cover image The True History of Merlin the Magician

The True History of Merlin the Magician

Anne Lawrence-Mathers. Yale Univ, $40 (256p) ISBN 978-0-300-14489-5

Merlin has intrigued people the world over since he was first introduced in the 12th century, through the pages of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae. The powerful but doomed magician of King Arthur’s mythical court became a fixture in medieval romances and is still well- known eight centuries later. Less familiar is the original concept of Merlin as a historical personage who had a profound influence on the volatile political landscape of Europe during the Middle Ages. British medievalist Lawrence-Mathers explores the evolving literary representations of Merlin against their historical backdrops in this densely written monograph. According to Lawrence-Mathers, Merlin was a “political prophet” whose magical powers and prophecies served as a “possible source of guidance and insight” during times of instability and upheaval, from the 12th to the 16th centuries, and even into the English civil war of the mid-17th century. Merlin’s impact on the political landscape was all the more lasting because he was regarded as a genuine historical rather than a legendary or fictional figure. But as popular belief in the reality of magic declined in the 18th century, so did Merlin’s impact. Despite Merlin’s lingering fascination, this study is recommended for scholars well-versed in the history and literature of medieval Europe. (Nov.)