The theme of destiny or fate is most important in understanding the novel. The characters are like figures on a chess board, constantly being manipulated by the gods. Merlin is a great enchanter, but he is powerless to stop the will of the gods. For example, when he falls in love with Keri, the young nun, he feels as if he is dying, smothering to death, when she begins to kiss and caress him. He is forced to push her away from him and come to the realization he is not meant for love. His visions come when he least expects them and often he passes out from the stress they evoke. Then, he is forced to follow through with whatever the god has demanded. For example, he knows that sending Uther into Ygraine's bedchamber is morally wrong, but the god has chosen them to be the parents of Arthur and he must make the plan that will make is happen.

Another character who is extremely affected by destiny is Gorlois. He was a good man who was loyal to his king and even though getting old, fought to protect what was rightfully his. In the end, destiny rewards his loyalty with death. Other characters affected by destiny include: Ygraine and Uther who are pawns in the game to make Arthur; Vortigern who is doomed because he stole the throne; Cadal, who dies to protect Merlin and allow the conception of Arthur; Ambrosius, who just brings about the unification of Britain when he dies in order that Uther might meet Ygraine; and Niniane who lives a loveless life to protect Ambrosius and Merlin.

The theme of duty and loyalty is seen in many characters and many events. First, Merlin is ever loyal to the god who controls him. He always follows through with every step on this journey. Ambrosius is ever loyal to his country and returns to save it from Vortigern and the Saxons. Gorlois is loyal to his king even though his reward is death. Cadal is loyal to Merlin and ever dutiful. He dies to save Merlin's life. Of course, there are those who lack loyalty and seldom fulfill their duties like Uther, Ygraine, and Vortigern.

These characters are selfish and self-centered. They behave in ways that fulfill only their own needs. These characters compared to the ones above create an interesting dichotomy that helps reinforce the values of the early Britons.

The theme of good versus evil is one that has flowed throughout literature for all time. But it is even more important in this story than some. Here we have the beginnings of the emergence of the Britons from the Dark Ages. They have been living in a hell where the Saxons plunder their land freely with no help from their king. Into this terrible world comes Merlin who represents hope or goodness even though he sometimes does evil to obtain the greater good. He represents the hope of Arthur, who will bring the great goodness that will keep this land safe forever. Within this theme are many characters who are both good and bad and somewhere in-between. They all strive for certain goals that either enhance their lives or destroy them.

For example, Uther is so obsessed with Ygraine that he risks his kingdom. He proves he is not good enough to be a great king. Ambrosius is obsessed as well, but with saving his people and fulfilling his responsibilities. Niniane is a good woman who lives a poor life for the sake of the man and the child she loves. Vortigern is an evil man who will do anything to obtain power, including allowing the Saxons to control Britain. In the end, the greater good comes to fruition: the conception of Arthur as the savior of his people. In the process, evil deeds are done, but they are valued as worth the sacrifice.

The theme of regret is mostly seen in the character of Merlin. As he tells his story, he looks back on events that he wishes he had never set into motion: the death of Cerdic, who is killed when he is blamed for the death of Merlin's grandfather; the death of Galapas, who is killed by Vortigern's men as they searched for Merlin; the death of Gorlois, who goes into battle against Uther's men to protect his home and his wife; and the death of Cadal, who died protecting Merlin. All these lives were lost to fulfill the wishes of the gods, but Merlin can't help but feel some guilt for their loss.

He also regrets that his life has had to be one of sacrifice for the greater good. He will never know the love of a woman or the sounds of his children. His duty will always be to God and to Arthur.



One other element that is evident is the sense of irony that at times runs through the book. For example, it is ironic that Merlin's name means Prince of Light, but he is always referred to as the Prince of Darkness. It is ironic that Gorlois chooses to come out of Dimiliac and fight Uther's troops. If he had just stayed inside, he might have lived. It is ironic that Vortigern brings Merlin to the King's Fort, because Merlin's magic convinces him to hole up at Doward where Ambrosius is able to burn him out. It is ironic that Arthur, the greatest King of the Britons, will be born to two such selfish people as Uther and Ygraine.


The vocabulary is another interesting element. Stewart tells us in her Author's Note that she has incorporated many languages to name places and people, because so many cultures were at work here at the time: the Romans and Latin, the Welsh, the Bretons and Old French, the Britons and Old English and even the Saxons and the Germans. For example, the men of Cornwall, South Wales, and Brittany are also known as the Dumnonii, Demetae, and the Armoricans.


The various nationalities - Romans, Bretons, Welsh, Britains, Irish, Saxons, and Germans - are also another element to understanding the novel. All these peoples were in constant flux as new leaders and new languages entered the picture. That's why Ambrosius' sense of responsibility in uniting them all is so moving.

Cite this page:

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