chapter  3
23 Pages

Merlin and the Ladies of the Lake

WithANNE BERTHELOT

Merlin first appears on the narrative scene as a child: the puer senex who reveals to Vortigernus what causes his tower to fall, and then prophesies the future of Great Britain, with the fighting dragons as a starting point. In Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia regum Britanniae, for instance, as well as in the French prose Merlin or the Middle-English Of Arthour and of Merlin, he is the fatherless child, born of the devil according to some versions, of a special kind of “demon” according to others, but basically he acts as a revealing device, a prophet whose defining characteristic is his youth. The “merveille” of Merlin is, precisely, that he is a child with the wisdom of an old man, and the various texts insist on the discrepancy between Merlin’s high level of competence and his apparent youth. Merlin is the one character related to the Arthurian legend who seems to have the least chance of getting involved in any kind of romantic relationship, or any relationship with a woman, his mother excepted.