Tuesday, August 26, 2014

CSFFBT: "Merlin's Nightmare" by Robert Treskillard (II)

Day two of another Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Book tour.  Today I will continue my discussion of   Robert Treskillard's novel Merlin's Nightmare.

Yesterday I talked about technical aspects and today I'll hit on the Fantasy elements. Tomorrow, the last day of the tour, I'll deal with the book as a Christian piece.

And now we jump to save white space on the internets:

I think it's a really tricky thing to deal with "common canon" in a fictional work.  The author wants to remain true to the "original" story...but there are dozens of "true" versions of the original. Pick one, you reject others, and the readers who had imprinted early on that version. The author wants to put their own spin, their own inspiration, into the story...but they can't change it too much, or else they lose the sense of the original, and a lot of their readership, straying too far from the beaten path.  (And speaking of beaten paths - this candy wrapper, here - is that from the First Peoples?  Does it stay?  Or was it just garbage left by another, earlier traveler?)

It seems for every wildly successful retelling of any story - The Greatest Story Ever Told, Troy, Cinderella, Robin Hood, Joan of Arc, Tombstone - there are a dozen or more which fall to the way side, having struck that spark of joy in only a few hearts, or none at all.  The Matter of Britain, being older than most, has an impressive list of spin offs and re-interpetations - some good, some deep, some funhouse mirror reflections.

(A short list, of ones notable and/or familiar to me:

Mists of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley (*)
The Sword at Sunset, by Rosemary Sutcliff
Port Eternity, by CJ Cherryh (a rare SF interpretation)
The Once and Future King, by T. H. White
Monty Python and the Holy Grail
The Crystal Cave, by Mary Stewart
King Arthur
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, by Mark Twain.

There are literally scores more, and that's just the overt ones, not including those with more passing references, like the SF series Andromeda.)

I wanted to point out the depth and breath of the competition, because Merlin's Nightmare is at the same time two things: first, not a spectacular re-examination of the material, and secondly, a story that does something unique in my understanding of the Arthur field - taking the story and shifting both Merlin and Arthur into the ranks of Christianity, rather than straddling the line between the old knotted crosses and the crucifix of Christ.

I'll come back to the role that Christianity plays in the book tomorrow.  Today (and while I'm farther along, I still haven't finished YET) I want to talk a bit about the use of magic and otherworldliness in the story.

Most versions of the Arthur story take a more or less realistic tact when depicting Britain during the fading of the Roman Empire.  (Leaving aside coconuts and time traveling New Englanders.) Some go too far, and highlight only the mud and squabbling nobles, taking the form of histories instead of stories. Even in fantastical fiction versions, magical power often appears to be fading away, as the Picts are destroyed and absorbed as a people and the pagan gods of Rome come to an end.  In most stories that I've read, Merlin is written as the last of his line of magic users, and occasionally as the last of the Druids.  It is his fate to proceed and give way to Arthur, who in his turn is both preserver of the earthly glory of Roman and a sign of the inevitable downfall of the civilized people of  the British Isles.

In Merlin's Nightmare, I found something surprisingly, delightfully different.

First, in this version, Merlin is not the last of the old, but the start of something new - a Christian, united Britain, which breaks down the tribal barriers and becomes a thing larger than the sum of its parts.  With his scars, his history, and his harp, Merlin also has the traditional links to the past.  But this book is not so much about saving the past as it is ensuring the future.

Secondly - power, magic, and awe belong not just to the druids and the devil-linked deals with demons, but also to the people of God.  The miracles of God are less flashy than the "power" displayed by the various antagonists of the 'bad guys' - but there is distinct, overt magic there.  More importantly, the magic and miracles are shown to be linked to the use of prayer, but not in a directive way.

The difference, as I see it, is thus: Morgana draws in the dark power and stabs at things with her fang.  Merlin prays for strength and deliverance.  (And God delivers, natch.)

The cool parts of the story (I do adore the homely details of the scrap of skirt, but I think my brother would be wishing for something more "ordinarily" magical, like a sword or a horse) don't make up for my frustrations with the technical parts.  But still they're a very interesting treatment.

Last day tomorrow, and a discussion of the Christian elements in the novel.

(*) Mists of Avalon was not hotlinked for reasons.

Other CSFF Participants’ links for the month of August: [Edited 0320 27 Aug for formatting]

 Beckie Burnham
Jeff Chapman
Vicky DealSharingAunt
April Erwin
Carol Gehringer
Victor Gentile
Rebekah Gyger
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Emileigh Latham
Jennette Mbewe
Shannon McDermott
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Mirriam Neal
Joan Nienhuis
Writer Rani
Nathan Reimer
Audrey Sauble
Chawna Schroeder
Jojo Sutis
Robert Treskillard
Phyllis Wheeler

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