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The Last Enchantment (2003)

The Last Enchantment (2003)
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4.13 of 5 Votes: 1
ISBN
0060548274 (ISBN13: 9780060548278)
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English
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harper voyager
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The Last Enchantment (2003)
The Last Enchantment (2003)

About book: The third installment of the Arthurian Saga tracks the beginning of Arthur’s reign as king and the ending years of Merlin. The pace is quite different than the first two, and the story is sort of away from most of the action going on in Britain. This is due to the fact that Merlin is our main character, and it is told from his perspective, and Arthur is the one going off and making things happen, and while Arthur tells Merlin what is going on when he comes back, we are no longer there first hand like we have been for a few of the battles throughout Merlin’s lifetime. To be quite honest, this makes for the weakest installment of the series.Book III: The End of an EraThe tale told within The Last Enchantment is sort of the one that nobody likes to hear, but the reader has to read the book because they simply want to know how the story ends. Stewart is very realistic with the declining of Merlin with age with the fading sense of magic and will to fight. It is sort of like the pro athlete who won’t let the game go. Nobody likes to see their childhood hero take the field and just absolutely shatter his near god-like image in your mind with his talent completely absent in his performance.The main problem is that Stewart doesn’t even try to hide the decline in our protagonist. It is clear that the main plot and storyline seems to go with Arthur if we are interested in the happenings around Britain. Instead, we get to see the near magic-less enchanter Merlin, traveling instead of prophesying, advising instead of seeing.However, since this book follows right after the previous, a little catch-up may be required. Uther took the throne from his brother Ambrosius after his death, and shortly thereafter he conceived Arthur with the Duke of Cornwall’s wife, Ygraine. Arthur is then shipped away to be raised without any knowledge of his heritage. Years later, when Uther’s health begins to fail him, Arthur is summoned to the King’s court at the battlefield against the Saxons. Before the King could tell Arthur who he really was, Arthur helps lead the troops to victory, earning the respect of his fellow soldiers in the process. Uther then names Arthur his heir, before dying at the feast.Characters: Same Old ProblemsIf you have read my previous reviews on this series, then you know that I have an issue with Stewart’s lack of respect to her characters, excluding Merlin. It is quite irritating to develop an admiration towards a character, or even just a liking, to have their end in the book explained in a single simple sentence. Important characters in the past books without a respectful ending include Ambrosius, Ninaine, Golorios, Galapas, and Cador. It wouldn’t be a problem if it was just one.So here we are in the third book of the Arthurian Saga (and final book of the Merlin Trilogy) and Stewart is back to her same character ways. Stewart does a wonderful job of introducing new characters, such as Lot, the king of North Eastern Britain whose loyalty in question. Morgause, Arthur’s sister who tricks Arthur into incest in order to conceive a child with him for her claim to the throne. We are also introduced to Nimue, Merlin’s late life love. The problem is that after the introduction to these people, we are either given a lack of detail or upkeep, or they meet their doom soon after, without any sort of needed conclusion. It clearly shows a flaw in Stewart’s writing style, and therefore a gapping hole in the plot.Plot: A Dreadful EndingSo we are whisked away with Merlin, who has seen Arthur raised to the throne, and therefore, fulfilling his own prophecy. So instead of keeping the reader next to the man of power, Merlin decides it’s a good chance to travel to keep an eye of Morgause. How is this relevant? Or, one step further, how is this even interesting? Yes, Morgause is an evil, sorceress wannabe, but Merlin’s part in even doing anything if she tried to do something interesting? Well it’s a good thing I guess that… nothing happens. Merlin, whose magic has left him, instead just goes and watches over Arthur’s sister, and does nothing interesting, nor productive.This is by far the least interesting plot in the series. Yes, there are a few twists that come in at the end, but those are not anywhere near what is needed to make the concluding times of Merlin’s life at all interesting. Stewart takes unformulated ideas that could be made interesting, and makes them boring and bland, all the while ruining the characters that she has built up in over 1000 pages of prose. Recommended For:I have to admit, that I do not recommend this book to anyone, even if you are dying to know the last days of Merlin’s life. To be completely honest, it would be better if the reader was left to wonder Merlin’s part in the reigning time of Arthur, or even if the reader was to look to other stories (as there are many) to find out what happens. The interesting parts of the plots are to see the conception of Arthur and his ability to get on the throne, but all from Merlin’s prospective. This loses its glamour once Merlin is out of the limelight, as there is even a part of this book where not even the general public fears the legend of Merlin, which is the single most interesting part of the 2nd book.Stewart really bombed in her attempt to conclude the life of Merlin, just as she bombed the conclusion of about every character in the series. There is not enough carry over between novels, as it is in the end when those things are most important. If nobody is around from the beginning, it makes the ending nearly meaningless.

To say that I was unenthusiastic when I started reading the third book in Mary Stewart’s Merlin trilogy would not be an understatement. It is also true to state that I was largely unenthusiastic when I finished reading the book, too, proven by the fact that it’s taken me about two weeks to get around to writing this post about it.Let me start by saying that there are definitely some things I like about The Last Enchantment – the writing is clear and engaging, for starters, and I continue to appreciate the deftness with which Stewart weaves legendary source material into a historical setting. She tackles all the major plot points that typically follow Arthur’s ascension to the throne: the massacre of the babies in a misguided and failed attempt to remove Mordred as a threat; the twelve major battles Arthur wins, including Badon; the two Guineveres; the kidnapping of the Queen by Melwas; the love affair between Guinevere and Lancelot/Bedwyr; the four sons of Morgause who are Arthur’s greatest knights (Gawain, etc.); Morgan le Fay’s attempt to steal Excalibur; and finally the “entrapment” of Merlin by the sorceress Nimue/Niniane.That’s a lot of plot to try and fit in one novel, but most of it doesn’t directly involve Merlin – which is, ultimately, the biggest problem with the book. Imagine, if you would, if the first Star Wars movie had been focused on Obi-Wan Kenobi instead of Luke Skywalker, and you can begin to understand how the approach of telling a classic Hero’s Journey tale from the Mentor’s point of view just doesn’t work. We are just too far removed from the main characters to really be touched by the drama of it.A stronger character arc for Merlin himself could have compensated for this, but the book fails to achieve that. When the story focuses on his personal trials and tribulations (instead of him guiding Arthur through his) there doesn’t seem to be any significant challenge or growth to his character – his period of madness in the forest, for example, doesn’t seem to highlight any personal defects, or cause him to change his course of action in the future. It’s just something that happens to him. His relationship with Niniane is only really compelling at the beginning, when she’s disguised as boy and the (knowledgeable) reader gets excited about what could have been a really interesting twist to the tale. But Stewart takes the conventional route (if having a 50+-year-old man fall passionately in love with an 18-year-old girl is conventional), and then pulls all the teeth out of Merlin’s betrayal and entombment by telling us that it never really happened. Yes, Niniane traps him in the crystal cave, but it’s only because she thought he was dead, and he gets out later, so everything is okay. Consequences: none.I do have to say that one of the things I liked the most about the books was the relationship between Merlin and Arthur. When they are alone together, you can really feel strength of the relationship between them, and for me that’s key to engaging with a story. When the characters care about one another, I care about the characters. Unfortunately, there are too few of these scenes, and Merlin’s relationships with other characters don’t carry the same weight, coming off as flat and perfunctory instead.Fortunately, the book ends with Merlin and Arthur together, so the book ends on a high note. Not only are we left with a warm feeling from observing the deep friendship between these two men, but Merlin tells the king, “I’ll be here when you come back” – which resonates with the whole “once and future king” legend in just the right way. And that’s the whole point in reading Arthurian fiction anyway, right?Definitive, Unofficial Ranking of Arthurian Novels (that I’ve read):The Crystal Cave, by Mary Stewart (1970, Book One of the Merlin Trilogy)The Last Enchantment, by Mary Stewart (1979, Book Two of the Merlin Trilogy)The Hollow Hills, by Mary Stewart (1973, Book Two of the Merlin Trilogy)
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Reviews
Dezra
I thought I had read this way back when because I had read the previous two in this series. Apparently I never got to this one. It came out after I had read the first two and I didn't pick it up at the time.This is an excellent ending to a great story about Merlin. I loved seeing Merlin age by comparing him to the boy he was in the beginning. It was a great life to wander through. Merlin's friendship with Arthur never failed; very touching.Stewart gives reason and life to the fantastical stories that have been handed down. I could really believe that it possibly happened this way. Because this was Merlin's story, Arthur's end was not included. I was satisfied.
Alicia
Thank you, Mary Stewart.Yes, I had to start by thanking the author because this Trilogy (Merlin's) is by far the best recreation of the story/legend we know through fiction writers, and dare I say, through pseudo-historians.It's not through the story in itself, but through its characters that we live it in Stewart's creation. We visit the places and we inhabit them, not in simple passing, but in the way we inhabit places in our own life. Each place, each object, each character breathes its own air and shines its own light. This trilogy has filled a gap I've encountered whenever exposed to the Arthurian legend, and that is depth. Not of story or plot, but of permanence, transition and emotion. Yes, we may not see Arthur and his Knights "in action", but we see the political and emotional side, the missing stone in the legend we know through telling and re-tellings of quests and battles. The subtle changes and/or variations on the legend are not actual changes, after all the legend has passed through so many hands and minds that we mix characters and places and this trilogy captured perfectly the subtle contradictions we may encounter in the different version of the legend.I could talk about a thousand things I loved, and yet I know it won't do it justice. So, I'll just add that this trilogy has become one of my favorites and anyone interested in the Arthurian legend should give it a try. I guarantee you won't regret it.
Terence
The Last Enchantment covers the first decade or so of Arthur’s reign. While I found myself enjoying it more than The Hollow Hills, it suffered from the same flaws I found in that book – namely, the second-hand nature of much of the narrative. Nearly everything is related to Merlin by a third party with the exception of Melwas’ abduction of Guinevere and Merlin’s tutelage of Nimuë, whom he believes is a boy in the beginning. Yet even in the latter episode, Merlin spends much of the time in a dreamlike trance, then falls into a coma and is buried alive in his hermitage at Bryn Myrddin; and, in the former, he’s the rower who takes Bedwyr to where Guinevere is held, he doesn't do anything.I can’t blame Stewart entirely for this. In the Arthurian romances and in many modern interpretations, Merlin is not the focus (if he’s incorporated into the tale at all). Traditionally, he’s the power behind the throne, the advisor to the crown, the uneasily tolerated enchanter of an ostensibly Christian king, and it’s hard to make him the center of any tale. Thus, in this series, most of the great tales of Arthur’s court are narrated after-the-fact by couriers and visitors to wherever Merlin is: The 12 battles that secure Arthur’s kingdom, the massacre of the innocents when Mordred is born, Guinevere and Bedwyr’s adultery, Accolon and Morgan’s plot to murder the king, etc.Reflecting on my comments in my review of The Hollow Hills, I had decided I was unfair in criticizing Stewart for her depiction of women. It was told from the POV of a man of 6th century AD Britain, a period not noted as a highpoint in feminine empowerment. The author was reflecting the reality of the times – women were seen as irrelevant except in their capacity to breed boys. Yet I was again astonished at the level of misogyny in The Last Enchantment, and I’m leaning back toward my original assessment. All of Arthur’s serious problems stem from the machinations of women – or they do in Merlin’s eyes – primarily his sisters, Morgause and Morgan, both of whom are "corrupted" by their flirtations with witchcraft (a suspect manifestation of the Power that acts legitimately through Merlin). Alternatively, women are silly creatures who let themselves be swayed by emotions (like compassion or fear), e.g., Guinevere. And then there’s Nimuë. In The Hollow Hills review, I suggested that Merlin is a supremely unreliable narrator, and I raise it again based on the wizard’s account of his affair with the Lady of the Lake. It’s too fairy-tale like and sentimental to ring true, and one can only wonder how delusional Merlin is when he so calmly accepts Nimuë’s explanation of his interment:She lifted her head. Her face was tragic. "Yes, and how you gave it! I only pray that you cannot remember! You had told me to learn all that you had to tell me. You had said that I must build on every detail of your life; that after your death I must be Merlin.... And you were leaving me, slipping from me in sleep ... I had to do it, hadn’t I? Force the last of your power from you, even though with it I took the last of your strength? I did it by every means I knew – cajoled, stormed, threatened, gave you cordials and brought you back to answer me again and again – when what I should have done, had you been any other man, was to let you sleep, and go in peace. And because you were Merlin, and no other man, you roused yourself in pain and answered me, and gave me all you had. So minute by minute I weakened you, when it seems to me now that I might have saved you." She slid her hands up to my breast, and lifted swimming grey eyes. "Will you tell me something truthfully? Swear by the god?""What is it?""Do you remember it, when I hung about you and tormented you to your death, like a spider sucking the life from a honey-bee?"I put my hands up to cover hers. I looked straight into the beautiful eyes, and lied. "My darling girl, I remember nothing of that time but words of love, and God taking me peacefully into his hand. I will swear it if you like."Relief swept into her face. But still she shook her head, refusing to be comforted. "But then, even all the power and knowledge you gave me could not show me that we had buried you living, and send me back to get you out. Merlin, I should have known, I should have known! I dreamed again and again, but the dreams were full of confusion. I went back once to Bryn Myrddin, did you know? I went to the cave, but the door was blocked still, and I called and called, but there was no sound –""Hush, hush." She was shivering. I pulled her closer, and bent my head and kissed her hair. "It’s over. I am here. When you came back for me, I must have been drugged asleep. Nimuë, what happened was the will of the god. If he had wanted to save me from the tomb, he would have spoken to you. Now, he has brought me back in his own time, and for that, he saved me from being put quick into the ground, or given to the flames. You must accept it all, and thank him, as I do." (pp. 490-92)Contrary to what one might think given all these negative things I’ve had to say about the series, it is reasonably engaging, and Stewart is a fine writer. My disappointment arises because I think she could have pushed the envelop a bit more in developing more interesting characters or letting Merlin be more engaged in the events he narrates.It’s on now to the final book – The Wicked Day – which is told from Mordred’s point of view, and I’ve always been sympathetic to him (e.g., “Chichevache”).
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