Why I love Merlin

Colin Morgan as Merlin, with Arthur and Uther behind him
Merlin casts a spell
In those moments when I feel oppressed by the chaos and cruelty of the world, I remind myself that in perhaps the best slot of prime-time television, on BBC1 at eight o’clock on Saturday night, they show Merlin. This is not the old version of the story. The makers take liberties with ancient storylines: for instance, in this version Gwendolyn is a sparky servant and, though she does fancy Lancelot, he sacrifices himself at a moment of great crisis, to save the people of Camelot and his King. I cried at that one. The changes are always in the spirit of the old myths. The magic is exciting and convincing – and frightening. The Dragon is a terrifying and ambiguous creature. There is plenty of humour but also plenty of darkness. But the greenwood locations, the mythic mediaeval castles, the noble idealism of the Knights strike strong and familiar notes. I especially love Colin Morgan as the cheeky and impish young Merlin and Bradley James as a gorgeous, brave but slightly thick Arthur.
To me, this well written and produced TV series expresses the true spirituality of Britain. It dramatises the conflict between reason and magic, but is informed by a deep understanding and love of the magical (think of how good us Brits are at ritual) — which is to my mind related to the creative element in our culture. There is no mention of God in this series, and that of course is very British too. We cover everything up with humour but the values of loyalty, fairness and justice are embedded in our psyche, just as they are in our constitution.
I saw the Magna Carta this week in Salisbury Cathedral. There it was, the first document to declare some basic human rights — even for the Welsh and Scottish! At Evensong, in the penumbra of the choir stalls, I listened to the angelic boys singing and watched an elderly man mouthing the Psalms in time with them. It was all low key and understated — and perhaps it easy to undervalue this kind of spirituality, but that would be a big mistake.
I respect religion, the sincere, compassionate variety, but the Arthurian stories carry everything that is important to me and to many people who live in the these islands. They’re not about religion, they’re about something deeper and older – the matter of Britain, in fact.


2 thoughts on “Why I love Merlin

  1. Thank you Lyn for an interesting blog about Merlin. It’s started me thinking about what we mean, or understand, today by the word “magic”. Theatre or dance performances are sometimese described as ‘magical’. Perhaps even some sporting achievements – ‘as if by magic’ when a tennis player hits an amazing shot or a team comes back from sure defeat.
    Do we really mean that a wand has been waved and something ‘other’ has intervened? Or do we mean they have performed something so amazing by connecting with an aspect of themselves not normally used?

  2. Interesting. Maybe we mean both! Maybe the wand could be called ‘intent’ and when it is waved can arouse the dormant ‘other’ within us. The ‘other’ is a name for the energy body which we rarely wake up and use. When we rouse it up our possibilities are magnified and mutliplied, we are not limited by the little ego any more. Which is to say the same thing as the second part of your either/or. Iain McGilchrist, who wrote ‘The Master and his Emissary’, about the two sides of the brain, points out how the linear, analytical left side only sees a dead static world, a world in which only its rules apply and which has no room for the empathetic/imaginative right side. Of course we need both sides and use both sides, but MCGilchrist feels our world has become far too left-side dominated. The battle between reason and magic in Camelot feels like this. Magic accepts reason but reason won’t accept magic. I don’t know how the story ends…

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