The most famous and well-known wizard ever, Merlin was in the inspiration for every single wizard to follow, from Gandalf to Dumbledore—even Yoda from Star Wars! But what are the real origins of Merlin, and what is his real story? Find out here.
The earliest origins: Myrddin Wyllt
The figure who came to be known as Merlin first appeared in Welsh mythology prior to the 1100s, where he was known as Myrddin Wyllt, and was a wild man and seer who lives in the Caledonian Forest. He lives in the wilderness, wanders in the company of animals, and has some prophetic qualities.
Merlin meets King Arthur
Geoffery of Monmouth was the first to intertwine Merlin (then called Merlinus Caledonensis) with King Arthur, in his History of the Kings of Britain of 1136AD. This sets the template for the Merlin origin story that follows, but is not well developed. It sets down that Merlin was fathered by a demon on a human woman, and that he becomes involved with the kings of Britain when King Vortigern is told that a tower he is trying to build will not stand unless the mortar is mixed with the blood of a fatherless boy—aka Merlin—a story that will be told in Book 2 of The Swithen: The Sons of Constance. He later assists in arranging the conception of Arthur, but disappears from the story after this.
The Merlin we have come to know
Merlin first started taking on his most established origin story in Robert de Boron’s poem Merlin, which first established his ability to shape-shift. Then, in the 1200s, the Merlin we have come most to know was established in the Prose Merlin. This set him down as the wizard who engineered the birth of Arthur, is a wise man, prophet and trickster, and the one who guides King Arthur to success in his earliest years—before he is imprisoned by the love of his life, the Lady of the Lake.
So what is Merlin’s origin story?
Despite how popular he is as a character, Merlin’s origin story, as solidified in the 1200s, is not well known. It goes: because the devil was upset about Jesus saving all the souls of the damned at his crucifixion, the devil wanted a man of his own to walk the earth. Thus a demon impregnated a human woman, and gave the child the ability to see every event of the past, which he was to use to tempt men and women into sin.
However, Merlin’s mother had him baptized at birth, thus winning him to the side of good, and God then gave him foreknowledge of all events to come in the future. Merlin soon became involved with kings, including Vortigern and soon Uther, who would become the father of Arthur. Merlin makes sure that Arthur receives a good upbringing, and becomes his advisor and friend.
How is this retold in Our Man on Earth?
Because we want to offer the most complete modern telling of the tales of King Arthur, the first book of The Swithen begins with Merlin’s conception, a full generation before the birth of Arthur.
The book begins in hell, where the devils conspire to impregnate a human woman. We then get to know the mother, Meylinde, as her family is struck down, one by one, by the demon, until finally she is made pregnant with him. In the source material from 1215 AD, the mother is not even named, and her story covers only 20 pages. In Our Man on Earth, we are with her throughout the demon’s attack on her family and her horror at being made pregnant with the child.
Because in that time bearing an illegitimate child carried a certain punishment of death, Meylinde is imprisoned until she has the baby. The novel stays with her during this time, and during the infancy of Merlin, whom she has baptized at birth. She still faces a trial and the almost certain judgment of death… but then again, her child is Merlin.
What makes Our Man on Earth special in Merlin lore?
First, this novel stays absolutely faithful to the source material, as laid down in 1215 AD. Characters are added and expanded upon, but the story itself is exactly as it was in the Prose Merlin. Secondly, this is one of the few works to examine the childhood of Merlin, exploring how he deals with having a brain filled with all knowledge, and his discovery of shape-shifting. Finally, we really get to know Merlin’s mother, a figure all but invisible in Arthurian lore (where she does not even receive a name, and is never heard from again once Merlin leaves her). The novel examines the restricted roles of women at the time, and is a touching story of the bond between mother and son—where the son just happens to be Merlin.