The Crystal Cave

Looking for a cover image for this post, I saw many, many editions of this book. And rightly so, because The Crystal Cave is a very accomplished and absorbing and beautifully written version of the legend of King Arthur, this time told from the viewpoint of the sorcerer Merlin.

I fell in love with the Arthur story at first through the novels of TH White, then through Marion Zimmer Bradley's The Mists of Avalon (though that particular novel has been ruined for me after learning about Bradley's disturbing personal history). But Mary Stewart's trilogy, published in the 1970s, has become a classic re-telling. Stewart's Merlin does have magical powers, especially the power of prophecy, but his magic is exaggerated by the population, who fear and revere him. I must admit that the battle scenes and sword fights, of which there are quite a few, were not so interesting to me as the personal relationships and the growth of Merlin's legend. (In this telling, Merlin does raise the stones of Stonehenge, but with sound engineering rather than pure magic.)

The Crystal Cave ends just where the Arthur legend really begins, with King Uther sneaking into Tintagel to meet Igraine, disguised as her husband (with Merlin's help), and the conception of the child who will become King Arthur. I've now embarked on the next volume, The Hollow Hills, which picks up exactly where The Crystal Cave finishes, and I'm looking forward to finishing the rest of the trilogy.


  1. I absolutely loved this trilogy in my early teens and filled pages of my sketchbook with drawings of how I thought the characters might look, But I've always hesitated to reread them as an adult just in case they didn't have the same magic for me. I'm thinking now I should risk it! Incidentally, Bernard Cornwell has an Arthur trilogy which is very good, starting with The Winter King.

  2. We can't have too many Arthur retellings! I must try the Cornwell. I think it's worth risking the Stewarts again -- there is the odd moment that hasn't aged well, but they are few and far between.