In which I detail why Merlin has been the best show possible to watch while navigating this strange path I’m on.
So yeah, I’ll get to it.
If anybody reads my blog pretty regularly, they might recall a couple months ago when I did a post for Witch crushes, based on the Pagan Perspective video at the time. If you don’t recall, it was my Year and a Day Journal #30.
In this post, I mentioned my Witch crushes of the moment. The list included three fictional characters: Hermione from Harry Potter, Alice from Alice and Greta, and Merlin from, well, Merlin (I think it’s actually supposed to be The Adventures of Merlin but who ever calls it that?). Well, I wrote that post back when I was in maybe season two of the show, and now I’m just two episodes from the end. Truthfully, I could have gotten here sooner but I’ve been dragging it out spectacularly just to get it to last as long as possible.
If you haven’t seen Merlin, I can say that it’s basically a retelling of the King Arthur legends, but instead of Merlin being an old wizard, he’s been re-imagined as young guy (the show supposedly starts when he’s a teenager and ends when he’s in his late twenties, I would guess) whose magic is a secret. It really ties in the BBC go-to bromance (think Sherlock and John), especially since you have the two major hotties in Colin Morgan (Merlin) and Bradley James (Arthur) appealing to the masses of women who then turn to writing fantasy-fueled slash fanfiction.
I tried to watch Merlin several years ago, probably a little after it first aired. My first boyfriend was really into some pretty geeky stuff, and he sometimes appealed to me with various video games and things, so Merlin was one of the many television series he tried to introduce me to. I distinctly remember watching the first episode, and maybe even the second, and thinking, “Well this is stupid.” I mean, first of all, Merlin as a young guy? Special effects that looked like a college kid had done them on his laptop? Cheeky humor that seemed a bit forced? I basically told my boyfriend I wasn’t interested. (Later I also turned down Firefly, Dr. Who, and a whole slew of shows that most geeks usually fawn over. Don’t worry…as with Merlin, I’ve come around to a lot of them….)
Recently though, I’ve been living in my foreign country, and Netflix was just introduced in January. I already have a Netflix in the states, which I share with my current boyfriend, so once I found out it was now available here, I logged in and started looking through which shows were available.
Sadly, perhaps because it’s a foreign country, Netflix started off with a woefully dismal selection. Scrubs, The Office… none of my favorite shows were featured. For a few weeks, I didn’t even try finding anything interesting to watch.
Then one day I decided to check in and I saw Merlin come up in my queue. I remembered my first boyfriend’s unsuccessful attempt to get me to watch it, and recalling that he later got me into Sherlock and I became obsessed, I decided to give Merlin another try.
A few months later and I’m thinking that I had no idea what I was getting into.
The show itself is fine, it’s great. The special effects still sometimes leave something to be desired, and I love how the show pushed its headliner as John Hurt although he really only voices the CGI dragon. However, the rest of the cast–including Anthony Head and Richard Wilson–is phenomenal. And although I started off not really liking the character of Merlin, he quickly–like, way too quickly–grew on me. Colin Morgan had the look and even some of the mannerisms of a decade-younger Benedict Cumberbatch (another British actor I’m obsessed with) and as the show went on, he made Merlin as a character iconic again.
And therein, I must say, lies so much of the appeal of the show. Of course Colin is fantastic, and I’m now lining up all of his roles on my bucket list, but the character he brings to life is a character like I’ve never seen before on television (I mean, I don’t watch a lot of television, but still). He’s a hero with a destiny, which is nothing new, but his destiny is as old and real to the viewers as the history of Great Britain. For centuries there were real wars fought between England and Wales that were driven with a sort of sacred mission and a belief in the legend of Arthur, so much so that Wales fought under his flag with his crest. No one in the western world hasn’t at least heard of King Arthur, and whole legions of liberal arts students have read the Arthurian legends and Le Morte d’Arthur. I can imagine that it was a tall order for the BBC to bring back this legend in a well-executed way.
The greatest thing about Merlin, however, and the reason why I’m writing about it on this blog, is because the show isn’t just about swords and battles, it’s about magic. And not just Harry Potter style magic with flashes and bangs but real, old religion magic and beauty and nature. And the persecution of those who revere and practice such things.
Merlin himself shows up in Camelot unwilling and afraid to understand or enter into this world. In the beginning, the “old religion” is a dirty term, referencing dangerous sorcerers and people wanting to do harm to the city. But as the show goes on, Merlin (and the tone of the show, by extension) accept that magic is not an evil, and that it is woven within the fabric the world, of nature, and that many people who practice it use it for good. Eventually Uther, who rejects anything with magic, is replaced by Arthur, who does not kill people on the sole grounds that they have magic. As the final season of the show (season five) comes into play, and Merlin’s power becomes greater, he understands more and more his connection to the intrinsic magic of the Earth, and the part that the old religion plays. At one point, Merlin and Arthur are near a sacred place in the forest, and Arthur asks Merlin how he knew the place was sacred. Merlin responds by saying, “Everything here…so full of life. Every tree. Every leaf. Every insect. It’s as if the world is vibrating. As if everything is much more than itself.” Arthur then says, “You feel all that?” and Merlin simply says, “Don’t you?”
In that moment, I knew that it wasn’t an accident that I started watching Merlin now.
For all the shows that treat magic as dark and evil, or as something flashy and unreal, Merlin makes it physical, makes it tangible, makes it rooted in something we all know and need. With the main character a flawed and yet admirable young man with a lot of difficult decisions to make, the audience gets to see how important a reverence for the world is, how important tolerance is, how respect for misunderstood things gets you much further than hatred. We see how the majority of people who practice magic are good, and while it can be used for evil, it is not evil in itself. In 5×09, Merlin in disguise tells Arthur, “There is no evil in magic. Only in the hearts of men.”
I know that in the next episode I’m about to watch–the panultimate episode–Merlin will temporarily lose his magic at the hands of Morgana (the Morgan La Fey character). Because the show aired years ago already, I’ve been exposed to enough spoilers to know that he will be saved by an understanding that he is a child of the Earth, which is magic, meaning the he himself is magic. And he cannot lose what he is.
This is the show that all people starting on this path need. At a time when I’ve questioned everything about myself and about the world and about magick, Merlin–a mainstream television show broadcasted across the planet–has taught me so much. I feel in my heart that this series has impacted my life in a way that I can’t explain. It said that it’s okay to be different. To believe in the magic of the world. To be a Merlin.
We’ll just say getting to watch hot actors is a plus.
Anyway, I don’t need to explain that I highly recommend this show to anyone, if you haven’t already watched it. If you did watch it and you have a different opinion on it, please feel free to leave a comment.
I hope you all have wonderful days filled with nature (and possibly a little Netflix).
[Update: Apparently this is my 50th post on this blog, and I have to say I couldn’t be happier about the topic. Thanks everyone for sticking with me for so long.]