The Crystal Cave - Mary Stewart Alas, The Crystal Cave has lost the glamour that it had exercised over my mind since I first read it when I was around 12 or 13. I can remember possessing the Science Fiction Book Club edition, one of the first books I (ahem…mom) bought after joining the club, and I remember being enthralled by the story of Merlin’s early life and the telling of Arthur’s story from a mostly historical, nonfastastical point of view.

And I still enjoyed reading it this time. I recalled many scenes from my first reading (which does suggest the impact it had on me as a kid) and I still appreciate Stewart’s version of “what really happened.”

But I’m no longer that 13-year old, and I would likely have given it a reserved, not enthusiastic three stars if I were rating it today.

I rapidly lost interest in the story in the midst of the second book. Upon reflection, I believe it came about because Merlin – even over the course of this first book – rapidly began to lose his humanity and the tale turned to Arthur, whom I found boring at the time. The first part of The Crystal Cave is interesting precisely because we’re watching a little boy trying to come to grips with the absence of his father, his own genius and an unreliable ability to See. By the time Merlin grows up and returns to Britain to prepare the way for Ambrosius’ – his father’s – invasion, he’s become something of a self-righteous fanatic and misogynist.

A second reason the The Crystal Cave has lost its “magic” is that I’m far more knowledgeable about the period than I was at 13. The physical evocation of late-5th century Britain remains believable but the politics and the ethos of the Britons doesn’t ring as true. For example, did the Britons ever consider themselves “Britons”? I recently finished a book (UnRoman Britain: Exposing the Great Myth of Britannia) that argues not only did the Britons never fully assimilate into the Roman Empire, they never forgot the tribal associations of their pre-Roman history.

I’m going to go ahead and reread The Hollow Hills to see if my reactions this time are similar or whether my growth as a reader will have changed my perceptions. If they have, I’ll finally have the incentive to finish the series with The Last Enchantment and The Wicked Day.