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A criticism I heard recently of Merlin in THS

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A criticism I heard recently of Merlin in THS

Postby jo » 28 Feb 2006, 18:40

I was discussing the ST somewhere else recently although provokingly I can't remember where. SOmeone made the point that they think that THS really didn't 'work' because the inclusion of Merlin made it over the top and that Lewis was being guilty of doing something he criticised others for, ie trying to include too much at once .. I can't remember how they phrased it but I will try and find it once I remember which forum it was on. I thought it was a fair point though. IS Merlin's inclusion in THS going too far? Was Lewis just being self indulgent?
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re: A criticism I heard recently of Merlin in THS

Postby Theo » 28 Feb 2006, 20:09

It might well be a valid criticism, but that sounds a little odd - I can't remember hearing of Lewis criticizing others for "trying to include too much at once". On the other hand, that was almost exactly the criticism Tolkien made of the Narnia books - he didn't like Lewis' approach of stuffing every cool thing from various mythologies into his world.

Still, I dunno. I think Merlin's a pretty cool character, quite unlike any other character I can think of in Lewis's books. It's just a shame that he doesn't get to do much in the book.
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Re: A criticism I heard recently of Merlin in THS

Postby Stanley Anderson » 28 Feb 2006, 20:42

jo wrote:I was discussing the ST somewhere else recently although provokingly I can't remember where. SOmeone made the point that they think that THS really didn't 'work' because the inclusion of Merlin made it over the top and that Lewis was being guilty of doing something he criticised others for, ie trying to include too much at once .. I can't remember how they phrased it but I will try and find it once I remember which forum it was on. I thought it was a fair point though. IS Merlin's inclusion in THS going too far? Was Lewis just being self indulgent?


I don't know about Lewis criticizing someone for including too much at once, but I do know that THS is very much like what Lewis describes medieval works to be like -- full of that same "too much at once" quality, except that he likes the medieval works for that reason (at least that is one of the reasons). In fact, I've suggested before that THS IS Lewis' attempt to write a "modern" novel with the qualities of a medieval work.

As for Merlin, I think he is one of the masterpieces of THS -- so unlike any other conception of Merlin we have and yet perfectly and grittily (I'm probably making that word up:-) real, mysterious and opaque and yet familiar and clear at the same time. And the plot centers around him I think. One may think that Lewis should not have put him into the plot that way, but then one has a fundamental problem with the core plot development of the book to begin with.

Just as a side point, it was Merlin and the tramp that first set me off on the chessboard idea of THS. Interestingly, I once read about a poem by -- I can't remember who, darn it, but I want to say Elliot or someone like that -- where none of the lines seem to rhyme, but then in the middle of the poem is a couplet of rhyming lines. And then one notices that the next line after the couplet rhymes with the one before the couplet. And the next line after that rhymes with the one before the earlier one, and so on all through the poem so that the first and last lines rhyme, the second and next to last lines rhyme, and so on all the way to the middle of the poem where the rhymes "meet" at the couplet.

My experience with the chessboard theory was much the same. I first noticed in the middle of the book the parallel nature of Merlin and the tramp, and then I noticed other parallels between (I can't remember the exact order but something close to this) the Pendragon and Alcasan's head, and on and on, all the way back to the beginning and end of the book with Jane -- who starts the book -- parallelling Mark -- who ends the book (they parallel each other in many ways, but one is that, for instance, Jane's dreams, fantastical as they are, are like "true", news articles for St. Annes while Mark's news articles, though "realistic" and "factual" are distortions and propoganda for the NICE -- they are both "reporters" in a sense.)

Well, anyway, way off topic, so I'll end here.

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re: A criticism I heard recently of Merlin in THS

Postby Messenger_of_Eden » 01 Mar 2006, 07:05

I dunno, I LOVED the inclusion of Merlin in THS. What I found really interesting (maybe because I have never really studied the Arthurian legends, just seen a movie or two and read a few novels) was that the Merlin of THS and the Merlin of Stephen Lawhead's Pendragon Cycle have some rather startling parallels. I don't know if that is because these things are part of the legends or what. Maybe so. While Lawhead's Merlin is of course, far more fleshed out as a character than Lewis' Merlin, both have the abrupt, cryptic manner of a prophet. Both come forward in time to appear in modern days. and both of them confounded languages. I thought that was pretty interesting.
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Re: re: A criticism I heard recently of Merlin in THS

Postby Gabriel Syme » 01 Mar 2006, 12:28

Theo wrote:It might well be a valid criticism, but that sounds a little odd - I can't remember hearing of Lewis criticizing others for "trying to include too much at once". On the other hand, that was almost exactly the criticism Tolkien made of the Narnia books - he didn't like Lewis' approach of stuffing every cool thing from various mythologies into his world.

Still, I dunno. I think Merlin's a pretty cool character, quite unlike any other character I can think of in Lewis's books. It's just a shame that he doesn't get to do much in the book.


To be honest I don't think I understand your last point. My view is that Merlin is one of the most central characters in THS (I can't really think of him as an "inclusion") and that he actually does very much indeed in the book.

By the way, you could say I know virtually nothing about Merlin and the Arthurian legends, so I just thought that maybe some of you "Boring" Brits here could recommend a good text to start reading about those legends, something not too much distorted or too far away from the original characters. While I was reading THS I had a feeling all the time that I lacked something relevant, so I'd appreciate if you could help me filling that gap.

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Re: re: A criticism I heard recently of Merlin in THS

Postby The Pfifltrigg » 03 Mar 2006, 00:28

Messenger_of_Eden wrote:I dunno, I LOVED the inclusion of Merlin in THS. What I found really interesting (maybe because I have never really studied the Arthurian legends, just seen a movie or two and read a few novels) was that the Merlin of THS and the Merlin of Stephen Lawhead's Pendragon Cycle have some rather startling parallels. I don't know if that is because these things are part of the legends or what. Maybe so. While Lawhead's Merlin is of course, far more fleshed out as a character than Lewis' Merlin, both have the abrupt, cryptic manner of a prophet. Both come forward in time to appear in modern days. and both of them confounded languages. I thought that was pretty interesting.


More likely, THS influenced Lawhead. He is a self-described fan of Lewis' work, including the Space Trilogy.
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re: A criticism I heard recently of Merlin in THS

Postby Áthas » 05 Mar 2006, 13:39

When I started reading THS, Merlin's appearance did something to me... set me on fire in some way. I was totally fascinated about this link between mythology and our modern world and I loved it.
Most of you probably guess from my avatar that I'm a fan of the TV-series "Stargate SG1" where they include tons of mytholy (Merlina appears there too) and I think there is something great about doing that. These mythologies suddenly become much more vivid, more interesting... to me it was as if a whole new word had been opened up where everything was possible.
From my own point of view, Lewis did the inclusion of Merlin really well, making him a real and very interesting character.
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re: A criticism I heard recently of Merlin in THS

Postby Messenger_of_Eden » 05 Mar 2006, 16:59

I agree about SG-1 too :) Totally addicted. Never missed an episode.
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re: A criticism I heard recently of Merlin in THS

Postby David » 17 Mar 2006, 02:34

I have read some critics who think the inclusion of Merlin in Hideous Strength was intrusive and that the story could have gotten along without him. I can't see that. Merlin is intergal to the plot. And if you know anything about the Merlin legends, you know that Lewis draws on his wealth of knowledge in the medeival-Arthurian realm in order to complete the legend of Merlin and bring it to an end.

For example, Merlin once denies in the book that he was the son of a devil. This was a part of the Merlin legend. So a lot of the accumulated stories about Merlin are addressed in Hideous Strength and he is laid to rest.

I once did a detailed paper on this in college and had a lot of fun reading all the literature on Merlin, but alas can't find a copy of the paper.
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re: A criticism I heard recently of Merlin in THS

Postby StrawberryRose » 09 Apr 2006, 00:32

i must admit, that I thought that Merlin's inclusion in the story was rather odd. However, now that i look back on other events in the book, perhaps his inclusion is not as odd as I think. Now that i thinkof it, wasn't there a great deal of other kinds of things like that mentioned in the story? For instance, isn't there something at the end about the person of Venus?
It's been many years since i have read the ST and i'm not an expert in mythology. Am I way off base, or is there an immense amount of mythology included in THS?
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re: A criticism I heard recently of Merlin in THS

Postby BeeLayne » 09 Apr 2006, 21:32

I feel that Merlin was totally necessary to the plot - after all, the reason NICE wanted the college was to dig up Merlin's tomb. So much turns on his character, it would have been ridiculous not to include him. As an avid Medieval/Arthurian fan, Merlin totally made the book for me. His appearance, the discussion about his "magic", his understanding of custom, it all thrilled me.

As to similarity with SL's Merlin, I don't really see it. Although it has been a long time since I read the Pendragon cycle. I think I may just be remembering the physical impressions I have of both the versions of Merlin, and they don't really match. Note to self: I desperately need to read the Pendragon cycle again before re-attempting a comment on them.
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re: A criticism I heard recently of Merlin in THS

Postby The Pfifltrigg » 10 Apr 2006, 05:56

Comment, schlomment, BeeLayne. Need to re-read for the same reason as with the Space Trilogy. Durn good books, that's why! :bogart: :read:
False ideas may be refuted indeed by argument, but by true ideas alone are they expelled. — Apologia Pro Vita Sua: Cardinal Newman
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Re: re: A criticism I heard recently of Merlin in THS

Postby Monica » 10 Apr 2006, 12:48

The Pfifltrigg wrote:Comment, schlomment.


Hmmm. I always thought it was "Comment Schmomment." :-)


(Not to give you a hard time Pfifiltrigg.:-) I so DO agree with what you have to say.
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Re: re: A criticism I heard recently of Merlin in THS

Postby BeeLayne » 11 Apr 2006, 02:59

The Pfifltrigg wrote:Comment, schlomment, BeeLayne. Need to re-read for the same reason as with the Space Trilogy. Durn good books, that's why! :bogart: :read:


Quite, quite true. ;)
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Re: A criticism I heard recently of Merlin in THS

Postby Janet » 01 May 2006, 20:34

In fact, I've suggested before that THS IS Lewis' attempt to write a "modern" novel with the qualities of a medieval work.


I think you have a good point here. Today I came across this quote from Sidney's Arcadia " "A happy couple: he joying in her, she joying in herself, but in herself, because she enjoyed him: both increasing their riches by giving to each other; each making one life double, because they made a double life one; where desire never wanted satisfaction, nor satisfaction ever bred satiety: he ruling, because she would obey, or rather because she would obey, she therein ruling."

Doesn't it really capture the essence of what Lewis is saying about marriage in THS? Renaissance, though, and not medieval. The person quoted this passage as being a work that really influenced CSL.

AMDG, Janet[/quote]
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