The Crystal Cave
by Mary Stewart
Book 1 of Arthurian Saga
The first three books of the Arthurian Saga is also known as The Merlin Trilogy. This series is being read as part of a Buddy Read @ BookLikes.
See Also: Week One Update | Week Two Update
Book III: The Wolf
Progress on 11/16/16: 338 of 519 pages (65%)
The last few chapters of the third part of The Crystal Caves certainly took an interesting new turn in events. While I'm not entirely certain about how much I liked the way it was executed, it was certainly a significant new turning point in the book, which I suppose was also a significant event in history.
Still... I really don't have much else inspiring to say about this. Merlin's Sight is ever finicky, and Merlin's character still feels rather flat. But as is still true, I find the rest of the goings-on in the book quite interesting.
Book IV: The Red Dragon
Progress on 11/21/16: 428 of 519 pages (82%)
To be honest, the entire book is written well, but up to this point, I've had this feeling in the back of my mind that I'm reading a rather personalized history text book. Events happen and then we move on. There is very little emotion attached to any of the events, whether they are significant deaths, victorious battles, or even that strange thing that happened between Merlin and Keri... of which I'm still not quite certain I understand.
I'll be honest: my knowledge of Arthurian legend is scant at best, so maybe I'm just not picking up on the significance of a lot of the events taking place.
A lot of things happen in this fourth section and the time frame even shifts quite quickly, though it all feels like everything happening at the same time on fast-forward.
Book V: The Coming of the Bear
Progress on 11/21/16: 519 of 519 pages (100%)
I guess it's a little hard for me to take seriously an entire section dedicated to an event surrounding a planned adultery in the name of God. But that's the modern female in me talking, because I suppose Mary Stewart had to write the book to fit the legend. Then again, I suppose that's better than the original option where the conception of Arthur happened through a more forced deception.
Yes. That's my take away from that last section of The Crystal Cave, unfortunately.
Final, Overall Thoughts:
I still stand that The Crystal Cave is a well-written book, which takes the reader on a journey following the re-imagining of the Wizard Merlin's origins. We get to see moments in Merlin's life as a youth: during his life living with his family in Wales as an unwanted child; to his escape to Brittany where he meets some other significant figures in his life such as Ambrosius Aurelianus and Uther Pendragon, the future King Arthur's uncle and father, respectively; to his learning how to understand his magical powers.
A lot of time passes by in this book from Merlin's childhood and on into his adulthood.
I suspect that Stewart still remains quite true to the original legend--again, my knowledge of Arthurian legend is quite depressing, I realize, as I read through this first Merlin trilogy book. The biggest complaint I have is connected to this, however, which is pretty much the entire presentation of the events in The Crystal Cave.
I had stated in an earlier update (probably above somewhere), that the book read like a history text that was being documented in a more personal tone. Events are mentioned... and then we move on to the next part of history. And now, as I write this, it makes me realize why I had found the book a little boring and dragged out. Personally, The Crystal Cave feels like it was written to accommodate original events from the original legends.
Don't get me wrong: Stewart's re-imagining of Merlin's life wasn't all that bad. But it just felt like she would be writing the story quite smoothly, when all of a sudden she decides that she needed to make sure to drop a known story event from the original legends, or even from historical fact, into the flow of the story. And it is done quite awkwardly. Which is probably what jars me out of the fictional setting and made me think I was reading a history text.
Which, to be honest, I suppose I sort of am since Merlin as an old man is actually recounting his life as well as all the significant historical occurrences that took place during those times--this we had already been told at the outset in the book's prologue. So maybe there was a reason for the amount of detachment presented in the telling.
It was still a little hard for me to follow without my mind wandering, however.
Another complaint I would have about this book is the way in which Merlin claims everything is pre-ordained. It is God's will, as he tells everyone, whenever something or anything happens. Whenever he sees a vision, it is God speaking through him, and since that is the case, anything he states during those visions will come to pass. If God wishes him to see something or know something, he does. If God wishes him NOT to know something, he doesn't.
Except for the fact that in that last section of this book, The Coming of the Bear, our young wizard seems to take great pains and a lot of planning to almost force an event that he says is God's will--the engineered conception of Arthur. And then things go to hell, so it makes me wonder about Merlin's visions just as much as Uther did.
I'm not entirely sure where I was headed with that last tidbit, but I have always had negative reactions to the idea that everything in life is already set up by destiny. It gives you the impression that you have no control over your own life and that if something were going to happen, it will happen regardless of what you do.
But enough of my soapbox.
In the end, The Crystal Cave is still an enjoyable, well-written book. It wasn't easy to read, nor was it easy to remain focused, to be honest. Although I suspect that a lot of my loss of attention had to do with me.
2016 Reading Challenges:
• Goodreads Reading Challenge
• BookLikes Reading Challenge
The Reading Task: Read a book set in the UK, preferably during the medieval or Victorian periods (for those of us doing the Merlin read-along, the Crystal Cave works for this task).