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Online Study Guide: The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart - Book Summary

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THE CRYSTAL CAVE: FREE STUDY GUIDE / BOOK SUMMARY

LITERARY ELEMENTS

SETTING

The novel is set around 450 A.D., one of the darkest periods of Britain’s history. It begins in Wales in the town of Maridunum, but branches out into various areas of Britain and Less Britain (Brittany) in what is now France. Some of the towns and cities where Merlin travels include: York, Kaerconan, Doward, Bremia, London, and Winchester in Britain and Tintagel and Dimiliac in Cornwall as well as Lanascol and Kerrac in Less Britain. Some of the action also takes place in Ireland at Killare.


CHARACTER LIST

Major Characters

Merlin
The main character and narrator of the novel, he is the young boy who has the Sight and grows into his power as an enchanter. He is the one who is led by the god (later God) to bring the about the birth of Arthur.

Ambrosius
Merlin’s father, he becomes the High King of Britain after defeating Vortigern and the Saxons and restoring peace to the land.

Niniane
Merlin’s mother, she has a forbidden affair with Ambrosius from which comes Merlin. She never reveals the name of Merlin’s father. She, too, has the Sight, but fears her power and turns instead to Christianity and the nunnery for her strength.

Uther
Ambrosius’ brother and Arthur’s father, he becomes High King at Ambrosius’ death. Merlin uses him to bring about the birth of Arthur, but thinks of him only as a regent who follows and precedes great kings. He is not a great king himself.

Gorlois
The Duke of Cornwall, he is ultimately loyal to Ambrosius and fights with him to unite all Britain. He is betrayed by both Merlin and Uther when Merlin makes it possible for Uther to sleep with Gorlois’ wife Ygraine and conceive Arthur.

Ygraine
The Duchess of Cornwall, she gives into her lust for Uther and agrees to Merlin’s plan to bring them together. She will become Arthur’s mother.

Galapas
The hermit with the Sight who helps Merlin find the crystal cave and teaches him all he knows of his power.

Camlach
Niniane’s brother and briefly King of Maridunum, he sides with Vortimer against Vortigern and is killed in battle. He fears Merlin will be a challenge to his right to be king, so he tries to poison the boy.

Vortigern
High King of Britain when Merlin is a boy, he steals the throne from Constantius by poisoning him. He actually begins his reign as a good king, but soon allows the Saxons to control his country.

Cadal
Merlin’s loyal servant, he dies at Tintagel, protecting Merlin from Gorlois’ men.


Minor Characters

Merlin’s Grandfather
The king of Maridunum at the beginning of the novel, he despises Merlin who is a bastard without a father. This character is never named.


Olwen
Merlin’s grandfather’s young wife, she plays the harp and teaches Merlin to play as well.

Dinias
Merlin’s cousin and his grandfather’s bastard son, he bullies Merlin as a child, but helps Merlin and Ambrosius in the invasion.

Moravik
Merlin’s nurse

Cerdic
A servant in Merlin’s grandfather’s house, who becomes a kind of father figure to Merlin. He teaches him to be the ring-dove rather than the falcon until he is old enough to fight for himself.

King Budec
King of Less Britain, he takes in the young Ambrosius and Uther when Vortigern kills their brother, Constantius, and steals the throne of Britain.

Rowen
Vortigern’s Saxon Queen who influences him to bring Saxon troops to Britain.

Vortimer, Katigern, & Pascentius
The three sons of Vortigern, they turn against him to take the throne for themselves. They eventually must be defeated by Ambrosius.

Marric
One of Ambrosius’ spies in Britain, he takes Merlin to Less Britain where he finally meets up with his father.

Mithras
The god whom Ambrosius and Uther worship in Less Britain.

Belasius
Merlin’s tutor in Less Britain, he is the Arch Druid of a sect which believes in human sacrifice.

Ulfin
Belasius’ servant, he later becomes one of Uther’s servants and is taken along when Uther seeks Ygraine at Tintagel.

Tremorinus
Ambrosius’ head engineer, he teaches Merlin all he can about building siege machines and from these lessons, Merlin is able to determine how to raise the standing stones at the Giant’s Dance.

Hengist

The Saxon leader, he is eventually beheaded by Ambrosius, but is buried in an honorable manner.

Maugan
A magician, he insists that Vortigern should kill a man who doesn’t know the name of his father and spread his blood into the foundation of the fortress at Dinas Brenin, so the walls won’t crack.

Keridwen
A servant in Merlin’s grandfather’s castle, she earns her keep as well by sleeping with the men there. She is Keri’s mother.

Keri
A young nun in St. Peter’s, Merlin finds himself attracted to her, the first time he is ever attracted to a woman. She is an opportunist who wants Merlin, because he is the son of Ambrosius.

Octa & Eosa
The brothers of Hengist, they must be brought under control after Ambrosius defeats their brother.

Gandar
Physician to Ambrosius’ army, he recognizes Merlin’s great talent as a healer.

Gilloman
Young King of Ireland, he makes an alliance with Pascentius against Ambrosius’s right to rule in Britain.

Brithael
One of Gorlois’ soldiers, his discovery of Uther’s presence at Tintagel forces Merlin to kill him.

Ralf
Ygraine’s page boy, he helps Merlin and Uther to get into Tintagel.

Marcia -
Ygraine’s lady-in-waiting, she appears in Merlin’s vision handing him baby Arthur on the night of his birth.


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