Finding Merlin: The Truth Behind the Legend of the Great Arthurian Mage 1st Edition
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|Paperback, January 29, 2013||
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About the Author
- Item Weight : 9.6 ounces
- Paperback : 384 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1468303325
- ISBN-13 : 978-1468303322
- Dimensions : 5.4 x 1.1 x 8 inches
- Publisher : Harry N. Abrams; 1st edition (January 29, 2013)
- Reading level : 18 and up
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #590,272 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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He is said to have been the son of a local pagan chief named Morf/vryn/Morken, while his twin sister Gwynedd Langoureth ("the unclean Damnonian lioness" as per Gildas, p. 303) was the wife of the Christian king of Strathclyde, Rhydderch Hael ('Generous' r. 580-612) - see chapter 2.
In addition to the usual authors, such as Geoffrey of Monmouth, Gildas, Bede, Nennius, Ardrey provides a close reading/analysis of "Vita Merlini Silvestris" compiled by an anonymous clergyman in the 12th c. and Jocelyn's hagiography of St Kentigern/Mungo. Other sources include the Annales Cambriae: A Translation of Harleian 3859; PRO E.164/1; Cottonian Domitian, A 1; Exeter Cathedral Library MS. 3514 and MS Exchequer DB Neath, PRO E and excerpts from the "Red Book of Hergest".
Merlin is depicted as a resolute representative of the Old Way/Druidism, although at times somewhat hot-headed, yet an inquisitive mind engaging in "scientific enquiry" (he is said to have had an "observatory" on Partickhill late in his life). His archenemy, Mungo is described by the Scottish author as a ruthless, intolerant Roman Christian fanatic who even had some of his adversaries assassinated: fellow monk Telleyr, Cathen the Druid (?=Blaise, teacher/master of Merlin and Morken's counselor), et al. We can learn a little bit about Merlin's alleged friendship with the Chief of Bards, Taliesin of Rheged. The downfall of the Cumbrian sage, as well as that of Taliesin (p. 256), is attributed to the treacherous Mordred/Meldred of Gododdin and the vengeance of his queen, Cywyllog, who happened to be a sister of monk historian Gildas (ch. 29-30).
While I appreciate Ardrey's trying to fill in the blanks and theorizing about possible motives of persons involved against the background marked by historical events, such as Gwenddolau's defeat at the battle of Arderydd in 573, Mungo's zealous activity in Glasgow, wars against the Northumbrian Angles in which the historical Dalriatan Scots warlord Arthu(i)r mac Aedan (559-96 AD p. 13; Ardrey's candidate for the figure whose deeds inspired the Arthurian lore) made his name, others may consider these speculations/conjectures quite a stretch of imagination.
Overall, the book reads well, albeit occasionally I lost track of the author's thread, as in chapter 8 haphazard transitioning into ch. 9. Elsewhere I find his etymologization, as in ch. 27, or topographical speculation (ch. 28) a bit tedious for those who are unfamiliar with the given terrain.
The one major flaw of Ardrey's thesis as laid out in chapter 8 (pp. 105-22, also p. 243), however, is that he conflates generally accepted events, persons and locations of the 5th century with those that belong in the 6th c. to fit his timeline (pp. 353-4), not bothering to offer some sound reasoning for doing so: the Angle war chief Ida, who landed in Eastern Scotland in ca. 544, appears as a contemporary of Vortigern and, by extension, Ambrosius Aurelianus/Emrys Wledig (Welsh), both of whom are firmly placed in 5th c. Britain in the context of the Jute/Anglo-Saxon waves of invasion in scholarly literature - see, for instance, Leslie Alcock's Arthur's Britain (Classic History) 1989/1971 (a source also referenced by Ardrey on p. 299, 303), especially pp. 102-11. This may have led to the internal inconsistency evinced in the following statement: "Mungo probably fled from Culross to Glasgow when he was between fifteen and twenty years old, 443-8 [sic: a century later], when Merlin and Languoreth were between three and eight years old" (p. 129).
Another highly problematic assertion Ardrey makes is the identification of the Isle of Thanet with Lindisfarne (pgs. 105, 292-3), off the coast of Northumbria. It's been commonly accepted that the (former) Isle of Thanet was situated in the easternmost tip of Kent, which served as a bridgehead/base for the invading forces of the Jutish mercenary brothers Hengist and Horsa. It was in the vicinity, just across the erstwhile Wantsum channel, at Ritupis (the port of Richborough) on the mainland that Vortigern's son Vortimer was mortally wounded in the victorious battle of Wippedsfleot (Anglo-Saxon Chronicle) against Hengist's army ca. 460 CE (see pp. 38-9 in Peter Berresford Ellis' " Celt and Saxon . The Struggle for Britain AD 410-937," 1993 Constable).
Furthermore, and again contrary to mainstream chronology, Ardrey argues: "De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae ] ...written by a monk called Gildas...was, I was to find, written more than 50 years later than is commonly supposed [ca. 540]" p. 15. Compare this with another assertion on p. 108: "Gildas was born in 544, the year Ida landed."
Not mentioned in the present book, yet elsewhere I've come across the following: "The Roman party in Strathclyde rallied round the Christian king Rhydderch Hael, but within two years he was overthrown by the Druid faction led by the usurper Morken [allegedly Merlin's father, see above], and forced to flee to Ireland" p. 38 in Ronald Williams' The Lords of the Isles: The Clan Donald and the Early Kingdom of the Scots , 1997/1984.
It's quite strange when making a cursory note of "Sarmathian auxiliaries" (p. 114) and their possible connection to the Pen Dragon motif, Ardrey does not reference a crucial tome titled From Scythia to Camelot: A Radical Reassessment of the Legends of King Arthur, the Knights of the Round Table, and the Holy Grail (Arthurian Characters and Themes) (2000) by Scott Littleton and Linda Malcor.
2 sketch maps, endnotes/bibliographical references (pp. 357-69), select bibliography (371-6), index (377-84)
For a political history of the era under discussion, see Chris Lowe's Angels, Fools and Tyrants: Britons and Anglo-Saxons in Southern Scotland (Making of Scotland) (2006/1999), the relevant chapters in Tim Clarkson's The Men of the North: The Britons of Southern Scotland (2010) and, for what it's worth, the late Philip Coppens' Land of the Gods: How a Scottish Landscape was Sanctified to Become Arthur's Camelot (2007).