transparency between them into something good–maybe even something amazing–for the benefit of Camelot and each other.

Wow, I have to say that the amount of work put into A Question of Motives is impressive. This story follows series 3 of BBC’s Merlin from the latter parts of episode 2 all the way past the end . . . only in this version, Arthur knows all about Merlin’s magic right from the beginning. What’s more, he accepts it and helps Merlin keep his secret! All in all, I think this story is happier and lighter than most of the Merlin fanfics I’ve read (other than the utterly absurd crack ones, obviously). It’s serious, and when events in the show become dark, this fanfic does as well, but it’s lacking the typical angst that is so very common in this particular fandom. And while I do love the angst, I found  A Question of Motives to be a welcome change. It’s engaging and adventurous, full of friendship and laughter. The author does a great job of altering events in the story to fit with Arthur’s newfound knowledge and the growing group of people involved in Merlin’s secret, slipping original episodes in amongst the canon show episodes and even introducing some charming OCs (yes, I do love Liam!). The only things about this story that were awkward or strange to me were: 1) The author has a way of saying “was stood” when you would usually hear “stood” or “was standing.” I’ve seen a few other authors do this, and I’m wondering if it’s a regional thing . . . but it sounds kind of odd to me. No biggie, though. 2) Uther is too nice and understanding. Of course, it could be that the Uther we see in the show is too polarized and we’re missing this side of him. It was nice to see him being nice on occasion. Just kind of unsettling as well. 3) There was an almost RPG feel to the way that Merlin and his gang acquired new skills, party members, status, etc. Not that that’s a bad thing, it was just kind of noticeable. Still, none of these things was outstanding enough to spoil my enjoyment of a fun and well-written fanfic, which A Question of Motives definitely is. It looks like the author has some other fics connected to this one, and while I haven’t read any of them yet, I will try to point out those connections when I get a chance.

Note: You can find A Question of Motives at https://www.fanfiction.net/s/6319981/1/A-Question-of-Motives.

 

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Often So Much (Merlin Fanfic)

Author: Ultra-Geek

FanFiction ID: 8840901

Status: Complete (One-shot)

My rating: 5 of 5

For centuries, Arthur has waited in Avalon for the time ordained for him to return. Waited patiently. Okay, we all know that’s a lie. Truth is, his royal pratness is about to drive Freya crazy, so she sends him back to Merlin a decade ahead of time.

I cannot tell you how much I love this adorable little one-shot. I love post 5×13 stories in general (because the ending of Merlin makes me sad and I need something after to cheer me up). And Ultra-Geek’s stories in general are quite well written and interesting; I would recommend any and all of them. But Often So Much in particular hits a sweet spot for me. The descriptions of the interactions between Arthur and Freya are perfect, and especially the way Freya’s personality is fleshed out and her reactions to Arthur play out are golden. Arthur’s attitudes are spot on as well. And the reunion between Arthur and Merlin is just perfect, nearly enough to make me cry through my grin . . . because it’s touching but a smidge funny too. In any case, for anyone looking for a solid, amusing, and sweet post 5×13 Merlin story, I would highly recommend Often So Much.

Note: You can find Often So Much at https://www.fanfiction.net/s/8840901/1/Often-So-Much.

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A Fresh Perspective (Merlin Fanfic)

Author: dr4g0ngrl

FanFiction ID: 8495208

Status: Complete (14 Chapters)

My rating: 5 of 5

An innocuous (if extremely annoying for Merlin) hunting trip with Prince Arthur turns into something drastically different when the two find themselves attacked by a group of sorcerers who manage to shove a suspicious potion down Merlin’s throat. After dealing with their attackers, Arthur turns around to find . . . an unconscious Merlin who is now a little kid of around four years old. Oops. Unsure what to do with a child, Arthur makes the natural decision–take the kid back to his mother. So the two of them show up on Hunith’s doorstep, and Merlin’s poor mom gets dragged into the mess, trying to comfort her confused son while also keeping his magic a secret from Arthur and the rest of the magic-hating world. But for a little child to keep secrets, especially a secret as big as this one, is not exactly easy, and Arthur is in for more than one surprise on his way back to Camelot.

A Fresh Perspective is just about everything I wish for in a fanfic–or in any story, for that matter. The writing flows well, uses excellent grammar, shows a very readable use of third-person narrative, and is just generally pleasant to read. The plot, as the author admits directly, is basically an excuse to write Merlin-as-a-kid fluff. And the result is absolutely adorable. The author’s grasp of Merlin’s character, as well as how that would display as a four-year-old kid, is excellent if flavored towards a highly favorable view of his personality and character (just as I like it). This view of him and his utter devotion to Arthur and to Camelot is vital to the way in which the plot develops, especially after Arthur and the knights discover Merlin’s magic. I also love that the knights (Gwaine, Percival, Elyan, and Leon, specifically) are heavily included in this story, because they’re fabulous and they’re individual reactions to kid-Merlin are important in developing their own personalities, histories, and relationships with each other and with Merlin. The bromance between Merlin and Arthur, as well as between Merlin and Gwaine, is well crafted here, and I think the way in which the author handled that uncertainty of relationship at the point where Merlin is suddenly a child and has no memory of Arthur or Gwaine was very well done. Honestly, I would change nothing about this story, and will probably re-read it many times over. I just want to find more stories by the same author!

Note: You can find A Fresh Perspective at https://www.fanfiction.net/s/8495208/1/A-Fresh-Perspective.

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The Ballad of Sir Dinadan

Author: Gerald Morristhe ballad of sir dinadan

The Squires Tales, vol. 5

My rating: 4.5 of 5

All Dinadan really wants to do with his life is be a minstrel, writing great ballads and accompanying himself on his rebec. The chances of actually getting to do that are pretty slim, though, when you’re the disappointing second son of a nobleman knight and the younger brother of a legend. Tristan has never returned to their home in the eight years since he set off to seek his fortune, but the tale of his skill still reach his family and their father never tires of pointing out the differences between his sons. Finally, after being humiliatingly knighted by his drunken father, Dinadan rides off, taking little but his armor and his rebec, to seek his own fortune. For his own part, he would be well-content to ride along incognito, earning his way with his music, but fate seems to have different plans as he continues to get drawn into the affairs (worst of all, the love affairs) of those around him. And worse yet, when he finally does meet his brother Tristan, he finds an arrogant idiot who has somehow managed to get himself ridiculously obsessed with some equally idiotic queen by the name of Iseult–yet another absurd love affair for Dinadan to get dragged into. He’s well on the way to swearing off of love forever!

I love, love, love Morris’ Squires Tale books–they’re good for numerous, frequent re-reads and they’re equally engaging and funny every time. Plus, I love the way their insight into human nature often tells me something important about myself as I’m reading. In any case, although The Ballad of Sir Dinadan is technically the fifth volume, the books are only loosely connected, so there’s nothing to be lost by reading this one independently. As I said, the prose is remarkably well-written, insightful and funny both, without taking itself too seriously. Actually, this volume is probably less serious than many of the other volumes, in spite of its  roots in the tragedy of Tristan and Iseult. Dinadan’s character is very well developed, and as he is the sort of person to think that this sort of love is rather absurd, we do get a more ridiculous perspective on it than in some stories. It’s actually pretty refreshing, particularly the way in which Dinadan eventually comes to discover that he can have true friendship and love without necessarily having to be “in love” with all the absurdities that entails. I think I’ve mentioned before that an intentional singleness isn’t something books often address, and it’s nice to see an author brave enough to broach the topic. In any case, there’s lots of good fun and adventure outside of Tristan’s story as well, and some incredible character development also. I would highly recommend The Ballad of Sir Dinadan to anyone, say, 15+ who enjoys Arthurian legends and retellings.

NOTE: Sorry, I’m doing the reviews of this series out of order. I’ll fill in the gaps soon. But really, with this set, it doesn’t matter what order you read them in.

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The Squire’s Tale

the squire's taleAuthor: Gerald Morris

The Squire’s Tales, vol. 1

My rating: 5 of 5

Imagine spending your entire childhood being raised by someone who can see the future as clearly as you see the past and to whom the past is as dim as the future is to you. You can imagine, it would give you a different perspective . . . and cause you to accept that when that person says something’s going to happen, it will. Thus it is that Terence, who has grown up with the unusual hermit Trevisant, doesn’t question the old hermit when young Gawain rides up to their hermitage and Trevisant declares he will one day be a great knight. Nor does Terence argue greatly when the hermit sends him packing to be Gawain’s squire. And thus begins an adventure that will span the reaches of Arthur’s kingdom and beyond . . . and a lifelong friendship, whatever protocol may say about the relations between knights and squires.

I love The Squire’s Tale; actually, I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve read it by now, or how many times I’m likely to read it in the future. This is a book that only gets better the more you read it, although it’s a delight from the first. This book is a refreshing conglomeration of random traditional stories about Sir Gawain, knit together into a single story told from the perspective of Gawain’s squire, Terence. I love what Morris does with the stories–they all work together well and are told with an immense sense of humor and good sense. Moreover, they showcase that which is absolutely best about this story: the characters, especially Gawain and Terence. They’re both just really enjoyable characters to read (and people I’d actually like to meet in real life!)–practical, good-humored, men of character and courage, insightful, and not over-ready to bow to social norms just because they’re the norm. This book is very clean, and would be absolutely appropriate for late elementary and up, but I think The Squire’s Tale will be appreciated by some adults even more than by children; I know I often find insight into who I am and why I do things when I read this book and the others in this series. In any case, if you haven’t read this yet, you should check it out!

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The Winter Prince

Author: Elizabeth E. Wein

Capable, strong, and intelligent though he is, Medraut will never be king of Britain, eldest son of the king though he be. His father’s mistake, and his own illegitimacy, haunt him . . . as do the deeper secret of his mother’s true relation to King Artos and the excruciating physical and psychological scars his mother has left on him. Worse yet, Medraut’s half-brother Lleu is so sure of himself and his position as the king’s heir and so cruel in his surety, despite his physical weakness and lack of skill in many areas in which Medraut excels. Placed in a position to either shelter and nourish his brother, or to harm him cruelly, can Medraut defy his own wounded pride?

What a complex and beautiful story. Elizabeth Wein’s name has been coming up a lot in connection with her more recent work, Code Name Verity, but I would say that The Winter Prince proves that she has been a talented author for quite some time. She takes the skeleton of the Arthurian legend of Mordred, Arthur’s illegitimate son by his sister Morgause, and fleshes it out into a haunting, moving historical novel. The descriptive prose sets the scene beautifully throughout as told through Medraut’s own eyes, and the complexities of the relationships and emotions of all the characters, but particularly between Medraut, Morgause, and Lleu are wrenching and thought-provokingly beautiful. I think the way the whole story is told in Medraut’s voice as addressed to Morgause is particularly effective in showing just how deep the scars she left on him are. I also greatly appreciate the surprise ending; it fits and makes me happy, is unexpected enough to be fresh, yet is wholly appropriate to the characters and plot. I would highly recommend The Winter Prince as a historical novel, as an Arthurian retelling, and as simply an incredible character study and psychologically involved novel.

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