Thu, 30 Jun 2016
Merlin

So, back to the "dark ages".

Because Travelling Heroes was quite slow, I decided to have a look at another recent purchase, Scotland's Merlin, and before I knew it, I'd finished it first.

Most people associate "Merlin" with the King Arthur stories, but this is a later addition with no historical basis at all. The evidence for a Merlin, though slight, is actually greater than that for an Arthur.

Simon Clarkson looks at the "Merlin" legend and traces it back to the life of a mysterious "wild man" living in the Scottish Lowlands in the 6th Century: Lailoken. Somehow, over the following centuries, this story was picked up but changed by Welsh Britons, perhaps merging memories of more than one historical person to create a separate figure called Myrddin. Myrddin, a 6th Century wild man, wood dweller and prophet, perhaps legendary founder of Carmarthen, became the source of the Merlin stories. Possibly.

I've read quite a few Tim Clarkson books now, including his Men of the North, about the Britons of (what is now) Southern Scotland. Clarkson writes well and does his best to untangle the always fragmentary and scattered sources of post-Roman Britain. So much language and landscape change, with all the years clouding and hiding the historical core of all the names and stories. I am sure it is as frustrating as it can sometimes be rewarding.

If you are interested in the "real" myth and the real history of these islands, rather than the fantasy often peddled today, then Simon Clarkson is a very good author to start with.

You can read about the book on Clarkson's web site Senchus. This BBC Scotland piece also has a good summary of the thesis.