The novel is divided into five parts to portray the progression of Merlin's story from boyhood to prophet and each one is entitled with important symbols. Book I - the Dove is symbolic of Merlin's need to run away until he is old enough to fight his battles; Book II - The Falcon symbolizes Merlin's step towards manhood and the strength he must gain to fulfill the wishes of the gods; Book III - the Wolf symbolizes Vortigern and Merlin, the former using dirty tactics to win his battles and the latter turning those tactics against the old wolf; Book IV - The Red Dragon refers to Ambrosius who comes under that banner to save Britain; and Book V - The Coming of the Bear is a symbol of the conception Arthur, known as artos, the bear.

The author also weaves her story by using such elements as foreshadowing and flashback. Merlin tells his story as an old man who is reminiscing about the past and frequently the author will tell outcomes before she explains the events that led up to them. And of course, there is constant foreshadowing of events to come as Merlin hears, sees, and understands the will of the gods. For example, his first vision in the crystal cave shows him an underground mine with slaves laboriously bringing out baskets of rock. This foreshadows the reason why Vortigern is unable to build his stronghold on that spot later.


The rising action begins with Merlin's discovery of his Sight and his destiny at the hand of the gods. We see him grow into a strong young man in the court of Ambrosius in Less Britain where he waits to be of service to his father. We watch as he helps his King conquer Vortigern and become a unifying factor for his country. We see him bring back the black stone to the Giant's Dance and raise them up high as a monument to his King. We watch as he is called to help the stupid needs of Uther who desires Ygraine.

The rising action continues until Merlin kills Brithnael to assure the conception of Arthur. The story climaxes at this point, because the will of God has been assured. The entire novel is a series of steps constantly building to this moment. Every action of Merlin is another step towards the ultimate goal of the gods. As a result, the novel is very suspenseful with few moments when the reader is allowed to rest from the tension.


The falling action is seen in the final pages of the novel. Merlin comes down to the shore, wounded and heartsick at the death of Britnael. There he finds Cadal who he believes is dead. He carefully covers his body with his cloak and then watches as Uther comes down from Ygraine's bedchamber. Uther blames the deaths of the four men on Merlin and then goes on to blame all the events that have led up to this moment on Merlin. He takes no responsibility for his lovesick heart and his desire for Ygraine. He forbids Merlin to ever come near him again and warns him that he will never recognize the bastard he has just made.

Then, he rides off in search of his men. Merlin discovers after this that Cadal is still alive, although he is dying. They talk together about the price they have all paid for the conception of this child and Merlin promises that Cadal will have died for the greater good. After he dies, Merlin sends Cadal's body out to sea. Then, Uther returns with his men, heading back to Tintagel and Ygraine. He never even looks Merlin's way and offers no help for his wounds. Merlin merely climbs on his horse and follows the star-comet he has followed for so long as it bursts into the morning sun.

The falling action of this novel is extremely important to all the themes of the book. The sense of destiny fulfilled is apparent in the conception of Arthur. The duty and loyalty is seen in Cadal's death. The evil selfishness of Uther makes us realize that he will never be the king his brother was. And the regret that becomes Merlin's burden, because so many innocent people have died. The author has tied up many loose ends, but she leaves in these pages just enough of a clue to Merlin's future loyalty to Arthur to make us want to read the next book of the series.


The entire point of view is first person. Merlin is the narrator, so we see all the action from his perspective. All the characters are fleshed out by his observations and so take on his perspective of the events. For example, it might have been interesting to know how Gorlois felt at the moment of his death. But we only feel Merlin's regret that it had to happen.

This perspective does have significant advantages. It makes Merlin human, not an enchanter. We feel his pain throughout the novel, because he is the one who sees the price God makes us pay. And we see the necessity for all the actions he takes, because he leads us down the path with him to the greater good.


This novel overlaps several genres and is difficult to classify. It can be classified as: Historical Fiction, Arthurian Legend, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Supernatural, and others.

Cite this page:

Clapsaddle, Diane. "TheBestNotes on A Long Way Gone".