Fantastic History #11: Merlin the Magician–Laying the Foundation for a Not so Friendly Wizard by Pat Esden

The myths and historic truths behind Merlin the Magician legends have fascinated me since I was a child. So it was only natural for him to slip into one of my novels (His Dark Magic—Northern Circle Coven series).

First of all, I want to clarify that I’m far from an Arthurian scholar. My knowledge is limited and the material I’m familiar with is commonly available. In a way, I think limiting the material has worked to my benefit. There is so much converging and diverging information, and endless theories about Merlin that it easily could have overwhelmed the novel’s plot and slowed the pace to a standstill. This is especially true since the Northern Circle Coven series is contemporary fantasy flavored with mythology and history, and not an alternate history or historical fantasy.

There were two specific details about Merlin that I centered my brainstorming and research on. One was the claim that Merlin’s father was a demon (the type of demon varies depending on the story’s source). The other—which in my opinion naturally arises from the first detail—is that Merlin wasn’t a particularly kindly and innocent wise wizard. He was a misogynist, perhaps not as much by historic standards but definitely by modern ones, as shown most clearly in his actions towards the Lady of the Lake. Okay, the Lady of the Lake is actually several ladies and they go by different names depending on who’s telling the tale. I’m going to simply refer to her as Nimue since that’s the name I chose to use in His Dark Magic. At any rate, Merlin—an older man—alternately harassed, tricked, and used magic to get Nimue to have sex with him, starting when she was a very young teen. If you’d like to listen to this particular tale, check out Jason Weiser’s Myths and Legends podcast.

It’s not exactly a story of courtly love that many people associate with the tales of the round table.

These two details about Merlin lead to the questions that became the foundation of my novel: what if Merlin at his nastiest became involved with modern day witches, how would they react to his misogynistic behavior? Personally, I think in the legends Nimue’s anger and outwitting of Merlin is a reaction that many modern women would have—if they had access to magic. Nimue’s rise to power and eventual subjugation of Merlin is pretty impressive given the time period when she supposedly lived. It’s also interesting that over the centuries men have been the ones to write down this tale. It leads me to wonder if the tales were first told by women. Stories have always reflected truths about societies, the darkest realities and empowering wishes and struggle for change.

Learn more about Merlin
Reading, thought, and listening list:

Merlin’s demonic roots on Myths and Legends

Sir Thomas Malory Le Morte D’ Arthur

Rumor & Misogyny in “Merlin & Vivien” (Brown University)

***

HIS DARK MAGIC
(Northern Circle Coven series book 1) Coming December 11th

Amazon
Barnes and Noble
iTunes
Kobo
Google Play

Its power is legendary. It can fulfill every impossible magical desire. But for one young witch seeking redemption, the Northern Circle coven will challenge her skills—and her heart—beyond measure.

One tragic impulsive mistake made Chloe Winslow an outcast to her influential magic family. As a medical student, she wants to combine science with sorcery to heal those she hurt and right her wrongs. But brilliant, charismatic Devlin Marsh re-routes her plans with a once-in-eternity offer: membership in the exclusive Northern Circle, a mysterious Vermont coven known for pushing the limits.

Enthralled by Devlin and their mesmerizing mutual attraction, Chloe makes a dangerous sacrifice to help the Circle’s high priestess awaken Merlin himself—and learn his timeless cures. But a foreshadowing soon causes Chloe to doubt the Circle’s real motives, as well as Devlin’s . . .

Now Merlin’s demonic shade is loose in the human world, while Chloe and Devlin’s uneasy alliance will pit them against ancient enemies, malevolent illusions, and shattering betrayal. And with the fate of two realms in the balance, Chloe must risk her untried power against a force she can’t defeat—and a passion that could destroy her.

***

Pat Esden would love to say she spent her childhood in intellectual pursuits. The truth is she was fonder of exploring abandoned houses and old cemeteries. When not out on her own adventures, she can be found in her northern Vermont home writing stories about brave, smart women and the men who capture their hearts.

She is the author of the contemporary paranormal Dark Heart series from Kensington Books, and the upcoming Northern Circle Coven series. Her short fiction has appeared in a number of publications, including Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, the Mythopoeic Society’s Mythic Circle, George Scither’s Cat Tales Anthology, and the Fragments of Darkness anthology.

Website
Facebook
Twitter
Pinterest
Blogspot
Goodreads

Fantastic History #10: Come and Write with Me–When the Fiction Becomes the Source by Christopher Kastensmidt

Reading through the articles here at Fantastic History, I can relate. I’ve been working with The Elephant and Macaw Banner universe for twelve years now, and I’ve certainly faced every challenge mentioned here along the way: historical fidelity, anachronisms, researching in a foreign language and all the rest. The Elephant and Macaw Banner (let’s call it EAMB for short) is a series based on sixteenth-century Brazil: a period marking the beginning of European colonization and a massive clash of cultures along the coast.

Similar to what Tim Powers does in his works, I rigorously follow historical events, while at the same time mixing in the supernatural. In this case, my supernatural elements include creatures from Brazilian folklore and miraculous powers associated with pajés (native shamans) and religious characters (like Jesuit missionaries).

The Headless Mule, a well-known Brazilian myth (artist: SulaMoon)

About 90% of my research is in Portuguese, with the other 10% English and Spanish. The sixteenth-century is by far the least-documented period in Brazilian history. For one, Brazil had no printing press at the time (they were, in fact, illegal in the colony until the nineteenth century). That means that works from the period only got published if they somehow made it back to Europe—a rarity. There are about a dozen relatively reliable first-hand accounts from the period and not a lot of in-depth secondary works. While that has made my research a challenge, it has also created an interesting reverse effect, where the fiction itself has become a reference.

To support that conclusion, I’ll have to provide a little bit of history. The series has passed through multiple stages over the last twelve years, which I’ll try to summarize here.

Phase One: Prose

I started work on the stories in late 2006. I read some 20 books before I wrote the first story, a number that would quickly surpass 200 as I made my way through the series. That first story was published in Realms of Fantasy in 2010, and after a Nebula nomination in 2011, the stories soon reached an international audience. They were published in several languages, including a series of pocket editions in Brazil.

To my surprise, the stories were quickly adopted in schools as an alternative method of introducing several cultural elements, including: folklore, slavery, colonization and others.

A school play based on A Parlous Battle Against the Capelobo, the second story in the series (school: E.E. B. Professora Erica Marques)

Phase Two: Adaptation

Parallel to the stories being launched, I began working on adaptations. The first of these, a graphic novel, came out in late 2014. Thanks to sponsorship through a government program, the graphic novel was donated to hundreds of public school libraries in the states of Sao Paulo, Rio Grande do Sul and Santa Catarina.

A flashback to the Kingdom of Ketu, in modern-day Benin, from the graphic novel adaptation (artist: Carolina Mylius)

The graphic novel format is extremely accessible to young readers and helped the series reach an even greater audience. In 2015 alone, I participated in over 30 events and school visits in the states where the donations had taken place.

Phase Three: Interaction

In late 2017, I launched a table-top RPG based on the world of the stories. It was a success beyond my greatest expectations, selling out in just four months. Half of the copies went to public schools in eight states. The RPG gave me a chance to synthesize my (at the time) eleven years of research into an accessible and interactive format. I was able to present historical details such as measurements, currency and professions alongside statistics for fantastic creatures.

Pages from the RPG (art by Marcela Medeiros and Cássio Yoshiyaki)

Just seven months after launch, I know of dozens of schools which are already using the RPG in the classroom to teach students about folklore and sixteenth-century history. I receive almost weekly messages of people telling me how they’re studying history for the first time in their lives, so that they can create their own adventures in the setting.

The Elephant and Macaw Banner RPG in the classroom (school: Dom Walfrido Teixeira Vieira EEEP)

Phase Four: Community

The biggest surprise has been adoption by the community. The RPG is quickly becoming a reference in the area and has brought many readers back to the source material. It paved a clear path for people to tell their own stories in the world, in turn giving them a sense of ownership. That feeds back in a loop, with the community creating material for itself, thus expanding the universe and inspiring new creators. The fans are actively participating in every aspect of the future of this universe, providing feedback and ideas for future products. It has been a marvelous and humbling experience.

Examples of fan-written content for the EAMB RPG (content by Jan Piertezoon, Gustavo Tenório and Arthur Pinto de Andrade)

For those looking to know more about ABEA, the stories are available in individual editions at the moment on Amazon, but I recently signed a contract with Guardbridge Books (yeah!), and we’ll be replacing those with a definitive, revised edition in electronic and print formats. That edition will be launched at the World Fantasy Conference in November. Catherine’s Comment: !!!!

The stories are also available in Spanish, through Sportula, in Chinese, through Douban Read, and Portuguese, through Devir. The RPG should be out in English in 2019, and other products are on the way, such as a video game based on the RPG.

My thanks to Catherine and Fantastic History for the chance to publish this article. Congrats on the wonderful blog!