Notes on: The Crystal Cave, By Mary Stewart

Essay by FaKeShAwOn May 2005

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The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart, the first of a four-book series, follows Myrrden Emrys from childhood to young manhood. The book is set in fifth-century Britain and is told from the point of view of Myrrden, later known as Merlin. He grew up at the court of his grandfather, a local king in Maridunum, in what is now Wales. Merlin was barely tolerated there because he was an illegitimate child and his mother, Niniane, would not name his father. Merlin was feared and disliked by his family and countrymen because he was quiet and strange, and had odd powers. These powers were nurtured by Galapas, an old wizard Merlin met in the hills, in a cave where firelight reflected from crystal walls and created visions of the future. Myrrden will later become known as Merlin the Magician, with both telepathic and magical abilities. He loves no woman and is committed to no man, therefore Merlin, old and wise, can listen and judge.

People will fear him and some will praise him.

When Merlin is twelve he leaves his home after performing a dramatic act of defiance and revenge for the death of his servant, Cerdic. Merlin ran away to Less Britain, where he was captured by Ambrosius's troops and brought to talk with Ambrosius himself. At this point, Merlin finds out that Ambrosius is his real father.

With his brother Uther, Ambrosius is trying to wrest the title of High King from Vortigern, who has called Hengest and his Saxons to help hold onto his throne. Five years later Merlin confronts High King Vortigern, who is looking for a fatherless boy to sacrifice so that the foundations of his fort will stand. Merlin predicts Vortigern's downfall and the triumph of the house of Pendragon, and henceforth has a...