THE CRYSTAL CAVE
Stewart, Mary. Merlin: The Crystal Cave. New York: William Morrow and Company,
Inc., 1980. 294 pp.
Mary Stewart is one of the most popular novelists writing today. She is a lecturer at the
college where she got her M.A. and B.A., Durham university. She had 15 books published,
and all of them became popular. Although it is accurate, she wrote it merely because she was
so fascinated, not because she was paid to write a textbook.
The Crystal Cave is a novel, a scholarly narrative, and the first book in her Merlin
trilogy. This book covers the period of Merlins life from when he is six years old, up to when
he is in his twenties. She says her sourses were a semi-mythological, romantic account written
in Oxford by a twelfth-century Welshman,(312) and Geoffrey of Monmouths History of the
Kings of Britain.
In the authors note at the end of the book she explains that the time period of Merlin,
the 470s, was as dark a period of Britains history as we have.(312) Her goal was to make
the book as accurate as possible. According to the authors note, most of the names and a little
of the dialogue were accurate, but the rest is just educated speculations. There is little written
about Merlin, so it is hard to tell if the story is truly accurate or not, and there is also a possibility
that he never existed in the first place.
In the beginning of the story, the kings brother, Camlach, had just died, leaving no one
to take the throne if the king dies. Merlin is the next in line after his uncle had died, being the
bastard son of the kings daughter. No one seemed to like this idea, Merlin isnt legitimate for
one, and he would never have been a good soldier anyway.
On a horse ride, he finds a cave and goes in for a closer look. The man who was living
there, Galapas, sees the bats fly out and goes to see why. Merlin hears him coming and hides in
a crevice hidden in shadows, but the man finds him quickly. Galapas is a doctor who works in
the town, and he convinces Merlin to be take some lessons from him.
Galapas becomes Merlins best friend, and he sneaks out for his lesson whenever he
can. Galapas showed him something special about the crevice he hid in. He takes a candle in
there, and Merlin sees that it is lined with crystals. He tells him to sit inside and fall asleep.
While he is sleeping he has a vision of slaves mining in a cave with a large pool of water in the
When Merlin is on a trip with his grandfather, he finds the cave. He is lead to it by a
bird, a merlin, that was chasing a smaller bird, and when the merlin catches up to it, they fall in
the brush near the mouth of the cave.He and his servant go in, but the mine had been
abandoned years ago, but it was definitely the one. He still didnt know why he had been
Later in the story, Merlin returns from Galapass cave to find that his grandfather is
dead. Merlins servant had spilled lamp oil on the stone steps, and his grandfather slipped on it,
and broke his neck. The kings men quickly murdered the servant, and then all hell breaks
loose. Merlin finds his dead friend, grabs all the valuables he can carry, and breaks the lamp,
now filled, starting a fire, and runs away.
Some spies from the enemy king, Ambrosius, kidnap Merlin, not knowing who he was,
or what he had just done. They take him to their king, where he is treated better than he had
ever been at home.
He had another vision of a man killing a white bull with a dagger. When he meets the
king, Merlin thinks that Ambrosius was that man. The king later explains that what he had seen
was the myth of the man that was the first king of his family. The king realized that Merlin can
be of great use to him as a wizard.
Ambrosius later tells Merlin that he is his son. Merlin realizes that the clues were always
right under his nose. His mother had named him Merlin Emyrs, which is really just a short form
Ambrosius hears that Gorlois, an enemy king, has his army staying near Maridunum,
where Merlin had come from, and sends him as a spy. He runs into the cousin that had teased
him as a child when he returns to see what had become of the castle.
They go to a restaurant to catch up on things. His cousin gets loud after a bottle or two
of wine, and some soldiers sitting nearby hear Merlins name and take him and his mother to see
Gorlois had been trying to build a new castle, but as soon as the mortar would dry, the
wall would crack and fall. The kings wizards tell him that the blood of a fatherless man must
be sprinkled on the foundation for the walls to stand strong. They have heard of Merlins
powers, and take him to where the castle was to stand. It is on the hill above the cave from
He shows them why the walls would not stand. In the cave, streams of water from the
rain storm the day before were running down the walls. Soon after walking in, Merlin went into
a trance, and told the king that he should drain the pool in the bottom, and find two dragons;
one red, and one white. This trance took a lot out of him, and he slept for days. When he
woke up, he couldnt remember any of it, and the servant that had been traveling with him had
to tell him what he had said.
When the pool is drained, all they find is a bunch of broken tools, but no dragons. Just
then, the platform that the throne was on collapsed, and the Kings flag falls at the mouth of the
cave, and on it, is the white dragon. That night there was a comet in the sky, what they called
the red dragon. Merlin fell into another one of his trances and told about how the king would be
defeated by the red dragon, and how he himself would become the advisor for a King named
After escaping, and having a talk with his mother, he returns to find that Ambrosius had
died, and his brother took over, in the process taking the name Uther Pendragon. He makes
peace with Gorlois, and it works out until Uther falls in love with his wife, Lady Ygraine.
Before the king finds out about the affair, Merlin tells his wife that she should tell Gorlois
that she is going to have his baby. She is put in the castle that all the kings of his line have been
born in, and Uther could then meet up with her, and if the king showed up he would be slain.
Merlin disguises himself, Uther, and a few of his soldiers, and they get into the castle.
Everything goes as planned until the king shows up. He recognizes Merlin and runs to get help.
The only people that manage to escape are Merlin and Uther, and they are both injured in the
fight. That is how the story is left off.
The only knowledge that I had of Merlin before reading the book was what I had seen
in cartoons, where he was depicted as a magician. In the book he is more or less only an
advisor that had psychic visions, but could not control them.
The book was long, but it was barely noticeable. It seemed to detailed to have been
simply dreamed up.
At times, the language is common, like when Merlin says, It was the first time that I
remember feeling as if I looked like a prince.(108). Some times the language would be more
elaborate like, I think that it was the first time that I, Merlin, had run towards light and
company, run from solitude as if it were a ring of wolves eyes driving one nearer the fire.(89).
This book seems to be better suited to high school readers, if not college students.
Although it is a historical novel, there is still doubt if he ever existed, so perhaps it is not really
necessary. On the other hand, through reading it, the reader learns about events that were going
on during the period, like the fact that there was a controversy about who would take the
thrown after Merlins grandfather died. Over all, I would still recommend the book to others