Wednesday, 21 November 2001

Mary Stewart: The Last Enchantment (1979)

Edition: Hodder & Stoughton, 1979
Review number: 997

Many modern adaptations of the Arthurian legends have a tendency to flag and fade as they move towards their end. The reason that this happens, I suspect, is connected to the current fashion for putting Merlin at the centre of the story, when his place in the legends is virtually over with Arthur's accession of the throne. Then, the initiative shifts, and considerable changes would be needed to make him remain the most interesting hero. He is involved less and less before falling prey to Nimue, in what is the most interesting legend about his later life.

Mary Stewart does her best, but suffers from this problem as much as other authors who have used a similar approach. The best part of the novel is towards the end, as Merlin tells of his experience of illness and near death. Stewart might have been better off editing her material down from a trilogy to a pair of novels, because the second one, The Hollow Hills, also fails to set the imagination alight.

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