Exploring Warwickshire’s Key Role in the History of Merlin and Arthurian Legend - The Rugby Observer

Exploring Warwickshire’s Key Role in the History of Merlin and Arthurian Legend

Rugby Editorial 2nd Apr, 2024 Updated: 3rd Apr, 2024   0

Warwickshire has been a key battleground throughout British history and, subsequently, has given rise to some of the nation’s greatest storytellers. Settled on by the Romans, Warwickshire would mark the dividing line between Mercia and Danelaw prior to the coming of a united Kingdom of England. Later, William Shakespeare and Mary Ann Evans (George Eliot) would be born in the county. Prior to both of those writers, however, one Sir Thomas Malory would pen the key texts of what we know today as Arthurian legend.

Malory’s role in British legend

Being the site of so many incursions, invasions, and civil wars, the British Isles are somewhat uniquely without a long-standing mythology akin to the endearing power of the Norse, Egyptian, or ancient Greeks. There were Celtic legends, and the Romans brought their rendition of the Greek tales with them, but later novelists – most notably, J.R.R. Tolkien – would lament this lack of historical religion persevering to the modern age.

What we do have, however, is Arthurian legend, much of which is conveniently found in the chronicle works of Warwickshire’s Sir Thomas Malory. Said to be of Newbold Revel, the “knight prisoner” translated many French-sourced tales and others from across the land to form the incredibly influential works of Le Morte d’Arthur, made available for free by Project Gutenberg.

In these works, Malory wrote of King Arthur and his noble knights of the Round Table, how Arthur pulled the sword and was crowned king, and the many battles he and knights faced. However, perhaps Malory’s most persevering writing within Le Morrte d’Arthur pertains to the legendary wizard Merlin. Here, the wizard’s very negative perception in earlier French texts was muted, and he was changed from essentially being an evil being to just tricky.

It’s these changes that helped to lead to the later renditions that hailed rather than shunned Merlin. He’s even given a more Christian dimension, as Britannica records, where he’s the prophet for King Arthur to find the Holy Grail. Outside of the legend, he’s said to have been a real person who was either a bard of Wales who went mad before retreating north, or a surviving druid who lived in the Scottish lowlands.

Leading to the modern wizard

To see just how influential Malory’s writing remains, you only need to look as far as the modern depiction of fantasy wizards and the instant draw of Merlin as a character. Merlin lost his more demonic persona after Le Morte d’Arthur, becoming the wise old man with a long white beard who was powerful in the mysterious arts of magic. Gandalf and, much more recently, Dumbledore, perfectly showcase this Merlin as the prototype.

Merlin is the go-to name for fantasy British wizards as the name now reflects that prototype. You can see it from Stephen Dillane’s portrayal as Merlin in the 2004 movie King Arthur to the game Rise of Merlin, which is certainly used as a draw for welcome offers. As BonusFinder UK said, the 100 no-deposit free spins on selected slots includes Rise of Merlin among hit games like Book of Dead, showcasing the appeal of the legendary wizard.

Were it not for Malory toning down the perceived demonic nature of Merlin, wizards in modern media might be people to be feared, wielding terrible magical powers which should be feared. Of course, we do have these evil wizards that adhere to Merlin’s depiction, like Saruman, but the characters who’re wise, friendly, and offer lead characters a helping hand are notoriously more popular.

So, it was Sir Thomas Malory of Newbold Revel who not only raised the profile of Arthurian legend but also laid the groundwork for the iconic wizard that we know today.


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