Merlin in Malory's le Morte
Malory's Merlin is like one of the great Middle Age thinkers; part
philosopher, military genius, court counselor, king maker, sooth-sayer, engineer, master spy, and illusionist, all of these
skills coupled with foreknowledge of the future. In the early chapters, he changes Uther into the likeness of Gorlois (but with
an admonition to not talk much with Igraine or Gorlois' people -more illusion than
magic). He appears often in disguise, and he arranges for the upbringing of Arthur and his later king-making with the
miracle of the sword in the stone. As one of Arthur's main councilors, he arranges the affairs and directs Arthur in
his early wars. He comes and goes, appearing almost always in disguise, to dispense knowledge, foresight, and in many
ways to prepare the way for an event to happen. He protects Arthur and arranges for him to receive Excalibur. And in
some regards, because of his important role, he is blamed for any of the king's failings.
He foretells the future in the manner of fate - what he speaks will be fulfilled. Malory uses him as a story
facilitator, someone to appear at the opportune moment to explain, assist, or foretell the story background.
In the story of Balin, we witness other of Merlin's many talents; for he replaces the pommel of Balin's
quest sword with a new pommel creating a weapon that can only be wielded by the champions Launcelot and his son Galahad.
In addition, he builds a steel and iron bridge a mere half foot wide that runs from the land to the island where Balin and his
brother Balan met their fate, and creates a special floating marble stone that will hold the quest sword until its eventual
achievement by Galahad. His engineering skills in such regard make him the logical choice for the creation of the Sword
in the Stone.
After the Quest of the White Hart, Merlin fell in a dotage upon the damosel that Pellinore had brought
back to court, Nimue, who was one of the damosels of the lake. Merlin was assotted of her, constantly at her side. One
might say, he was a little mad, for his fore-knowledge of his death was not enough to overcome his lust for her. Nimue
allowed his presence, learning all that he could teach her. But Nimue tired of his attention and left the court. Merlin
warns Arthur of the future and tells him that his own time is near to be put into the earth quick (buried alive) and
made him swear that he would not use enchantments upon her to have her maidenhood. They traveled across the channel
to Benwick where Merlin visited Ban and his wife Elaine and their young son, confirmed as Launcelot but whose first name
was Galahad. Merlin continues his travels with Nimue showing her many wonders until they crossed
back over to Cornwall. Nimue became more afraid of Merlin's advances and when he showed her a great wonder
wrought by enchantment under a massive stone, she worked her charms to get him to enter to show her the marvels
and then wrought so that he could never come out for all of his crafts. And so she departed.
Malory never calls Merlin a druid or a Christian and it would be improper for anyone to state definitively
that he is either. There are enough books that discuss and explain the ease with which prominent men that may have
come from families associated with the druids easily moved in Christian circles as priests, bishops, and even saints.
Malory never fully explains Merlin's status, but it is probable that he was a member of one of the prominent families,
well educated, independent and eccentric, but probably not the first born (although there is some evidence of a practice of
giving the first born son to the church).
Merlin's Cave below Tintagel