Because I will soon be reviewing, for the Chalcedon Foundation, a series of novels about Merlin, I thought it’d be a good thing to renew my acquaintance with him.
Nowadays, thanks to public education and cultural decay, there are people who wouldn’t know Merlin from Liberace. Nevertheless, 1,500 years from his lifetime, he’s still famous enough for people to be writing books about him.
Who was Merlin? He was King Arthur’s teacher, protector, adviser, and magician. If you play a lot of video games and watch movies based on comic books, you probably don’t know who King Arthur was, either. Suffice it to say that, at a time when heathenism had just about wholly overwhelmed the island of Britain, some 1,500 years ago, somebody fought the pagan invaders, stopped them, and made it possible for the Christian faith not only to survive, but to convert the invaders within 100 years. That somebody was King Arthur. And preserving England as a Christian country had a profound effect upon all of world history.
So, OK, Merlin is important. But who was he? Tracking him down is almost impossible. The time he lived in was turbulent. People were too busy trying to stay alive, never mind writing accurate history.
Starting with someone who believed Merlin actually existed, I returned to Merlin by Norma Lorre Goodrich (1988). She is controversial because she believed Arthur and Merlin were real persons, whose lives and careers were truthfully described by Geoffrey of Monmouth, a 12th century writer nicknamed “BS Artist” by just about every scholar but Goodrich.
Professor Goodrich does make ingenious and sometimes convincing arguments. But it is so hard to find out “what really happened” in history! You could break your heart, trying. And then she comes out with this–after you’ve read 213 pages of her book:
“Nobody seems to know to this day, despite all the progress in linguistics and anthropology, why in this ancient world of King Arthur young married women were so frequently beheaded by their husbands as soon as they became pregnant.” Period. No footnote. No attribution. No support from any other source. Just “Here it is, take my word for it.”
Is this just an eruption of off-the-wall feminism? The more you read Professor Goodrich, the more you catch her making these weird observations without backing them up. I recall in another book of hers she said something like, “The Holy Grail was last seen in World War II.” Really? By who? Where? What happened to it? But the sentence ends with a period, and after that comes not another word of explanation.
How are we supposed to find out what really happened, when the people we rely on to tell us are wackos?
Then again, maybe a highly-educated loose cannon like Professor Goodrich is precisely the kind of historian Merlin would choose to write his biography.
I’ll betcha his soul is laughing at us from heaven. Betcha he is.