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

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THE CRYSTAL CAVE: FREE STUDY NOTES / PLOT SYNOPSIS

BOOK I - The Dove

CHAPTER 3

Summary

Cerdic finds Merlin in his room, sees his face his bruised, and fixes it for him. Merlin tells Cerdic that Camlach fears Niniane wedding a prince in Wales, something Cerdic warns him to keep to himself. Merlin knows that Camlach fears also Merlin’s father’s return which might drive Camlach out of the kingdom. He also explains to Cerdic that the things he knows come from voices that speak to him or in dreams. He wants Cerdic to tell him who his father is, but Cerdic doesn’t know and he’s sure Moravik doesn’t either. He explains to Merlin that if his mother wanted him to know, she would have told him. He just needs to be quiet about what he knows.

Cerdic then creates a metaphor for Merlin to live by: instead of thinking of himself as a falcon, he should think of the ring-dove who lives and prospers, because she runs away. Cerdic insists that he may someday be a falcon, but he’s not one yet and that the ring-dove is a good example to follow.

The last thing he remembers about that night is once again going to the hypocaust, but only hearing Olwen singing a new song about a wild goose and a hunter with a golden net.

Notes

Merlin bonds with Cerdic who shows how much he cares for him by tending his wound and talking with him like a father would. It’s obvious that Merlin wants and needs a father by how he reveals the truth of his Sight to this man, a slave in the King’s household. Cerdic, at least for the moment, fills this gap in Merlin’s life by teaching him to be the ring-dove until he is old enough to become the falcon.


It’s significant that Merlin understands Camlach’s fear of him when we, the readers, do not. Again, it may be Merlin’s Sight or just some mature intuition, but he knows that he is a threat to Camlach’s right to the throne.

It makes the reader question: What is the order of succession? If Niniane is the eldest, does she inherit before Camlach? Should Merlin’s father return, would he be able to drive Camlach away? These are important questions to ponder, but ones which the author doesn’t answer.

The song Olwen sings about the wild goose and the hunter with the golden net may be foreshadowing of events to come. It hearkens to the idea that Merlin may be on a “wild goose” chase in search of his own future, always pursued by enemies who fear him.


CHAPTER 4

Summary

Merlin begins to use his Sight and his travels in the hypocaust to help him fight back against those who bullied him: he overhears Dinias talking about spying on Alun and a tryst with a servant girl. When Dinias waylays him again, Merlin blackmails him with the information. Dinias, believing it to be black magic, steers clear of Merlin after that.

Merlin also uses his cunning to keep Camlach at bay by pretending to be interested in the priesthood and learning to read and write. Merlin receives a tutor, a Greek from Massilia named Demetrius. His mother also calms Camlach’s fears by continuing to visit St. Peter’s and insisting she would become a nun when her father would let her go.

About a year later, Merlin leaves Demetrius sleeping and goes off on horseback into the hills. He passes shepherds and other peasants tending their farms and animals and wanders an unfamiliar path, feeling that he is alone and free. As the older narrator, he reflects that at that moment he had not perfected his Sight and so, he didn’t know what way-star was guiding him up this path. When he comes to a fork in the path, he doesn’t know which to take until suddenly a falcon - a merlin - flies low in front of him from left to right. He follows it as perhaps a sign. While looking for water, he comes across a cave where a stream flows and as he bends to drink, he sees in the grass a small carved figure of a wooden god. It is the same god he had seen under the oak at Tyr Myrddin, now sitting at the entrance of a cave. He decides to enter.

Notes

As Merlin grows, he realizes he must use the talents at his disposal, mostly his wits and the Sight, to protect himself. This emphasizes that, even with the Sight, he is all too human as well. His mother, too, understands as well how to stay just out of danger.

It is important to note that Merlin never feels free until he’s alone. Perhaps he understands the chains - dislike and fear of him - he carries, because he is different than the other children.

He knows he is being guided because of the falcon and the wooden god along the way. Someone or something wants him to find the cave.

New names added in this chapter: Demetrius, Merlin’s Greek tutor and also a slave.


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