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

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THE CRYSTAL CAVE: LITERARY CRITICISM / NOTES

BOOK III - The Wolf

(the title refers to Vortigern in the beginning of this section who hides when heís at his weakest and then strikes when his enemy least expects it. By the end, it can also be applied to Merlin who outsmarts the old wolf with his young wolf tactics.)

CHAPTER 1

Summary

Merlin spent five years with Ambrosius and even though many of the events of those five years are now somewhat muddled, his father is as clear as if he were here with him now. Also, it is harder for him to write of Uther as he was in the past. Instead, Merlin Notes that he is not here with him in the darkness, but out in the sunlight, keeping the coasts of Britain whole. In the final analysis, however, it is not of any of them that he writes but instead, it is of the man who was the sum of them all - Arthur.

Camlach, Merlin recalls, does not immediately run to support Vortimer and Vortimer does not immediately rebel. Both wait cautiously to see how Vortigern will act. Vortigern himself begins to leave much of the West to Vortimer and his brothers, given that the only way he could defeat them would be with even more help from the Saxons who are already terrorizing the rest of Britain.

Ambrosius waits five years before he invades the north, because he knows that the time must be right for victory to be assured. In the meantime, Merlin studies with Belasius until he outruns him in his knowledge, works with the engineers, helps the army doctors to apply all the knowledge Galapas had taught him, and attends worship services for both Mithras and Belasiusí Goddess. He learns and he waits to see what service he may be for his father.

Merlin works with Tremorinus, the chief engineer of Ambrosiusí army, on various machines that will be needed both for war and peace. He is, however, more interested in discovering how the ancients had lifted the standing stones into place. Tremorinus advises him that they know nothing about how to lift them because of their weight, but Merlin is determined to figure it all out. Eventually, says Merlin, it is a blind poet singing in the streets with a beggarís bowl in front of him, who gives him the answer. He stops when he hears the man sing his name in one of his songs, talks with him, and then, brings him a harp. The man is so grateful for the instrument that he sings many more songs and tells many stories of his travels to Merlin and Merlin learns from this all about the men who had placed the standing stones.

In the spring of Merlinís eighteenth year, news comes from the north that Vortimer has finally broken with his father and messengers are sent out to all Ambrosiusí allies to prepare for war. Vortimer is victorius over his father and drives the Saxons out of Britain, but he is mysteriously poisoned and once again, Vortigern takes over the reins of power. He immediately sends for Hengist, the Saxon leader. Camlach is also killed as is Vortimerís brother, Katigern. Vortigern takes all of Camlachís and Vortimerís children as hostages.


Ambrosius tells Merlin that he will go on the first invasion boat and ride immediately to Maridunum to find Galapas for any news from the town. They have no idea how Cornwall stands except for rumors that Gorlois sided with Vortigern. Galapas may know the truth. Also, Merlin is to take Marric and Cadal with him as protection. Ambrosius inidicates that heíll first have to smoke out Vortigern, who is holed up somewhere unknown, and then, go after Hengist.

Notes

When Merlin Notes that Uther is not with him in the darkness, he is foreshadowing the long sleep in limbo he experiences as he reminisces about his past. He also foreshadows his ultimate purpose which is bringing about the birth of Arthur. Other examples of foreshadowing in this chapter include: Merlin learning from both the engineers and the doctors which prepares us for his deeds during the war and, later, with Uther and discovering how to raise the standing stones from the blind beggar which prepares us for his great feat of engineering at what is now known as Stonehenge. The title of this book is The Wolf which, at least at this point in the novel, refers to Vortigern when Ambrosius says heíll have to ďsmoke the old wolf out first.Ē

New names in this chapter: Tremorinus, Ambrosiusí chief engineer


CHAPTER 2

Summary

Merlin crosses over to Britain in early April on the same ship that had originally brought him to Less Britain. His two servants are Cadal and Marric and as before, he is sick all the way. The plan is to land on the side of the estuary away from Maridunum at a point where they can make their way unseen to join the road from the south. Marric will go separately into the town and meet up with his old contacts while Cadal and Merlin will find Galapas. They are to eventually meet up with Marric who will take whatever news they discover back to Ambrosius.

Once on shore, Merlin and Cadal meet a horse trader who sells them a broken-down nag that will last them for awhile until they can find better horses. They pass his grandfatherís house which looks little changed, including the parts he had burned down in order to send Cerdic on his way to heaven in the manner he would have wanted. Merlin admits to Cadal that this house is no longer his home and yet, neither is Less Britain. He believes that his home for now is wherever his father is, but that the only real home he remembers is the cave of Galapas. They also pass St. Peterís nunnery, home of his mother, but they donít stop, continuing on instead towards the cave. Merlin finds himself watching for the ring-dove, but the hillside, this time, is quiet. Merlin has Cadal wait by the horses at the entrance to the cave, warning him that what he might think is smoke will only be the bats. Cadal once again makes the sign against the evil eye, causing Merlin just to laugh.

Notes

Merlinís observations about his old home are significant in that they reveal how very lonely and alone he has been most of his life. Although he is a character who often seeks out solitude, even he needs human companionship to give his life meaning. Also, it reflects the path that destiny has chosen for him and this is a path only he can travel. This idea is further enhanced when one of the men Merlin loves best, Cadal, once again makes the sign against the evil eye. Even though Cadal cares very much for Merlin, he, too, like most other people, is just slightly afraid of him and his Sight. Merlin will always be different and, therefore, frightening, to those around him.


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