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February 2009

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shadefell in marystewart

The Last Enchantment and Second Chances

I first read "The Crystal Cave" when I was maybe ten.

It was in a pile of books in the basement, no jacket, just a beat up blue cover with a faded title stamped on the spine. On the inside cover and first page there were maps. Ooh, maps. It was a book about Merlin, and I couldn't resist it even a little. A little more digging in the stacks, boxes, and piles of books turned up "The Hollow Hills." I read both books several times, to the point where I had chunks of them memorized, and they colored a lot of my earliest writing.

I didn't find "The Last Enchantment" until I was in highschool, where our Library had both it and "Touch Not the Cat."

I did not like "The Last Enchantment."

I thought it focused too much on Arthur, and not enough on Merlin. I also found it somewhat dull.

Some ten years later, I'm reading it for the second time and greatly enjoying it.

I love the intrigue and the drama and the FATE that's stalking the main characters. There's politics and mythology and history, and I like it a lot. I'm glad I gave it a second chance... and glad that I did so when I was more mature and more widely read, more able to appreciate it. I've been hungering after some fantasy intrigue, and this is satisfying that urge.


Ah yes, I remember the first thrill of those books. Beforehand, I had sworn off any Arthurian legends, just to keep my list of obsessions less complicated.

Then there was Mary Stewart's The Crystal Cave. It became my Bible. I even made a poster of the map of Wales with book excerpts from the cities of Dinas Brenin, Maridunum, and Caerleon drawn in. LOL!

Anyway, it led me on to read more Mary Stewart novels. And to spread the love of Mary Stewart to several friends...
I was given "The Crystal Cave" by my mother's friend and loved it from the first page.

I believe "The Last Enchantment" is SUPPOSED to follow Arthur's story; Stewart's Merlin actually says that Arthur's coronation is his end-game, the purpose for his existence, and he himself chose NOT to be in the center of events, withdrawing to allow Arthur to come into his full manhood and kingship. The book DOES focus on Merlin (it's still written from his perspective, obviously) - his decline, his succumbing to Nimue, his entombment in the cave - precisely as it should have done.

I would suggest that you read "The Wicked Day", which hardly mentions Merlin at all, but is an excellent study of Mordred, an attempt by Stewart to grant him some shades of gray. It's a satisfying departure from most of the genre that tends to paint him as an entirely black-hearted character. However, if you disliked "Enchantment" because Merlin was not its central focus, you may not like "Day" for the same reason. But you'd be robbing yourself of the chance to read Stewart's excellent version of this last chapter of the legend.
i love the last enchantment, i think it's really good.