Got Merlin? A review and some recommendations

The BBC has done a lot for me. It’s brought me Hugh Laurie as Bertie Wooster, a new Doctor Who, and my favorite adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.

And now it’s given me a new version of the King Arthur legends that I just might be able to get behind with their new mini-series Merlin. I’m not generally a big King Arthur fan – back in the day, Chretien de Troyes mucked it all up (IMHO) by turning the whole thing into a giant adulterous soap opera by adding Sir Lancelot and his “courtly love” for Guinevere. But the BBC version looks like it’s doing it’s own take, with very little likeness to any version you may have seen before – and I’m not complaining.

A young Merlin shows up in Camelot, only to discover that King Uther (Arthur’s father) has outlawed magic – oops. Nevertheless, he is apprenticed to the castle healer, who is also keeping his magic carefully on the down-low, and tries to live an unobtrusive, magic-less life. For about ten minutes, anyway, until he’s provoked by a bully (who turns out to be Arthur), and realized that without magic, he can’t even stand up for himself. And then it gets REALLY fun, when it turns out his destiny is to protect Arthur, even though he’s somewhat less than fond of him. Other perks, aside from a young, spunky Merlin, and anti-hero Arthur, are Torchwood’s Gwen, Anthony Stewart Head (Giles from Buffy) as King Uther, and a multi-ethnic cast. On the other hand, the costuming is a bit strange, and I can’t decide what era they’re trying to set it in. Although I’ve heard it’s meant to be set in a sort of pre-history Wales, it looks more like post-Roman contact England.

But, sadly, this series isn’t coming to the U.S. till 2009, from what I hear. So in the meantime, if you want to get caught up on your Arthur, here’s a list of some other adaptations to check out from our library:



  • Le Morte d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Mallory – Mallory’s classic saga provides many of the details replicated in more modern retellings.
  • The Once and Future King by T.H. White – the definitive, classic retelling.
  • A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain – a 19th century man travels back in time and uses his knowledge of technology to impress King Arthur and gain a foothold in his court.
  • Grey King by Susan Cooper – part of the Dark is Rising series.
  • The Winter King by Bernard Cornwell – the first book of the Warlord Chronicles paints Arthur as a complex hero (and warlord), trying to unite a kingdom.
  • The Light Beyond the Forest by Rosemary Sutcliff – retells the story of Arthur’s knights and their quest for the Holy Grail.
  • One Knight Only by Peter David – The Once and Future King is here in the future – and the president of the United States
  • Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley – features feminism, anti-Christian sentiment and threesomes.


Andrea’s note: You should also check out the The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion.


One response to “Got Merlin? A review and some recommendations

  1. Wow, what a great list!
    I’m so glad you included Sword in the Stone. That one is so often overlooked as it’s for kids, but really, it was my first contact with the Arthurian legends and I love it to this day.

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