Merlin: Tinkering with an Archtype


"I was his tutor. I didn't teach him magic. I taught him ethics and morals. It is much more difficult, believe me." -- Merlin talking about Arthur

The United Kingdom's television series Merlin finally aired in the United States this weekend. I confess I haven't watched it yet -- it's waiting for me on my TiVo. I've always been drawn to the Arthurian legend, with Excalibur, Camelot, and the Knights of the Round Table, so I'll give this new interpretation a try, even though it seems like they've taken some liberties with the myths. Merlin, the great wizard, is now portrayed by a young man, a peer of the future king, Arthur.

This shouldn't be a problem if they execute it right. Afterall, writers have reimagined Merlin countless times in story after story. From the earliest chronicles by Geoffrey of Monmouth and epic poems of Robert de Boron, to modern tales by Mark Twain and T.H. White, Merlin has been depicted as both a hero and villain, a bumbling fool and a canny mastermind.

I always envisioned the character as the Wise Man archtype who mentors the classic Hero. Without Merlin, we probably would not have had Gandalf, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda, Dumbledore, and numerous other mystical sages in fantasy stories. Can the version played by the young Colin Morgan in the new BBC series be any less legitimate than the more traditional versions portrayed by Sam Neill, Malcolm McDowell, Michael York, Donald Pleasance, and others?

I'll have to see the show before I judge. But is this a valid reimagining of the saga, or a dumbing down of the legend to create a teen-drawing audience base in the mold of Smallville? We'll see.

Comments

Peter said…
Well Nick, as a proud new father, you be at liberty to put yourself on the list of mentors. Some years from now, I envisage your daughter posting a blog about you.
Nick said…
Thanks, Peter! I look forward to watching her grow up and seeing what types of stories capture her imagination.