The Last Enchantment

Merlin's harp is focus of front cover of the Mary Stewart novel The Last Enchantment.
Merlin plays his swan song on this harp.

The Last Enchantment is the final book in Mary Stewart’s trilogy about how Arthur became England’s king, subdued the Saxons, and ruled from Camelot.

As in The Crystal Cave and The Hollow Hills, Stewart tells the story from the vantage point of Merlin, the prophet/wizard who is cousin to Arthur and his mentor.

Merlin has lost his youthful stamina and he’s losing his ability to foresee the future.

Having lived either alone or among men all his life, without his prophetic gift Merlin is at the mercy of women.

Arthur has just won the crown. He must fight to keep it and to beget a son to carry on his line.

Arthur also has to worry about his half-sisters, who have dynastic ambitions of their own, and about his bastard son by one of those half-sisters.

For the first 400 pages of the novel, Stewart spins a fascinating yarn.

She seems then to realize she has too much history still to cover, so she sidelines Merlin while she advances the story.

Then brings him back, gives him a “while you were out” message, wraps up the story, and closes the covers.

The result is 80 percent enchantment and 20 percent disappointment.

The Last Enchantment by Mary Stewart
Morrow, 1979. 538 p.
1979 bestseller #07 My grade: B

©2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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The Hollow Hills tells Arthur’s tale

The Hollow Hills is Mary Stewart’s follow-up to her bestseller The Crystal Cave.

A drawing of a sword and  colors behind the title words are only art on The Hollow Hills' dustjacket.
There’s no magic on this cover.

Stewart picks up where that story ended, giving just enough background that people who didn’t read the earlier work aren’t lost but dedicated Stewart readers aren’t bored.

Within days of his birth, Arthur is given into Merlin’s care. Arthur’s father, King Uther Pendragon, had sent the Duke of Cornwall into battle and then bedded the Duke’s wife while the Duke was dying on the battlefield.

Arthur is a bastard.

Uther hopes as his queen Ygraine will bear sons untainted by bastardy, but Uther wants Arthur kept safe just in case he has no legitimate male heir.

Most of The Hollow Hills relates Merlin’s travels between the time he secrets the baby away and the time he comes back to return Arthur to his father as his successor. Those chapters allow Stewart to display her considerable landscape word-painting skills.

The Hollow Hills has less hocus-pocus than Cave and better developed characters (although Merlin, his youthful sidekick Ralf, and Arthur each have about a quarter century’s more maturity than appropriate to their chronological ages).

Stewart isn’t to my taste, but The Hollow Hills gave me more to admire than others of her novels that I’ve read.

The Hollow Hills by Mary Stewart
William Morrow, 1973. 490 p.
1973 bestseller #6. My grade: B

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Crystal Cave: Dark and dull

The Crystal Cave is Mary Stewart’s hallucinogenic tale of Merlin, the shadowy figure of Arthurian legends and post-Roman history.

Dust jacket of the Crystal Cave has black background with type colors suggesting light reflected from crystals.
First edition dust jacket of The Crystal Cave.

Myrddin Emrys, later to become known as Merlin, is the bastard son of the daughter of the King of South Wales by an man whom the daughter refuses to name.

When the story opens, Merlin is six years old, has the vocabulary of an Oxford don and absorbs every word he hears.

Political intrigue abounds and Merlin hears more than is good for him.

In his early teens, Merlin is kidnapped and taken to Brittany where he has one of his first visions, which brings him to the attention of the man who turns out to be his father. Ambrosius is preparing to invade and make himself King of all Britain.

Merlin joins him.

Even the dust jacket writer couldn’t come up with a summary of the plot of Cave. I won’t even attempt one.

All sorts of implausible events happen to Merlin, all of which fit perfectly with Stewart’s implausible characterization of him.

Merlin is not only a seer, but a skilled engineer, astronomer, physician, diplomat, politician, and dirty tricks artist.

Cave is not an historical novel, nor a fantasy, nor a romance, but a mash of all of them.

This long, convoluted tale is best avoided by all but die-hard Mary Stewart fans.

The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart
William Morrow, © 1970. 514 p.
1970 bestseller #4. My grade: C-

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni