Merlin is one of the most well known figures in Arthurian Mythology, with numerous texts and films written about him. Merlin is best known for his role in the coronation of King Arthur, and his magical powers. However, the role of Merlin in the Arthurian cycle of stories varies from author to author, because of the values and attitudes prevalent in society at the time of writing. In this essay, I will give an overview of the background of Merlin, including his birth and role in the Begetting of Arthur and other famous stories, and also explain how and why his role changes in different retellings of the stories.
Merlin is the beginning of much of the known Arthurian stories. The origins of his story are found deep in Celtic and Welsh traditions. He is a paradox; A wild man of the woods yet a bringer of culture, "associated with the devil yet in the service of God."
(Judith L. Kellogg, The Dynamics of Dumbing: The Case of Merlin, p57) This causes readers to have some ambiguity about his character, and wonder whether he was a madman or a saint.
Merlin, or Merlinus in Latin, is originally derived from the Welsh name Myrddin, who was a sixth century bard who prophesised a Celtic uprising. Geoffrey of Monmouth first wrote about him in A History of the Kings of England.
The role of Merlin changed and grew as individual authors added and replaced certain parts of the Arthurian cycle of stories. Geoffrey of Monmouth first said that Merlin was bought to King Vortigern as a young child as a sacrifice. He saved himself by demonstrating magical powers more adept than any the King had ever seen.
Robert de Boron introduced the story about Merlins' birth and early deeds that is most...