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

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THE CRYSTAL CAVE: FREE ONLINE NOTES / PLOT SUMMARY

CHAPTER SUMMARIES AND NOTES

PROLOGUE - The Prince of Darkness

(the significance of the title: it refers both to the young man who is Merlin’s father, Ambrosius, King of Less Britain and to Merlin himself who is feared for his Sight and his magical abilities.)

Summary

The narrator speaks in flashback as an old man who has now come full circle, back to just being a man with a few tricks. His implication is that he no longer wields the magic he once did. He discusses how memories that are recent are more misted than those of the past and that they unfold like the pictures in the mind of the other person he was as a child. He indicates that he recovers his memories from the fire, one of the last tricks he is still able to do, or from dreams or from the mirrors of the crystal cave, all-important elements of foreshadowing.


He speaks of the first memory of all as one that is not his own, but rather one recalled from him who once bore the narrator in his body, the one who “was before me and who will be again when I am gone,” a statement of complete and utter mystery, hearkening to the reader’s knowledge of Arthur as “the once and future king.”

He then shows the reader that first memory of a young man of eighteen who had been hiding in a cave from the pursuit of those who would kill him if they found him. The young man is a king’s son as evidenced by his horse’s gilded bit and the strips of silk he had used to keep it from jingling. The young man hears some hoofs and lifts his sword in anticipated defense, but the rider is no enemy. Rather, it is a young girl who indicates that she had an impossible time coming to him since his pursuers were on the roads night and day. She has brought him “things” and only realizes he is leaving after he kisses her and covers her hands with his own.

The girl insists he will come back, because she has the Sight. He says only that he must come back and that then, maybe she will listen. They spend the last hour or two they have left together in the cave.

Notes

It is only after reading Book I that the reader will realize that this is the scene where Merlin is conceived. We are not privy to the young man’s identity, only that he is being pursued by some enemy who would kill him if he could. This leads us then to the conclusion that Merlin’s mother had created a relationship with a man totally unacceptable to her family. Later, we will learn that the young man is Ambrosius, King of Less Britain or Brittany.

The couple has evidently discussed the impossibility of their relationship and he has probably tried to convince her to leave with him, something she has refused to do. Her love for him must be quite strong, however, given that she has ridden to him, even as he was being sought by his enemies, to provide him with “things” not identified. The implication is that they have been meeting secretly for some time and only when she sees his saddlebags packed is she aware that he is forced to leave.

The final words of the Prologue are laced with a terrible sense of finality and the reader is left with the feeling that they will never see each other again.

The mysterious mood of the Prologue (one which will continue throughout the book) is set by the atmosphere of secrecy - the night is misty and dark as are many of the memories of the narrator; the narrator is, for the moment, unknown as are his reasons for relating all that came from the past; the events which have led to the scene between the young couple are vague and incomplete; questions the reader may have are left unanswered; and the meaning of the title of the Prologue is not yet able to be determined. Who is the Prince of Darkness and what is the significance of his story? Once again, Book I will answer some questions, one of which is the significance of the title - The Prince of Darkness is both Ambrosius and Merlin and this young couple are Ambrosius and Niniane.


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