Saturday, 17 January 2009

Book Review - Merlin and Wales- A Magician's Landscape - Michael Dames

I have wasted good money on this book. It was well reduced, but I am mortified to have just discovered I could have just wasted £2.76 on it if I'd brought it for a penny on Amazon (plus P&P). I won't beat about the bush. It is published by Thames & Hudson too, whose readers would, I have thought, critiqued the book sufficiently that it didn't get published. The prime thing I learned when I was taking my archaeology degree was to research and write what that research PROVED. You could not go off into the realms of fairydom, and sadly, that is what the author has done. I could be really bitchy and say, well what do you expect of a lecturer at a Polytechnic, but I won't . . .

The illustrations are good. I bought this book because there was a good chunk about Merlin and Carmarthen(shire). Parts of it are sensible reporting; parts a tiny bit fanciful, then there are bits which made me want to throw the book on the fire! Of Merlin's Oak, which once stood at the entrance to Old Oak Lane but now a roundabout fills the spot:

"At the road junction where the tree once stood there is neither seed nor leaf, nor splinter of wood. Instead, over the exact spot where the tree had flourished and died, lies a white-painted disc, two paces in diameter. It is a miniature traffic island, whipped (or decorated) by black skid-marks of circulating cars and trucks. It is a moon, the dead moon, totally eclipsing Merlin's sunlit limbs and torso, his eyes, warmth, mind, his everything. At last, at the eastern sunrise gate he is surely dead and buried under this lunar-lidded sarcophagus. Converted to a mere number, he is subsumed into the 1978 road accident fatalities."

What a load of absolute meaningless drivel. There was an oak tree here, called Merlin's Oak, but it dated from the time of Charles II, when a local schoolmaster apparently planted it to celebrate him being proclaimed King. (Carmarthen stood for the Royalists).

Later in the book is an illustration of stars of the northern hemisphere. It is accompanied by the following:

"Stars of the northern hemisphere, the Bardsey Glass House, Ty Gwydr. Here, Merlin's many lives and deaths are healed in its universal bloodstream. His white blood cells become synonymous with the stars that move across Ty Gwydr's vault."

This pretty well sums up the calibre of writing throughout the book. Had I not got distracted by finding a Fred Hargeneder book about trees for my husband, I might have looked at it properly and left it in the shop! Oh dear. One for the Car Boot Sale methinks . . .

Oh, and this chap has written several other books to avoid too, reviewed by others as in the realms of fantasy . . . So if you see his books about Avebury, Silbury Hill, and Mythic Ireland - just walk right past. How NOT to write a book - to have a belief and then make all the "evidence" fit that theory . . .


Aunt Amelia's Attic said...

Your last line, is a classic! "How NOT to write a book - to have a belief and then make all the "evidence" fit that theory . . ."

Or at least, the author should be up-front about it. Say right on the cover, that he did this. That should keep away, the folks who want facts. Those who don't only want to join the author, in his dreams.

Since you have an archaeology degree, may I ask what {if anything} is solid, concerning Merlin? I'm in hopes that some is, since you said that parts of this book are sensible reporting.

Aunt Amelia
"Winter is the time for comfort - it is the time for home." ~ Edith Sitwell

Bovey Belle said...

Hi Amelia - I will do a seperate post about Merlin in the next few days. Nothing concrete about Merlin, but some intrigueing ideas . . . and he is definitely tied to this neck of the woods, in legend if nothing else.