The theme of destiny or fate is strongly prevalent throughout this novel.
All the characters are controlled by the god/God who with great determination
moves them like figures on a chess board to bring about the birth of Arthur.
Merlin, especially, is controlled by destiny to the point that his life
is not his own. He is in the hands of God.
The theme of duty and loyalty can be seen in Merlin's mission. He is
ever loyal to God, never questioning his duty, even when the price is
the loss of love and friends. He is also loyal to those he most admires,
like his father, who brings good to his country and provides peace for
The theme of good versus evil is another theme that dominates the novel.
In every instance, even when people might die or lives are, at the least,
profoundly changed, good always rises to overcome or even obtain revenge
against evil forces that would destroy Britain.
A minor theme would be the theme of regret. Merlin tells his story long
after the events have happened and he frequently shows regret for some
of the things he did to achieve the ends of God.
The mood is frequently one of mystery. The most explosive scenes take
place in darkness and mist with strange, unexplainable events taking place.
The author builds this mood and then lets the reader rest momentarily
before she begins to build it again. We are never completely separate
from the mystery and the suspense which shadows all the characters and
the events within which they are bound by God.
Mary Florence Elinor Stewart was born in Sunderland, England on September 17, 1916. She began writing at the age of five, when she published her first poem in a small parish magazine in England. She received a Bachelors degree in English with honors from Durham University in 1938. She later completed her Masters degree at Durham as well. In 1945 she married Sir Frederick Stewart. Before beginning working as a writer full time, she returned to Durham University as an English professor. Mary Stewart has lived in Scotland for many years, dividing her time between Edinburgh and the West Highlands. Her interests include natural history, gardening, Greek and Roman history, music, and art.
Her professional writing career began in 1955 when she published Madam,
Will You Talk? She has published 20 novels to date, a volume of poetry,
and young adult books. Fourteen of her books have been New York Times
bestsellers, including The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills, and The
Last Enchantment, which make up The Merlin Trilogy. In 1968,
she was named a Fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and in 1971,
she was awarded the Frederick Niven prize by the International PEN Association
for The Crystal Cave.
Madam, Will You Talk? (1955)
Wildfire at Midnight (1956)
Thunder on the Right (1957)
Nine Coaches Waiting (1958)
My Brother Michael (1959)
The Ivy Tree (1961)
The Moon-Spinners (1962)
This Rough Magic (1964)
Airs Above the Ground (1965)
The Gabriel Hounds (1967)
The Wind of the Small Islands (1968)
The Crystal Cave (1970)
The Little Broomstick (1971) (Young Adult)
The Hollow Hills (1973)
Ludo and the Star Horse (1974) (Young Adult)
Touch Not the Cat (1976)
The Last Enchantment (1979)
A Walk in Wolf Wood (1980) (Young Adult)
The Merlin Trilogy (1980)
The Wicked Day (1983)
Frost on the Window (1990) (Poetry)
The Stormy Petrel (1991)
The author is careful to tell the reader in Author's Note at the end of the novel that she has included Latin, Breton, Welsh and even modern names for places in this work as a means of putting the reader at ease. Sometimes, she even uses two or three names to identify her setting. The same is true with the languages used throughout. The servants would have used dialects, while there would have been high language for the king and his courtiers.
The main source for her story is Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain.
She admits that historically this source is mud, but for the purposes of fiction, it has worked tremendously for her. She also used Malory's Morte d'Arthur, Tennyson's Idylls of the King and Parsifal and Camelot.
Other historical information to note would be the reference to Mithraism,
the Druid's worship, the megaliths or standing stones of Carnac in Brittany,
and Stonehenge in Amesbury. All are real. There is also a Bryn Myrddin,
or Merlin's Hill, and the well still stands there. However, there is no
historical relationship between Ambrosius and Merlin. In fact, the name
Ambrosius was used by a 9th century historian named Nennius to stand for
Merlin himself. Geoffrey of Monmouth later incorporated into his own work.