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Merlin's Booke by Jane Yolen
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Merlin's Booke (original 1986; edition 1986)

by Jane Yolen

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122498,704 (3.81)5
Member:ncgraham
Title:Merlin's Booke
Authors:Jane Yolen
Info:Ace (1986), Edition: First Edition, Paperback
Collections:Your library, Read in 2012 (inactive), Read in 2013
Rating:****
Tags:'12, '13, Fantasy, Short stories, Arthurian, Merlin, Well-loved copy, Reread, One of my favorite stories is in here, Loaned out, Beautiful prose

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Merlin's Booke by Jane Yolen (1986)

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Showing 4 of 4
There's many versions of Merlin in the older source material. Sometimes Merlin is a devil, other times just a wise man, other times a magician. In some tales, he lives his life backwards, in others, his perception of time is normal. No version is any more accurate than the rest. Merlin's Book acknowledges all of these versions of Merlin, but makes none definitive.

I really wish I'd read this before I read Catherynne Valente's Under in the Mere. The format is so similar, that my admiration of that one influences my opinions of this version. I do like Jane Yolen a lot, but Valente holds a special place in my heart. ( )
  Melanti | Mar 30, 2013 |
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 editionsconfirmed
Canty, ThomasCover artistsecondary 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.
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