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)

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

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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.

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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.

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