In Search of Merlin

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.


5 comments on “In Search of Merlin

  1. Many tales of Merlin are about. Which ones are true? Was he born like us are old and grew young? No-one knows for sure.

  2. How does a Druid Sorcerer wind up in heaven, without repenting of his sorceries and turning to Christ? I would bet that the Arthur legends are much older than the Post Roman era. Probably Celtic hero tales from Europe’s BC time of Celtic dominance. Merlin kept his ancient identity while Arthur was scrubbed up and sanitized by the Celtic monks who copied out his tales. Just my theory.

    1. By what authority do we have Merlin as a Druid? The Romans were very serious about exterminating the Druids. There’s no evidence that Druidism survived into the 5th century. As for being a sorcerer–well, that’s the movies.

      Norma Lorre Goodrich argues that “Merlin” was an alias adopted by Archibishop Dubricius, later canonized as St. Dubricius. She hasn’t proved it, but there’s better evidence for that than for Merlin as any kind of “Druid sorcerer.”

      As for older material getting tacked onto the King Arthur story–well, that happens all the time, doesn’t it? Later material might be tacked on, too.

      But somebody stopped the Saxons, and to no one else but Arthur does tradition attribute that achievement.

  3. In our day, when “fake news” is a real problem, we can see just how precarious history can be. What would history record about our immediate era? It would depend upon who was writing it. There is no small truth to the notion that history was written by the victors. One of my father’s prized possession was a book about the Civil War, penned from the Southern perspective. My father had no sympathy for the cause of slavery, but he was amazed by how different it all looked to the side that ultimately lost.

    Were Arthur and Merlin real? Were they legends based upon a degree of reality, but altered over time to make the story more concise? The docu-dramas of our day employ the same thing. Several characters may be condensed into one character, significant statements may be quoted, but taken out of context or even misattributed.

    I do find it interesting when “historians” make some huge declaration of fact, then expect us to accept their word for matters without any sources to back it up.

    In this day of information floating in a sea of lies, I use as many sources as I can before drawing any hard and fast conclusions. Read a news source from the US, then Britain, then try a few other places and you may read a much different story. Which is true? Even when news stories agree, it could be that they are all relying upon the same source, AP or some other similar news organization. It’s a tricky world we live in.

  4. The Internet helps clarify past history if you go to the most trusted sources, but it muddies the waters if you go to revisionists sites. Let the buyer beware, and let the researcher beware.

Leave a Reply