Philomel Books/Putnam & Grosset Group: NY.
The Lost Years of Merlin 1996
The Seven Songs of Merlin 1997
The Fires of Merlin 1998
The Mirror of Merlin 1999
The Wings of Merlin 2000
T.A. Barron always writes with a consciousness of nature and spirituality. His stories are passionate and alive. The pace is slower than what is currently popular because there is meaning in every part of the story. The language of The Lost Years of Merlin is not difficult or even challenging, but the description requires some lingering and rumination to appreciate the story.
In this series, Merlin's childhood is only loosely linked to the Merlin that the world recognizes, but I can see glimpses of the Merlin that Emrys will become. My oldest was disappointed because the story didn't seem to be truly Merlin to him. Barron points out that there is no established canon for Merlin's childhood. Merlin is different in these stories. He is the young Merlin, before he has learned wisdom. He may have the soul of a wizard, but certainly also the arrogance of one, and not balanced or kept in check by the self-restraint and wisdom necessary to be a great wizard.
The Lost Years of Merlin:
With a sudden jolt, he realized that he could not remember anything. Where he had come from. His mother. His father. His name. His own name.
Cast from the sea onto the rocks of Wales is a boy with no knowledge of who he is or from where he comes. He soon notices a woman who says she is his mother, and they settle in a nearby village, although never truly a part of it. After a few years a momentous and life-wrenching experience propels the boy to journey in search of his past and identity. The task he must undertake on the legendary Isle of Fincayra, the bridge between the Earth and the Otherworld, sets him on a path to become Merlin, the greatest of all wizards.
The Seven Songs of Merlin: In his youthful ignorance and arrogance, Merlin makes many terrible, careless mistakes. He puts aside the task with which he is entrusted, healing the lands of Fincayra, to bring his mother back to the island. Because of this mistake, he grievously wounds his mother and must learn what it truly is to be a wizard to save her. Each of the Seven Songs holds an essential truth necessary to be powerful enough to withstand Rita Gawr and his servants. This particular tale also mirrors the Holy Grail quest in that young Merlin's task is to obtain the Elixir of Dagda in order to restore Elen to health.
This is my favorite of the series so far. I've read all but the last book. There is wisdom in each of the seven tasks he must achieve. A large step forward in Merlin's maturing process.
The Fires of Merlin: Urnalda the Queen of the Dwarves calls upon Merlin to pay a debt by defeating the dragon that has reawakened and is looking for revenge since someone has destroyed the remaining dragon eggs on the island.
A group of characters combine through their separate actions to lessen Merlin's ability to defeat Valderag, the dragon. Because of an old prophecy about the confrontation, he spends most of the time looking for the Galator which he believes will give him the power he needs. The Galator has been stolen from Domnu (its last possessor), so he travels to a volcanic cave to visit a seer (not unlike Greek mythology) to find its location.
Merlin meets 2 deer people-who change back and forth between deer and people. His relationship with this brother and sister extends the series' concept of interconnectedness and helps to prepare him for his confrontation with the dragon (and confrontations in later books)-as does his relationships with Cairpré and Rhia.
The relationship with Hallia and Eremon (the deer people) and the conclusion are the strongest parts of the book. Barron does a good job of showing the reader (and Merlin) the viewpoint of the animals which impacts how he deals with other creatures in hostile situations.
The Mirror of Merlin: The 4th book of the series is again a book of connections. The mists in different situations connecting worlds. The mirror connecting times through different pathways. The mists were present in previous books-this time with increased focus.
The whole book seems to me to be leading up to Merlin meeting his older self (which is the best part of the book). Other than this there is less purpose to the story than the other books. Many of the happenings are accidental. There are some good moments besides, like Merlin freeing the marsh ghouls and their helping him in return (a connection to The Fires of Merlin).
One thing interesting is that Nimue in Barron's series is totally hateful and power-hungry. Normally, I don't see Nimue in this way-although there are variations in her behavior from story to story.
The setting for Merlin's older self doesn't quite fit canon either. Merlin was not imprisoned in the crystal cave as Arthur's tutor. However, it lends interesting details to Barron's story.
I need to go back and check The Seven Songs of Merlin. After reading The Mirror of Merlin, I wonder if Nimue's behavior in the bakery was only about jealousy and lust for power, or is it possible she had some contact with her older self? Did she want the sword specifically or only objects of power? Was she trying to stop Merlin through taking away the younger Merlin's power as she tries to do in this book? My feeling is that Nimue had some knowledge in The Seven Songs of Merlin that Merlin didn't have.Perhaps knowledge of the future?
The Wings of Merlin: Dagda tells Merlin in a vision that he must convince the peoples of Fincayra to unite (an impossible task) to repel an invasion by Rhita Gawr on the longest night. He has 2 weeks to protect the island against certain destruction with the help of a few people-his sister Rhia, Caipré the scholar, Shim the giant, Hallia the deerwoman, and his own shadow. As a distraction, Rhita Gawr sends one of Merlin's oldest enemies after him with complementary sword arms. In protecting the children of Fincayra from Sword Arms, Merlin succeeds in gaining access to the Forgotten Island and earns the chance to restore wings to humans and to choose his destiny.
I enjoyed Rhia's attempts at flight-both the swinging through the trees and the Icarus/Dedalus imitation. Her character is full of surprises and, as said about Rhia and Merlin, "full of madness." I appreciate also that this leads up to the recovery of lost wings and the history of the Forgotten Island. Shim's part in the story (though small) also adds to it. I wasn't impressed by the winged-human idea, but the story of the Forgotten Island is fittiing, and the formation of Avalon lends credibility to Merlin's choice to confront his destiny instead of staying on Fincayra.
The reintroduction of an old enemy and Merlin's sympathy and mercy are one more step towards his ultimate destiny. In the last 3 books, Merlin matures greatly and gains both wisdom and the respect of others. Though he hasn't recognized his own worth, others are starting to consider him a wizard and to see the possibility of his greatness in the future-including the immortal Dagda.
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