Tuesday, 25 December 2012

His name? Lermin!


For the past five years, late September to Christmas, my family have been sitting down of a Saturday evening and watching the BBC TV series called Merlin - a twist on the King Arthur story in which Merlin is the same age as Arthur - a young servant initially in his late teens, and whose powers must be concealed because of the laws against magic.

Each episode begins with a portentous preamble (from The Dragon, voiced by John Hurt) saying the following:

In a land of myth, and a time of magic, the destiny of a great kingdom rests on the shoulders of a young boy [later 'young man'].  His name... Merlin.

But when the narrator says 'Merlin' we all shout him down in unison with 'Lermin'. 


The original idea behind this daftness was a fantasy scenario that the great ACT-OR (John Hurt) had rehearsed and rehearsed his cheesy lines until he was thoroughly fed-up had lost all sense of their meaning, so on the final recorded take, after the big build-up, he got the main character's name wrong - but nobody noticed, and it got broadcast anyway. 


I'm not, here, making a recommendation that the BBC Merlin was a great piece of television - but that it was enjoyable and wholesome family fare, with plenty of vivid characters, good and evil, played by a cast that mixed young discoveries with many stalwarts of British TV and movies.

Anyway, lastnight - Christmas Eve - we all sat down and watched the last episode with the death of Arthur, the Once and Future King prophecy, and a neat hint that the story or Arthur, and his role in Britain was not yet over and finished with, but that Merlin remained with us, unnoticed.


I, like most Britons, have long been fascinated with the story of Arthur, in its many versions. As a teen I was much influenced, for good and ill, by TH White's Once and Future King. Now I find myself going back often to look at C.S Lewis's That Hideous Strength - a book into which he packed just about everything he wanted to say, and which consequently almost bursts with the pressure: it is, indeed (for all its flaws), a prophetic and inspired book. 


"The poison was brewed in these West lands but it has spat itself everywhere by now. However far you went you would find the machines, the crowded cities, the empty thrones, the false writings, the barren beds: men maddened with false promises and soured with true miseries, worshipping the iron works of their own hands, cut off from Earth their mother and from the Father in Heaven.

You might go East so far that East became West and you returned to Britain across the great Ocean, but even so you would not have come out anywhere into the light. The shadow of one dark wing is over all Tellus"...

The Hideous Strength holds all this Earth in its fist to squeeze as it wishes. But for their one mistake, there would be no hope left. If of their own evil will they had not broken the frontier and let in the celestial Powers, this would be their moment of victory. Their own strength has betrayed them. They have pulled down Deep Heaven on their heads. Therefore, they will die...


...Gradually we began to see all English history in a new way. We discovered the haunting...how something we may call Britain is always haunted by something we may call Logres. Haven't you noticed that we are two countries? After every Arthur, a Mordred; behind every Milton, a Cromwell; a nation of poets, a nation of shopkeepers. Is it any wonder they call us hypocrites? But what they mistake for hypocrisy is really the struggle between Logres and Britain...


...Did they really mean any great harm with all their fussy little intrigues? Wasn’t it more silly than anything else?”

“Och aye,” said MacPhee. “They were only playing themselves. Kittens letting on to be tigers. But there was a real tiger about and their play ended by letting her in..."

"...Of course, they never thought anyone would act on their theories! No one was more astonished than they when what they’d been talking of for years suddenly took on reality. But it was their own child coming back to them: grown up and unrecognisable, but their own...”


"Those who have forgotten Logres sink into Britain. Those who call for Nonsense will find that it comes.”


That is why Arthur keeps returning to haunt us, and why almost all versions of the legend - including the modern, distraction-orientated and politically correct - illuminate with beams of light peeping through the chinks.

The BBC Merlin was limited by many deficiencies characteristic of its age - not least the elimination of religion from King Arthurs court (so that the King was crowned not by a priest but by the court librarian!) - yet because there was a decency behind it, a sense of striving to do one's best, there were times when the spirit of Arthur and Merlin, the spirit of Logres, was apparent.

Much more cannot be expected in our times.


As Tolkien wrote in Smith of Wootton Major when Smith meets the Queen of Faery and found that:

"...His mind turned back retracing his life until he came to the day of the Children's Feast and the coming of the star, and suddenly he saw  again the little dancing figure with its wand [stood on top of the sugary sweet icing of the Great Cake], and in shame he lowered his eyes from the Queen's beauty.

"But she laughed... "Do not be grieved for me...

"Better a little doll, maybe, than no memory of Faery at all."


Let's take Christmas in that way. No matter how subverted and commercialized, its transcendent meaning cannot be utterly hidden, for those with eyes to see, hearts to feel - and it is this from childhood which haunts our adult memories.

Happy Xtmas.



The Crow said...

Happy Christmas to all you Christian folk, from an ex-pat hermit in a far-off frozen land. And from his ex-pat wife. And three native cats, seventeen raccoons, and a rabbit.
Fare ye well in the coming year :)

Al said...

Merry Christmas, Bruce!

dearieme said...

Merry Christmas, Bruce.
Here's a cautionary song from Mr Waller.

B. Shelley said...

Merry Christmas, Mr. Charlton.

By the way, could you share your opinion on the Continuing Anglican churches?

A link from Wikipedia:


A link from a Continuing Anglican diocese in the U. K.:


Thank you in advance.

Samson J. said...

Let's take Christmas in that way. No matter how subverted and commercialized, its transcendent meaning cannot be utterly hidden, for those with eyes to see, hearts to feel - and it is this from childhood which haunts our adult memories.

The joys of family - which includes our extended church family - and true worship this December have filled me with such a spiritual peace as I have not had in a long, long time, perhaps ever, in spite of - or maybe because of - the darkness looming over us. Merry Christmas, Bruce, and very heartfelt prayers for you and all your readers.

George Goerlich said...

I tried watching the Merlin series on Netflix here in the US and rather enjoyed the first episode, but found the political correctness unbearable. Maybe I should give it a second go.

Daybreaker said...

Merry Christmas!

Bruce Charlton said...

@B Shelley - I have attended Eucharist at a Continuing Anglican church, and I have nothing against them in principle, and regard them as genuine - but in the UK they are very obviously not going to last long and would not count as a living church; being a handful of elderly folk taking infrequent communion from a visiting priest.

I suspect that 'catholicism' and sacramental/ liturgical Christianity is now almost dead in the UK, as a societal force (not being renewed); and that the future of UK Christianity (if there is one) would have to be at Protestant - if we are lucky.

(If not, as is more likely, there will be only scattered individual Christians and autonomous individual churches/ congregations/ home groups.)

Bruce B. said...

I'm jealous of you Brits. We Americans don't have ancient myths and legends. Since we're Albion's seed, I claim your myths as mine too!