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The Crystal Cave (The Arthurian Saga, Book 1) Paperback – September 29, 1996

4.6 out of 5 stars 206 customer reviews
Book 1 of 5 in the Arthurian Saga Series

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Initially published nearly thirty years ago, Mary Stewart's The Crystal Cave has been spellbinding readers and converting them into serious Arthurian buffs ever since. The first in a series of four books, this novel focuses on the early life of Merlin the magician, and the political developments of fifth-century Britain. Not for the fainthearted, this verbose text pays careful attention to historical details and methodical plot development.

Merlin's childhood is formed by the absence of his reticent, convent-bound mother and his unnamed and unknown father. As the bastard grandson of a local king, Merlin is the object of both envy and ridicule. His strange powers and predictions earn him greater status as a pariah, and he leaves home as a preadolescent. Returning years later as a young man--empowered by self-knowledge and magic--Merlin finds himself caught in the currents of the shifting kingdoms.

As an established classic in this genre, and the first in a popular series, The Crystal Cave introduces this familiar character with fresh sensitivity. While readers looking for the romance of First Knight will be disappointed, those happy with tight writing and a complex story line will be satisfied. --Nancy R.E. O'Brien


A deft colourful ... re-creation of Merlin's early life Sunday Times Vivid, enthralling, absolutely first-class Daily Mail Her style is simple yet vivid, displaying a love of words and the sounds they make, and her story is poetically imaginative Daily Telegraph Mary Stewart brilliantly recreates the Britain of the fifth century Books And Bookmen A fascinating story which lays a firm hold on the imagination The Scotsman Mary Stewart lightens the Dark Ages with legend, pure invention and a lively sense of history. New York Times --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Product Details

  • Series: The Arthurian Saga, Book 1
  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books; 1st Ballantine books trade ed edition (September 29, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0449911616
  • ISBN-13: 978-0449911617
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 5.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (206 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,948,903 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
A long time ago, I read Mary Stewart's Merlin Trilogy, which consists of three books: The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills, and The Last Enchantment. I had last read the trilogy back in the mid-1980s, back when I was in high school. So, recently I turned back to these old favorites, and found myself enjoying the tale once again.

Here's a brief background of the story, without spoiling it too much for potential readers. England is suffering under fractured leadership following the departure of the Romans, some time before. England is broken up into several small kingdoms, with a High King to hold them all together, and to try to repell the Saxon threat already encamped on the shores. Into this time, Merlin is born, the bastard child of a local princess. The trilogy tells the tale of his life.

In the first book, Merlin is first a small boy in Wales, where he finds his tutor in magic and the gods and medicine, and is touched by the prophecy which will shape his whole life's work. He flees Wales, for his own protection, and his subsequent actions inexorably lead to the conception of a child: Arthur, the future High King.

In the second book, Merlin is charged by both the High King, Uthur, and his god to keep Arthur in his care, and to train him for his coming challenges. The story closes with Arthur assuming the mantle of leadership, following the passing of Uthur.

In the third book, Arthur and Merlin work to end the Saxon threat, found Camelot, and close with Merlin's final destiny, as he had long since foreseen...almost.

The tale is told in the first person: Merlin. In this fashion, the story feels personal in a way that few other Arthurian fantasies ever have.
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Format: Paperback
What I liked in particular in Mary Stewart's "The Crystal Cave" is that she keeps the dialog sufficiently neutral that we can forget the implied translation from the "original" Anglo-Saxon or Celtic tongues. So often in historical novels people use idioms that are absolutely of the modern day, and it has an instantly jarring effect.

One thing that stands out from some of the reviews is how our general literary background knowledge, not to mention our attention span, may have diminished in the thirty-odd years since she wrote (unless things were the same back then?) More than one review talks of Merlin's boyhood exploration of the hypocaust as exploring "tunnels" under a "castle" or "fortress," even though Stewart takes pains to describe it as a large "country house." They have never heard of the typical graceful Roman villa with its underfloor hot-air central heating channeled from a wood furnace - via the hypocaust that Merlin crawls through - and its beautiful mosaic floors. When the King says to Camlach "We've never had the furnace on since you left" that's one of the many indications of what happened to the highly civilized Roman ways when the central empire fell, and in the outer provinces the "barbarians" like Merlin's folk took over. They could have had a comfortable house all winter, but instead they built open fires in the middle of the mosaic floors, griming the Roman pillars with soot and cracking the mosaics, as Stewart so clearly describes. The bathhouse was out of use - Camlach's wish to have a bath after his travels was "your damned Roman fashion" and water was heated over the courtyard fires instead of in the Roman central boiler-room. These were basically rough people camping out in the remains of an advanced civilization.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
The book The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart tells of the life of Merlin the Enchanter from when he was six to about 24. His adventures are vividly described, whether its roaming the tunnels under his grandfathers castle or sneaking his uncle into the fortress of Cornwall. There is almost never a dull moment in this book. It takes awhile getting started, but it gets interesting around page 50, so hang in there. One part of the book I really enjoyed was when 13 year old Merlin takes a ride in the forest with his servant and catches his tutor up to no good. Overall, I'd say this book is excellent literature because it really describes everything. You can picture every scene and character in your head. I really felt like I knew each character and was genuinely upset when one died and outraged when one betrayed another. The book also teaches you a lot about the Middle Ages. There were castles, knights, maidens in distress, and all the usual stuff, but it also told about normal people. It tells of everyday life in medieval times. If you like this book, I recommend you read the 2nd and 3rd books in the Merlin Trilogy, The Hollow Hills, and The Last Enchantment. Both are just as good as The Crystal Cave. If you are fascinated with the legend of Arthur and Merlin, and are a patient reader who likes long, detailed novels like I do, you will adore this book!
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By A Customer on July 12, 2001
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I was required to read this book for summer reading for my highschool freshman honors english class. I started it a couple of days ago, and finished it last night. This is truly a great book. It's a unique take on a classic and well-known story. I'd always associated the name Merlin with an old man witha long white beard and robes with pointy hats. I'd never thought of Merlin as a young man. I also learned a lot about the legend of Camelot from the information in the back of the book .This book may have some faults, but I'm not a historian or camelot buff, and I'm also no author or literary expert. But as a 14 year old girl who loves to read, I am giving this book 5 stars and two thumbs up. The Crystal Cave is a must read!
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