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Keltria Journal


Issue 39 - Lughnasadh/Fall 1998


Merlin A Historical Review

by Diogenes MacLugh

In the summer months of 1997 the FOX television network carried us back to the Fifth Century for glimpse of Celtic life and legend through their eight part series called "THE ROAR".

At the time of Beltane 1998 we were once again returned to this magical time as NBC presented the legend of "Merlin." This story is set in the same historical setting as the FOX series, during the first years of the Fifth Century.

Julius Caesar first initiated the campaign to bring Roman civilization to the Isle of Albion in 55 BC. By 300 CE most of southern Britain was dotted with modern Roman style cities having running water, paved streets, beautifully constructed temples and public places with fountains and public gardens. All of these were connected by highways patrolled by the Roman legion to protect travelers and enforce peace throughout the colony of Britannia.

Many of the native Celtic people became accustomed to this new lifestyle and the flow of imported goods from the distant corners of the Roman Empire. In about 380 CE an enlightened Emperor, Maxentius, had a vision of a beautiful woman who was to be his true queen. His vision brought him to the Isle of Albion, where he was greeted by the High King Octaf and the nobility of Britain. Beside the High King was his lovely daughter, Elen, the woman of Maxen's dreams. They were soon wed and the people of Britain were proud to serve the kind and generous Emperor.

When Maxen chose to rule the Western Empire from Britannia, an ambitious kinsman declared him "in absentia" and convinced the Roman Senate to crown him Emperor. The legion forces of Britannia were joined by warriors of the Celtic tribes as they rallied to reclaim the throne for their beloved and respected Maxen. The campaign was led by the cousin of Queen Elen, a mighty warrior named Conan Meriadoc.

The people of Rome gladly restored the throne to Maxen in a nearly bloodless coup. For his service to the Empire, Conan was named King of the Roman colony of Armorica in Gaul. The son of Maxen and Elen remained in Britannia as governor and King. Constantine III was a good king, but all the great warriors of the land had left with Maxen and few returned. The native Celtic tribes took advantage of this weakness to reclaim the lands of Britain for their native heritage and lifestyle. Many small independent kingdoms arose along the periphery of the Romanized kingdom of Britannia.

Thus we enter the setting for the story of Merlin. In 411 CE the throne of Britain had passed to Constans, grandson of Maxen. He is remembered as being the first Christian king of Britain, and attempted to use the banner of Christianity to drive back the "barbarian tribes."

His sister was married to a cruel and ambitious man named Vitalinus, who was generally disliked by the citizens of Britain. For his personal protection, Vitalinus hired a band of Pict mercenary warriors, traditional enemies of Britons and Romans alike. Shortly thereafter King Constans was assassinated within his own castle by one of the Pict guards. His brother-in-law claimed the throne, taking the name Vortigern, meaning "High King." When the nobility of Britain revolted against him, Vortigern hired bands of Saxon warriors under Hengist and Horsa to assist him in quelling the rebellion. As the civil war escalated, the Saxons brought in reinforcements, including warriors of the Angles and other Gaelic tribes. Thus began the Anglo-Saxon invasion at the invitation of the renegade King Vortigern.

Vortigern first sought the advice of Druids, but when they refused to assist the cruel leader, he turned the Saxons against them as well. In 432 the Grand Council of Druids is said to have dissolved, forming the Orthodox Celtic Church in opposition to the agents of the Holy Roman Empire that backed Vortigern.

In this time of turmoil, the movie depicts an appeal from a priestess of the Old Religion of the Celts, calling upon the Land of Magic for assistance and guidance. Thus she summons Mab, Queen of Lothway, the dark queen of the magical world, in the malicious form of Miranda Richards. Queen Mab uses her magical power to summon an immortal being into a newly born human form. Thus was the spirit of Merlin brought into the world, to be raised by the Celtic priestess, Ambrosia.

The tale reveals Merlin as a kind and gentle man who first discovers his magical powers in an effort to save the beautiful princess Nemua from danger. He then begins a reluctant study of magic under the guidance of a magical gnome called Frick, delightfully portrayed through the comic genius of Martin Short.

Sam Neill presents a loveable and believable Merlin as he deftly manipulates through the political intrigues and magical obstacles created by Mab. The writers have provided a fairly accurate portrayal of historical references to the legend of Arthur and the infamous wizard who raised him. The special effects bring the same realism to fairies and dragons that Sam Neill also saw in the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park. The dark role of Vortigern is well represented in the form of Rutger Hauer, who is well known for action adventure.

The film's plot skims rather hurredly over the happy Golden Years of Camelot and focuses more on the dark magical forces of Mab, as she uses her powers to undermine the goodness of Arthur's reign. The downfall of Camelot unfolds in a plot that is very reminiscent of modern politics in Washington, DC, using sexual innuendo and accusation to destroy both the leader and moral fabric of the nation.

The made-for-TV movie is available from NBC in two videocassette tapes, along with a shooting script for only $29.95 (+ $4.95 S&H). Credit card orders can be made over the phone through 1-800-NBC 1200. Check orders may be sent to :

NBC Home Video
PO Box 51790
Livonia, MI 48151

Internet information may be found at http://www.NBC.com Click on the VIDEOSEEKER Navbar and follow the Merlin links. Links to other pages related to the movie are found in the GAMES AND CONTESTS section.

Email in support for the movie and a subscription for email updates on future programs of this nature should be sent to camelot@nbc.com Your verbal support is needed for future programs that depict the legends and culture of our Celtic and Druidic path for mainstream acceptance.

[Compiled from the historical research notes of Diogenes MacLugh for the writing of his upcoming novel, "Lord of the Dawn".]

This material is Copyright 1998 by the author identified. Keltria: Journal of Druidism and Celtic Magick posts this article on the Internet by permission of the author. It may not be republished or reproduced in any form without the expressed written consent of the author or Keltria Journal. Links to this page may be established.

This material was first published in Keltria: Journal of Druidism and Celtic Magic. For a copy of the issue that this article ran in, send $3.95 to Keltria Journal, P.O. Box 1060 Anoka, MN 55303-1060 and request the issue identified at the top of the page. For other subscription and ordering information, see our Order Form.

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