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

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THE CRYSTAL CAVE: FREE BOOK REVIEW / LITERARY ANALYSIS

BOOK I - The Dove

CHAPTER 7

Summary

Merlin indicates, at the beginning of this chapter, at this time in his life, the crystal cave was an idea of such importance that, like most children, he imagined it into the stuff of magic or even nightmare. He points out that Galapas never mentioned the crystal cave and kept the mirror covered. He then explains what happened the day he discussed the crystal cave with Galapas. He arrives on a winter day, tying up his pony, Aster, within a shelter he had contrived to hide him from prying eyes. He knows instinctively that he needs to be secretive about where he goes and how long he stays, because Galapas is helping him run counter to Camlach’s plans.

Galapas is not in the cave, so Merlin settles in to read until he returns. He doesn’t know what force makes him decide to return to the hidden opening of the crystal cave. Once inside it, however, he doesn’t experience that blinding light he experienced the first time. When he hears Galapas’ footsteps, he hurries out of the inner cave once more. He eventually asks Galapas before he leaves how he knew Merlin was in the cave the first time he found him there. Galapas answers that he saw Merlin in the crystal cave. So Merlin asks him to show him the cave. Merlin is amazed when Galapas reveals that he knew he entered the crystal cave that day as well. Galapas comforts him by telling him that he, Merlin, will someday go where, even with his Sight, Galapas cannot follow.

While he is in the crystal cave, Merlin has a vision in which he sees naked slaves and a foreman mining rock and carrying it out of the cave in baskets. Galapas cannot explain the meaning, because he thinks Merlin already has gone beyond him.


Galapas hurries him to return to his home, giving him a final command: other things than looking for Merlin are happening at home and by whatever means he needs to use, Merlin must go with the king.

Notes

It’s obvious from this chapter that Galapas is a means by which Merlin will learn the truth about and impact of his power: he keeps the mirror covered and never mentions the crystal cave, because he knows, until that day, it was not time for Merlin to experience it again; he never tells Merlin directly that he must keep Galapas and the cave secret, but Merlin knows from his experiences with Galapas that this man is there to protect him from Camlach’s plans; and he guides Merlin into his next major decision to go wherever the king is going, a decision that seems absolutely necessary.

Merlin’s vision will be remembered later in the novel when Vortigern cannot get the walls of the fortress he tries to build to stand: Merlin knows there is a mine beneath and so uses this knowledge to save his own life.


CHAPTER 8

Summary

Merlin arrives at the castle where he discovers that his grandfather is planning a trip to Segontium to see the High King, Vortigern. He wonders if this might be the war they had long awaited: Vortigern had been the regent for the young king Constantius who had died suddenly and mysteriously. Constantius’ two younger brothers, Ambrosius and Uther, had fled to Less Britain and the protection of King Budec, their cousin, until they could determine whether the death was foul play. Vortigern then claimed the throne for himself. Rumors then abounded about Ambrosius and Uther planning war against Vortigern, but so far, after 20 years, nothing had happened. Vortigern had made the mistake of accepting the help of Saxon mercenaries and marrying a Saxon Queen, who is blamed for allowing the Saxons to roam the British countryside. Now the Saxons have more power than Vortigern. Cerdic tells Merlin that the Saxons must be faced down and that they’ll probably be at war by spring. That’s why his grandfather is going to Segontium: to ally himself with the High King. Merlin goes immediately to his grandfather and asks permission to ride with him. He convinces his grandfather to allow him to go, because he speaks so many languages and because his grandfather is impressed that he would “have the guts to beard the old dog in his den.” He decides to take Cerdic as his servant.

Once he leaves his grandfather’s rooms, he feels absolutely sick to his stomach and nearly vomits from fear. But he remembers what Galapas had told him: “The gods only go with you if you put yourself in their path. And that takes courage.” This thought gives him the strength to carry on.

Notes

This is an important chapter for two reasons: first, we learn the facts behind Vortigern’s rise to the throne as High King and that the Saxons are really an invading force running their country. Second, we learn the outcome of one of Galapas’ greatest lessons: “God helps those who help themselves.” Merlin’s courage in facing his grandfather and meeting his destiny took all the courage he had, but he did it. This continues to show how Merlin is growing and maturing into the man who will one day be an advisor to kings.

New names in this chapter: Constantius, the young king who died under mysterious circumstances, brother to Ambrosius and Uther; Ambrosius and Uther, brothers of Constantius who fled to Less Britain after their brother’s death; King Budec, king of Less Britain, or Brittany; and Segontium, the town in South Wales where Vortigern is gathering allies.


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