Merlin’s beard……

definitely gives Santa, Dumbledore & Gandalf’s beards strict competition no???????

The Sword in the Stone is perhaps the most famous story tied to the Arthurian legend. I remember reading the story when I was very young and while I forgot the story later on, the picture of the boy with a mop of golden hair pulling out the sword from a stone with a startled expression on his face stayed with me. Fast forward to 2013, the time Mortal Instruments was due to hit the big screens.  I was doing a quick Google search on the other works of Jamie Campbell Bower (who I currently have a teensie-weensie crush on) and found that he played the legendary young Arthur in Camelot, which sadly ran for only one season (Sob).

I still watched Camelot and found out that I was intrigued by the character of Merlin played by Ralph Fiennes. Another quick Google search led to the BBC’s Merlin which thankfully had 5 seasons to it and seemed to focus more directly on the famous wizard. What I’m going to do now is focus on how, while the series have more or less given Merlin’s story a thoroughly different angle, there are certain aspects they have included from the known legends and tales of Merlin to perhaps give different accounts of the wizard, full patronage.

Let’s start with his character. Merlin was said to be half human (half incubus), could talk to animals, shape-shift, Robert Baron’s work stress on his joking nature and some tales and fiction depict him to be Arthur’s advisor. In BBC’s Merlin, Merlin is half human-half wizard (Strike 1), can talk to dragons (He’s a dragon lord in the series and well dragons are magical animals, yes???? So I’m counting that in-strike 2), he is sarcastic and witty which Arthur finds his most redeeming quality (strike 3), his aging potion and magic allows him to transform from his youthful self into his aged self (which is the icon more commonly portrayed everywhere else-old man with a long beard in purple robes ring a bell???-strike 4) and he is the only person whose counsel Arthur values which he denies, even though Merlin plays servant by day and wizard whenever Arthur’s ass needs saving (strike5).

Also what’s in a name? Merlin’s real name was not really Merlin. Merlin’s character is borrowed from two figures-Myrddin Wyllt- prophet and madman and Ambrosius Aurelianus-a Romano-British War Hero. The combined name became Merlin Ambrosius, while the Welsh name for the same is Myrddin Emrys. BBC’s Merlin gives him both names in the series, Merlin being his real name and Emrys being the one referred to him by the Druids who say it is one of his many names (read above for many names, they got that part right!!!!).

There are a lot of doubts as to whether Merlin actually played a part in Arthur’s life at all. There are arguments as to whether the two characters even existed at all. For the sake of fantastical satisfaction let’s say they both existed (or what’s the point of this article at all?)

The Welsh author Geoffrey of Monmouth gave the icon the name “Merlin” that would one day make him famous. The tale was that the British King Vortigern was trying to build a fortress to protect his kingdom against the Saxons. The Fortress kept collapsing and he was informed that if a boy without a father was sacrificed the fortress could be built. Enters Merlin who is aware of the plan for his impending death but informs the king that the reason for the collapse could be put down to the two dragons, a red one and white one waging a war between each other beneath the castle in an underground pool. The red dragon later kills the white one and symbolically stood for Britain winning against the Saxon’s. While BBC’s Merlin portrays the fight of it being more of Camelot waging the war against magic, they do have a dragon under the fortress, named Kilgharrah, who’s pretty brownish red (can be tied to the Britain dragon). Later on Merlin saves a white dragon and christens it Aithusa, who becomes Morgana’s dragon (can be taken as the Saxon dragon). The red dragon and the white dragon are represented, though pitting one against the other as the fight between good and evil in the series.

The only love in Merlin’s life according to legend was the Lady of the Lake. Some say it was Nimue who learnt magic from Merlin. Others say it was someone else. But it is stated that it was the Lady of the Lake he was in love with and that she was a creature of magic. She was also the one who brought about his death. BBC’s Merlin brought Nimue into the story as a sorceress who was trying to bring about the downfall of Camelot but this time it was Merlin who brought about her death! Phew! Talk about justice! Merlin’s only love interest in this series was Freya who dies in one single episode and he floats her body into the lake of Avalon and she becomes the lady of the lake who gives Merlin, Arthur’s sword. So the series bought in two aspects of the Lady of the Lake, avenged Merlin’s death in fictional literature (yaaayyy!!!) and stayed true to the fact that his only love remained the Lady of the Lake(Sigh! everybody loves a –one woman for life- wizard). Seems legit!

Moving on to Arthur’s legendary sword. Two accounts. One tale deals with the Sword in the Stone story and one speaks of the tales of the sword Excalibur given to Arthur by the Lady of the Lake. According to the Sword in the Stone story, only the true king of Britain could pull the sword out of the stone. Some say Merlin had a hand in it to ensure only the heir of Uther Pendragon (Arthur’s mean Daddy) could achieve this feat. Other legends say that the sword belonged to Uther himself. Furthermore additional findings say that the Lady of the Lake gave Author his sword naming it Excalibur meaning to Cut Steel. When Author was hurt on the battlefield he requested Girflet to cast it back into the lake, where a hand catches it, obviously belonging to the Lady of the Lake. BBC’s Merlin tackled this very creatively. The sword is crafted by Gwen’s father as the finest blade, made powerful by Dragons breath and used accidentally by Uther (since one tale said it was Uther’s sword, the series gave Uther a chance to use it, strike 1). Merlin fearing the fate of anyone else wielding the sword casts the sword into the lake. Later the Lady of the Lake gives the sword to Merlin (not Arthur but anyways strike 2), which he casts into the stone using magic (Remember some saying Merlin was involved in this story, strike 3) and finally makes up the tale of the sword in the stone, leading Arthur to pull it out from the stone and believe in his right to rule Camelot (Arthur pulling out the sword from the stone, strike 4). After Arthur dies, Merlin once again casts in into the lake, awaiting the time when Arthur will rise again as the Once and Future King of Camelot (it was Merlin who cast the sword in not Girflet, but then hey too many cooks spoil the broth, strike 5).

These are just a few things I noted while watching the series. I’m sure for the next person who researches more; there will be a lot I have missed. Wokaaaayyyy!!! Ending notes. What I love about the series is the camaradie between Arthur and Merlin (sometimes it’s hard to distinguish who’s dictating who in the series) and more importantly the choice of how one uses the power bestowed on them. There are two kinds of powers depicted in the series-magical powers and ruling powers. Arthur and Merlin’s choice of how to use their respective powers are shown in sharp contrast with Uther and Morgana respectively. Merlin uses his magical powers for good, even hiding them from Arthur right till the end so that he may do him some good. Merlin even tells Arthur at one point in the guise of an old sorceress “Magic is not evil; it is the hearts of men that is evil!” Arthur uses his powers as a king to be a just, peaceful and accepting ruler, very different from his father who preferred to be feared rather than loved.

Which makes choice a very important factor to anyone who wields power, be it human or a creature of magic. Like Albus Dumbledore tells Harry Potter “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

Lucky for us BBC’s Merlin chooses to be awesome every single time!

Picture credits:

Merlin looking up (

Arthur and Merlin (

Older Merlin (×412/cult-merlin-s05-e13-5.jpg)



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