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In early HS, the only time our class went to the library was to learn the dewey decimal system. But once I found that room -- secluded from the hallways with large heavy double doors and filled with silence and books -- I went to school, but the library was my true destination. It's where I found Jane Eyre, and Dickens, and George Elliott, and Austen -- and that changed everything. And yes, Mary Stewart's Merlin series, too.
I remember reading it at the time, with an amazed sense of wonder. Wonder over the magical subject matter certainly, but also wonder at the literacy of the author. This was fantasy written at an adult level, with the beautiful language I had learned to love. But it was more -- it gave me magic for the first time, and I loved it. It set me on a path to find the best fantasy books I could, because now I knew they were out there.
I am so happy to say that I have listened to The Crystal Cave this week with my sense of wonder still intact, and it gives me hope. How can we despair of a world that has such wonders in it? My quest for beautifully written books in every genre will never end.
To finally have it on audio, read by the great Derek Perkins, is almost too good to be true. This series is a treat, a joy and an opportunity to pass it on to younger generations, and I couldn't be more thrilled to give it a 5 star review. I wish I could give it a thousand.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED: For everyone.
(Thank you, Mary Stewart.)
20 of 20 people found this review helpful
“The Crystal Cave” is the first and best of Mary Stewart’s classic trilogy that recasts the Arthurian legend from the point of view of Merlin. In these books, Merlin Emrys--the first-person narrator of this and the second book, "The Hollow Hills"--is not the shape-shifting wizard of “Camelot” and “The Once and Future King,” but a small (even rather weak) mortal boy, the bastard grandson of a minor Welsh king. But he does have certain paranormal gifts, notably "the Sight."
Merlin's gifts are augmented with guidance from Galapas, a hermit who guards the secrets of the Crystal Cave, an ancient shrine hidden in the hills. Immensely curious, he also studies healing arts and engineering sciences, and is eager to learn all he can of different gods and religions. By the end of the book, the young man Merlin has made use of his knowledge and gifts in ways that would certainly render him magical to his contemporaries.
Set in 5th century Britain and Normandy (Less Britain in those days), this terrific novel is neither romance (despite the brief opening scene) nor fantasy (despite Merlin's gifts of fire and prophecy) nor historical fiction (despite the presence of some historical figures such as Vortigern and Hengist). This is Britain in the 5th century AD; the Romans have left, Christianity is trying to consolidate its foothold, and the land is besieged by the Norse and the Saxons. It is a unique story that melds legend and mysticism with history as it very well could have been.
The characters, even the minor ones, are heartrendingly real. Merlin and Aurelius Ambrosius are magnificent. Derek Perkins, a narrator I’ve always enjoyed, outdoes himself. It's a rendition I didn’t want to stop listening to. Like other reviewers, I’ve been hoping to see these books come to Audible for a long time, and I’m grateful Mr. Perkins agreed to perform this one. I hope he does “The Hollow Hills” and “The Last Enchantment” as well.
"The Crystal Cave" ends with the famous story of Merlin contriving to allow Uther (who is now High King of Britain) to satisfy his obsessive passion for the married Ygraine--thus leading to the conception of Arthur. This book is an immensely satisfying read (or listen) by itself, although you'll probably want to go on to "The Hollow Hills" and meet the young Arthur.
Some listeners may object that there are few female characters, and those that do appear are much in the background, but that is not really a flaw; it is both true to the period and (as you'll understand if you listen to it) intrinsic to the story as Mary Stewart tells it. It might be seen as the flip side to the feminist "The Mists of Avalon," but "The Crystal Cave" (with apologies to "Mist's" many fans) is the better book.
15 of 15 people found this review helpful