Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Young Merlin Trilogy

The Young Merlin Trilogy
by Jane Yolen
Recommended Ages: 11+

In this tightly-structured children's re-imagining of the legends of Merlin, a wild boy abandoned in the woods at age 8 learns to survive like an animal. Then, taken under the wing of a kind falconer named Master Robin, he finds his true name and learns to be human again. But a new tragedy sends him out into the world alone, equipped with little more than a growing awareness of his own strange powers, starting with dreams that come true, if only "on the slant."

Merlin has brushes with deadly danger, including a scoundrel who wants to sell him as a slave. He takes refuge with a traveling conjurer named Ambrosius, prophesies the downfall of a certain Duke Vortigern, gets thrown in with the wild folk of the woods, witnesses a terrible massacre by the forces of Uther Pendragon, and befriends a younger boy who will one day be King Arthur - all before the age of 12.

Jane Yolen, an extremely prolific writer of children's books, a noted authority on folklore, and the author of yet other books about Arthur and Merlin (The Sword of the Rightful King, for example), pieced together fragments of the confused body of Merlin lore in a way no other author has done - though, to be sure, two interpreters of this ancient legend seldom agree on much more than the starkest outline. This rather short book is a blend of the familiar and the strange, or rather a strange blend of familiar elements, packaged in the form of three very, very short books titled Passager, Hobby, and Merlin, which separately deliver such tiny bites of Merlin's story that they really only seem complete when bound together in one volume. Indeed, that is how I read them, and how I recommend reading them.

There is a sense of ritual in the prologues and epilogues that bind the parts of this trilogy together. There is also a disturbing sense of darkness running beneath the surface of these stories, calling for the most mature and subtle readers in the "Ages 8 to 12" audience to whom the trilogy is marketed. Youngsters impressed by Yolen's knack for talking to them on their own level, without underestimating their abilities, might want to check out this list of some 200 other books to her credit. They include Wizard's Hall, a pre-Harry Potter school-of-magic adventure; Armageddon Summer, a novel co-written with Bruce Coville about two teens in the middle of standoff between a millennialist cult and the FBI; the "Young Heroes" quartet, co-authored with Robert J. Harris and based on ancient Greek legends; and the "Seelie Wars" series, co-authored with Adam Stemple, about the realms of faerie. Space does not permit even to list all the types of stories she has written. Go find about them for yourself!

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