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Merlin's Booke by Jane Yolen

Merlin's Booke (1986)

by Jane Yolen

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This collection of short stories and poetry intrigued me as I followed up on Mary Stewart's Merlin trilogy. It is not a cohesive whole, rather a collection that shows different facets of the possible Merlins out there. Child of a demon, mage, wild child, fool of love, wise man -- all of these are possibilities and part of the many legends. As with the best fiction, this one makes you think, sometimes to the point of uneasiness.

"What is a magic maker but a mage? A mage deals in images, the prestidigitation of the mind: imagination. Mage, magic, image, imagination. It was all the same."

It is well worth the reading if you enjoy thoughtful fantasy and beautifully used language. ( )
  Jean_Sexton | May 11, 2016 |
I’ve yet to list Jane Yolen as one of my favorite authors, but I do think she’s a master. I’m always excited to see her name listed in anthologies. Her short story “Meditation in a Whitethorn Tree” is a masterpiece, and her award-winning picture book Owl Moon is just lovely. Oddly enough, I’ve found her novels hit-and-miss; she seems to do better with shorter forms.

Merlin's Booke contains thirteen stories and poems centered around the figure of the mythical mage. Merlin appears in many different guises over the course of the collection: the devil-child born of a nun and an incubus, the feral wood-boy, the young dreamer who sees truth “on the slant,” the mysterious orchestrator of a king’s conception, the old druid arranging political marriages, the bard who undertakes a young boy’s education, the old dotard who falls for a vixen’s charms.

“Was not Merlin a shape-shifter, a man of shadows, ... a creatures of mists?” Yolen asks in her introduction. “There is not one Merlin, but a multitude.”

I didn't care for the poems that open and close this collection, but the other verse pieces are beautiful, showcasing Yolen’s musical ear and shifting gracefully from the general to the specific. I love this stanza from “The Annunciation”:

Love goes in motley
and in mask
and, counterfeit,
completes the task
that I have set him
for this night.
So love plays love
without the light.

The short stories are just as good, if not better. Some feel a little incomplete at their endings, as if they are merely the beginning of stories. But then, I don’t read Yolen for plot, which is not her strong suit; I read her for her characters and the beauty of her language. And most of the time you can guess what follows if you are at all familiar with the mythos. I was impressed with the opening tale, “The Confession of Brother Blaise,” which takes a part of Merlin’s story that I dislike and somehow turns it into a tale of redemption. “The Gwynhfar” is an odd, eerie, haunting little tale that is completely unexpected, but somehow unforgettable—probably my favorite in the collection. And “The Sword and the Stone” may be even better than the novel she turned it into, Sword of the Rightful King, which I remember liking quite a bit.

What really makes Yolen’s take on the Arthurian legend special (both here and elsewhere) is her ability to suggest, with just a few carefully chosen words, possibilities, subplots, and relationships that you might never have thought of before. For instance, I want to know more about the Lancelot of “The Sword and the Stone,” even though he was a minor character at best. And this is coming from someone who is usually not too taken with Arthur’s greatest knight.

If you’re looking for short stories about the Matter of Britain, this collection is highly recommended. (Also check out Parke Godwin's anthology Invitation to Camelot.) ( )
1 vote ncgraham | Dec 26, 2012 |
This book is a series of pieces of the myth of King Arthur, each giving a slightly different angle of the story. They run, mostly, roughly chronologically, but don't quite fit together, even though they are different parts of the story. They read like possibilities, and read that way, could be interesting. I didn't enjoy the book partially because I was expecting a story- one cohesive story, and these parts sort of fit together, but the joining was cracked. ( )
  the1butterfly | Oct 20, 2006 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Jane Yolenprimary authorall editionscalculated
Canty, ThomasIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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When the Glastonbury tomb reputed to belong to Arthur and Guenevere was opened in the twelfth century by impecunious monks, only bones remained in the strong oak casket.
What is a magic maker but a mage? A mage deals in images, the prestidigitation of the mind: imagination. Mage, magic, image, imagination. It was all the same.
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Jane Yolen breathes new life into the timeless Camelot legend with a revamped history of King Arthur's powerful mentor: the great magician MerlinThere is perhaps no more beloved and enduring myth in the Western canon than the story of King Arthur, his knights, Queen Guinevere, and of course, his mysterious tutor and magical advisor, Merlin. A sorcerer, sage, prophet, and teacher, Merlin's mysterious life has inspired a vast array of classic works while giving rise to numerous conflicting legends. Here, award-winning author Jane Yolen, one of the most acclaimed fantasy writers of our time, retells Merlin's tales as never before.?Through a series of stories and poems ranging across centuries?from the days of Merlin's childhood as a feral boy to the possible discovery of his bones in a much later era?Yolen reimagines both the glory and grimness of Camelot, recalling characters and events from Arthurian legend, while ingeniously inventing new myths and dark fables. Merlin's Booke is a brilliant patchwork, made up of tales that explore the mysteries of King Arthur's world and the terrible magic that pervaded it.?This ebook features a personal history by Jane Yolen including rare images from the author's personal collection,?as well as a note from the author about the making of the book.… (more)

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