- Publisher: Doubleday Books (1979)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1568650639
- ISBN-13: 978-1568650630
- Package Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.7 x 1.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 103 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,019,347 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Hollow Hills Hardcover – 1979
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A novel that recreates the suspense and excitement of an ancient legend - how Merlin, the enchanter, helped Arthur become King of all Britain. The Hollow Hills takes place in a fifth-century Britain fraught with superstition and fear, where no life is safe, no law is stable, and where a king risks accusations of murder and adultery to get himself an heir. For his own safety, the boy Arthur, rejected as a bastard by his father, is long kept ignorant of his parentage. Behind and around Arthur always is the mysterious, strong, yet vulnerable figure of Merlin, who sees and knows so much but who, like Arthur, must also suffer for the sake of a nation being born. In this world of embattled kings and courtiers, hurried journeys, whispered anxieties, and sudden death, we watch Merlin and Arthur follow their common destiny. Merlin is the narrator, and his prophetic voice communicates not only the bristling atmosphere of the ancient setting but also the profound relevance of this age-old tale to our own time.
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Once again we see events through the eyes of Merlin the Enchanter, as he narrates the story for us. We begin with Merlin traveling through the Mediterranean area after having safely delivered the baby Arthur into the keeping of those who will protect and raise him over the next several years.
When Arthur is six years old, Merlin feels the call to return to England and to take up his own task of teaching and protecting the child. He finds Arthur strong and healthy and growing into the kind of human being that he had hoped to see; the kind of man who can be a brave, just, and benevolent king.
The story of Arthur is so well-known, so ingrained in our cultural consciousness, that it seems pointless to spend space here on exposition. Stewart has taken those well-known facts, both historical and legendary, and has woven them into a tale of prophecy, magic, and valor.
It's also a tale of jealousy, spite, hatred, and death. These latter characteristics are often traceable to the female characters in the story, who seldom come off as having a positive impact on events. Indeed, even the mention of one of the female characters often seems to portend shadows and disaster in the visions that Merlin has of the future.
In relating the saga of Arthur and Merlin, Stewart does manage to reveal to us the diversity of people who made up the population of Britain in the days of - what was it? - the fifth century C.E.? If Arthur ever existed, and Stewart argues that there must at least have been a prototype, then that is probably the time period in which he lived.
Of course, Arthur and his story have strong Welsh roots, but there were many other cultures that contributed to the lore. From the "Old Ones," the people of the forest, to the Picts, the Saxons, the descendants of Roman soldiers, and others, this was a very diverse group of people. Moreover, they worshiped many different gods and Merlin pays proper homage to them all. It was particularly interesting to me to see the way that the author integrated all of them into the story.
Stewart tells the story in a relatively straightforward way, without trying to manufacture suspense. After all, we know what's going to happen before it happens, so why should she bother to try to fool us?
Throughout the body of the work, the author gives ample foreshadowings of the conflicts and betrayals that are to come. Although Merlin is able to see into the future, there are things which he simply cannot change.
Stewart was a very good writer and her creation of the settings of the story and the atmosphere were particular strong points both in The Hollow Hills and, previously, in The Crystal Cave. I would expect that to continue throughout the series.
Near the end of The Hollow Hills comes the death of Uther Pendragon and the anointing of Arthur as the High King. Now, on to the glory days of the establishment of Camelot and to everything that came after.
The psychological complexity of her central hero -- Merlin -- is disappointingly limited in my opinion. Although virtually all of his magic is scientifically accounted for and thus Merlin seems a little more human than otherwise, he's kind of a condescending jerk who breezes through all problems because of his intellectual superiority. In this regard, Stewart's impressive retelling is at its LEAST plausible... imho.
Readers of medieval romances will be attracted to the work, of course, but so will lovers of the poetic and those concerned with the inner life. I shall let Merlin's spell fall on the reader here in his own words:
"It is one thing to have the gift of seeing the spirits and hearing the gods move about us as we come and go; but it is a gift of darkness as well as light....One cannot be visited by the future without being haunted by the past; one cannot taste comfort and glory without the bitter sting and fury of one's past deeds."
"To remember love after long sleep; to turn again to poetry after a year in the market place, or to youth after drowsy and stiffening age; to remember what once you thought life could hold, after telling over with and calculating fingers what it has offered; this is music, made after long silence."
I'm too spellbound myself to give this book less than five swirling stars.
I hope some day these books will be considered classics. Mary Stewart is an incredible author and the Merlin books have appeal to either sex, and young readers as well as old.
This book covers the time from the day after Arthur's conception to when he was crowned king. The legend is intact but expanded in wonderful ways.
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On to the next volume, and another glass fireside.