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

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THE CRYSTAL CAVE: BOOK SUMMARY / CHAPTER NOTES

BOOK I - The Dove

CHAPTER 2

Summary

Merlin describes South Wales and Maridunum in some detail at the beginning of the chapter and the reader learns the proper Welsh pronunciation of a double D - TH as in the word thus. He also reveals that the town’s name was changed in his honor after all the events he is about to tell, but that the god was always there first and he shares the hill with him.

While he is on the top of the wall eight days later, he sees a troop of men riding in, the leader of which Merlin seems to know is King Gorlan of Lanascol. He also knows that this man has come to marry his mother and take him to live with him overseas. Moravik looks for him to get him ready to visit his grandfather and knows none of what Merlin reveals to her. Merlin even insists that Gorlan is his real father.


While Moravik makes him ready, Merlin tells us about his room where Moravik and Cerdic, her lover, sleep as well. They are there to watch over him. He describes in detail a chest where his clothes are kept, one he thinks is Roman because of the scene painted on the lid: a cave, a man with a knife, a bull, a sheaf of corn, and a man with rays around his head like the sun, holding a stick, details that will foreshadow later events surrounding the worship of Mithras.

Soon, Merlin walks into court where he sees several people who have impacted on his life: his grandfather and Camlach on the dais with his grandfather’s third wife, Olwen (his mother’s life, he reveals, was much better with Olwen than with Gwynneth, his second wife) who has taught him to play the harp; Dinias the bully; his mother below the dais; and the dark man he had seen ride into the castle. When his grandfather sees him, the old man reacts violently, leaving the room with King Gorlan and with final words for Niniane to the effect that he’s had enough of six years with her unmarried and raising a bastard. When he reaches Merlin, he tells Gorlan that Merlin is the son he, Gorlan, would have given a name to. Then, he angrily knocks the boy flat to the floor.

Camlach comes looking for Merlin and finds him watching a lizard on the terrace. Merlin describes the lizard as his most vivid recollection of the day, a sign of his character, perhaps also seen by Camlach: the boy had taken a blow from his grandfather that would have sent the deerhound yelping to its pen and yet Merlin had neither made a sound nor shed a tear. Camlach reveals the truth already known about Gorlan by Merlin. Niniane’s refusal to marry Gorlan is a sign to the boy that this man is not his father after all.

Then, Camlach tells Merlin that his mother wants to enter the convent of St. Peter’s and he, Merlin, would make a good priest, an idea that Merlin vehemently refuses. He says he would rather stay with Camlach.

Camlach lets that thought die and then tells Merlin he has saved the best of the apricots picked that day for him. Merlin sees on the ground an apricot with a great rotten hole in it around which the wasps buzz. It is significant that his uncle’s shadow falls over this scene, and then, the man hands Merlin an apricot so juicy and sweet-looking that it makes his mouth water. Camlach is impatient for Merlin to eat it, but Merlin refuses it, saying it is black inside. This revelation makes Camlach throw the apricot against the wall and warn Merlin to stay away from him from now on. He calls him the devil’s brat. Merlin watches as a wasp alights on the apricot offered by his uncle, now its juice trickling down the wall. The wasp struggles, whines, jack-knifes and lays still. When Merlin realizes that his uncle had meant to poison him, he begins to weep, the first time he ever remembers crying.

Notes

In this chapter we are allowed to see Merlin’s Sight as he seems to know King Gorlan’s identity and why he is there as well as his ability to recognize his uncle’s attempt to poison him. We can only speculate at this point why his uncle would want a six year-old boy dead. However, knowing now that Merlin has this Sight adds to the mystery atmosphere of the novel. Another mystery would be why Niniane refuses to reveal the identity of Merlin’s father and why she is so determined to enter a nunnery.

Other significant details include the chest with the scene on top foreshadowing of events which will appear later in the story; Camlach’s seeming fear of Merlin; and Merlin’s first memory ever of weeping. The chest is clearly a combination of both pagan and Christian symbols (Mithraism) while Camlach’s fear of the boy and the fact that a six year never remembers crying before only add to Merlin’s mysterious character.

New names added in this chapter include: Gorlan of Lanascol, Niniane’s suitor; Cerdic, Moravik’s lover; Olwan and Gwynneth, his grandfather’s wives; and Dinias, his grandfather’s bastard son and the bully Merlin avoids.


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