Merlin and Vivien
The Story of Merlin and Vivien
The legend of Merlin and Vivien has survived throughout the ages in a way that not many other stories have. This phenomenon has been made possible because writers have found remarkable ways to transform the characters and the narrative over the centuries. Each version of the story takes elements from its predecessors and blends them with its own story line, character development, and/or social commentary. This overview discusses those versions of the Merlin and Vivien legend in which the most notable changes take place.
The French Vulgate texts establish the idea that Viviane is Merlin's student as well as the woman that he is in love with. We also learn that Merlin is the son of the devil. Viviane and Merlin are in love, and Viviane wishes to preserve the state of happiness that they are in. There is no deception or malice involved in Viviane's entrapment of Merlin in the beautiful tower. But in the Post-Vulgate version of the story she is not in love with Merlin and traps him in a much crueler way. The reader of this story is left with the sense that a woman's charm can render even the wisest man helpless. This sense of helplessness reflects the prejudice that is present in the early Arthurian texts that women are important instruments in the downfall of even the greatest men and kingdoms.
The story takes on an entirely new perspective in Malory's version in the Morte D'Arthur when Nenyve is not at all interested in Merlin. She is a pure young girl and Merlin can not stop thinking about her and plotting to take her virginity. Merlin's behavior towards Nenyve shows that he is very inept when it comes to courtly love and society. It proves what an outsider he is within the court. This feeling of being outside of the court, and being "other" is stressed even more by the placement of Merlin's entrapment within the context of the work as a whole. By getting rid of Merlin very early on, Malory demonstrates that Arthur's court can survive quite well without the aid of magic, prophecy, and "the old way" (Goodrich 15 ). After Nenyve seals Merlin up, she goes on to prove even further that she is a pure and benevolent spirit by saving King Arthur from Accolon. Malory also mentions that Nenyve is the chief Lady of the Lake. By including Nenyve in a context separate from Merlin's imprisonment, he in effect makes her an integral part of the Arthurian legend (Holbrook 776-77).
In Tennyson's version, told in the "Merlin and Vivien" idyll, the tradition of Merlin's blinding love of Vivien continues. The main difference in this tale is that Vivien is the one who seduces Merlin into loving her. Imagery is used throughout the idylls to convey examples of the bestiality inherent in the forces existing outside of the court, which Arthur is attempting to overcome. This bestiality is particularly evident in Vivien's character. She is associated with serpents, rats, and spiders as she lures Merlin into her trap. Vivien does nothing to redeem herself within Arthur's court as her character does in Malory's version. Vivien's character is viewed by some critics as being "associated with the betrayal of love... and all things French" (Eggers 144). Vivien clearly represents the opposite of Arthur, who for Tennyson is the blameless British king. In Tennyson's scheme of the true and the false, she represents the false at its most unredeemable.
In the early twentieth century Edwin Arlington Robinson published his poem Merlin, a version of the legend in which Vivian and Merlin are lovers. The issues of magic and entrapment are not part of the story (Starr 1901) since Robinson was primarily interested in a realistic portrayal of the characters. This version is a very important step towards modernizing the story, in that Robinson deals with the issue of the "new woman." Even though Vivian loses her love in the end, she is her own independent person. She is not completely dependent on Merlin in order to continue living her life The poem also presents a sharp contrast between the public and private spheres, represented by Camelot and Broceliande, as is made evident in the poem when Merlin says:
"If I come not,
The lady Vivian will remember me,
And say: 'I knew him when his heart was young,
Though I have lost him now.
Time called him home,
And that was as it was; for much is lost
Between Broceliande and Camelot.'"
This conflict reflects some of the tension in all lives at the time because of the world war. The story is also a commentary on how the woman's world is not truly part of society. This issue is addressed in how Vivian lives apart from Arthur's court and how Merlin is forced to leave the court in order to be a part of Vivian's world. The story was written during World War One, and the attitude of Vivian may be reflective of the average woman's attitude towards their husbands/lovers having to go away to fight.
Later in the twentieth century, Merlin became very popular as a literary figure. Tales of Merlin and Vivien were retold in several different kinds of media. There have been films, comic books, short stories, poetry, novels, and adaptations for children made of the Merlin and Vivien legend.
In her novel The Enchantresses, Vera Chapman creates a modern adaptation of the Merlin and Vivien story for adolescents. In this feminist interpretation, Vivian is a benevolent spirit who is in love with, and eventually marries, Merlin. Vivian has magic powers of her own and proves to be not only very adept at living independently from her lover for long periods of time, but also capable of protecting Arthur from Morgan as he is growing up. The use of magic in this story surfaces mostly through Morgan's malignant actions. Vivian and Merlin, for the most part, use their magic sparingly and only in association with the healing arts and in defense against Morgan's onslaughts. In the story, the frivolous misuse of magic is associated with darkness and the evil intentions of Morgan.
Valerie Nieman's poem "The Naming of the Lost" is set in the United States. Nieman modernizes the story and Merlin's character becomes a West Virginia farmer named "Merle". The story takes place many years after Merlin's imprisonment. Nimue is portrayed as being a wanderer and is capable of taking care of and providing for herself. She has successfully traveled the world before she meets Merlin. When Nimue meets the wizard, he reveals to her her name and past, as well as how he escaped from imprisonment. Nimue apologizes to Merlin and he accepts her back, proving to be a very forgiving lover. The poem uses the story of Merlin and Vivian to create a beautifully lyrical expression of love and forgiveness.
One of the most interestingly adapted examples of film exploring the story of Merlin and Vivien is Trevor Jones's Merlin. In this version, Merlin and Nimue are lovers who wish simply to be left in peace. Mab, the embodiment of magic, is the antagonist and is the one who causes the entrapment. A very interesting twist on the story is that Nimue ends up being the one who is entrapped by Mab's magic and, as a result, Merlin must use his own magic in order to fulfill his role in life and to find Mab. Mab is destroyed not by force, but simply by the fact that nobody believes in her or magic anymore. Once Mab has been done away with, Merlin and Nimue get back together and live happily ever after. The story line reflects how our society no longer depends on the magic arts but puts more emphasis on personal qualities and values. It also portrays Nimue as being a true lover, as well as being a strong and independent woman who is able to take care of herself while Merlin is fulfilling his destiny.
The story of Merlin and Vivien has lasted throughout the years and continues to have a strong hold in modern literature. The versatile and universal theme of love as well as the complex relationship between the characters presented in the story holds much potential for future retellings. The examples examined in this essay suggest that popular culture of the future may very well provide a place where Merlin and Vivien's story will be able to live on in both familiar and entirely revolutionary forms.
This project was an Undergraduate Research Internship at the University of Rochester in Spring 2002 by Junior and English major, Robyn Pollock. Supervised and guided by Alan Lupack, director of the Robbins Library, she undertook this project to increase her experience with literary research and webpage design. Additional assistance was provided by Rosemary Paprocki, Anne Zanzucchi, and Su-ching Huang.
(1210-30) The Vulgate Version of The Arthurian Romances. ed. from manuscripts in the British Museum by H. Oskar Sommer. Washington: The Carnegie Institute of Washington, 1909-13. Vol. I-VII.
Lancelot-Grail The Old French Arthurian Vulgate and Post-Vulgate in Translation. ed. Norris J. Lacy. New York: Garland, 1993. Vol. I Pp. 280-83, 415-17 and Vol. IV Pp. 245-50, 259-60, 280-83.
In the French Vulgate version of Merlin and Viviane's relationship Merlin and Viviane are lovers. Merlin has taken on the shape of youth in the Forest of Briosque when he sees Viviane for the first time. He notes that it is "unwise to fall asleep in sin and lose his mind and his knowledge just to know the delights of a young lady, to shame her and to lose God" (p 280). Despite his foresight, Merlin falls in love with the Viviane and makes her swear that she will give him her love along with the permission to do whatever he wants to her whenever he wants to do it in exchange for teaching her any magic she might like to know. Viviane eventually learns the spell to bind another in a tower and uses it to imprison Merlin. She imprisons her lover in a tower of incredible beauty and comfort while he is sleeping and when he wakes up she promises him that she will come to visit him often. This promise she keeps faithfully.
In the Post-Vulgate version of Merlin and Ninianne's relationship, Ninianne is a fifteen-year-old virgin and afraid of Merlin's intentions. She fears him because of his magic and the threat of his coming to her in her sleep. Merlin is in love with Ninianne and would never do anything to grieve her, but at the same time does desire to have her maidenhead. Ninianne makes a promise to Merlin that she will love him if he teaches her magic, and he quickly agrees to this arrangement. When it is time for Ninianne to leave Arthur's court, Merlin goes along with her. Merlin then shows Ninianne the Lake of Diana, the place where she decides to start building her own life. She asks Merlin to build her a house on the shore of the lake and is known forever after this as the Lady of the Lake. One day Merlin tells Ninianne that Morgan LeFay has stolen Excalibur from King Arthur, and that the kingdom is in great peril. With this news, Ninianne and Merlin go to Britian. On their way to Britian, Merlin teaches Ninianne much magic and eventually she knows nearly as much as Merlin himself. By this point, Ninianne is thoroughly vexed by Merlin's constant interest in knowing her carnally and begins to look for ways to be rid of him. She gets her chance in the Perilous Forest when he shows her the tomb of two lovers. Once Merlin unseals the lovers' tomb she tells her servants to make beds for her and the wizard. When Merlin is asleep in his bed, she enchants him so that he no longer has the power to move. Ninianne then throws Merlin face down into the lovers' tomb, puts the stone back into place by using a magic spell of binding that cannot be undone by anyone but herself, and leaves him there for the rest of time.
Ninianne then goes on to the battle between Accalon and Arthur. Upon seeing the trouble that Arthur is in, she enchants Accalon so that Excalibur falls from his hand. Arthur then runs to pick it up and consequently wins the battle.
(1470) Malory, Sir Thomas. Works. ed. Eugene Vinaver. Oxford University Press. Oxford, 1971. Pp. 76-77, 87.
In Malory's version of Merlin and Nenyve's relationship, Merlin falls into a kind of obsession when he sees Nenyve's beauty for the first time. Merlin will not leave Nenyve alone for even a short while, and she grows very tired of this. Merlin teaches Nenyve all sorts of magic but despite this, Nenyve will do anything to get rid of the wizard because he is rumored to be the Devil's son. Finally, Merlin shows Nenyve a great rock under which marvelous things can be found. Nenyve sees her chance to get rid of Merlin and subtly gets him to step under the stone. Using the magic which Merlin has taught her, Nenyve seals Merlin under the rock in such a way that he can never free himself.
As in to the Post-Vulgate version, Nenyve goes on to redeem herself in Malory's story. After imprisoning Merlin, she continues on to the battle taking place between Arthur and Accalon and through enchantment enables Arthur to recover Excalibur and win the battle.
(1852) Arnold, Matthew. "Tristram and Iseult." In Empedocles on Etna and Other Poem. by A. London: B. Fellowes, 1852.
In the final section of Matthew Arnold's Tristram and Iseult, Tristram's wife, Iseult of the White Hands, is telling the story of Merlin and Vivian to her children. It is interesting that she does this because the situation with her and her husband is the exact opposite of the situation of Merlin and Vivian but also because the unwanted lover in each case is left behind in a place of great comfort and beauty as a consolation. Vivian is an entrancing woman who brings her friend Merlin to a secluded forest. She is so beautiful and Merlin quickly forgets his wits and grows fond and eager to obey her every whim. The companions comes to a glen unsurpassed in beauty and halt there to rest. When Merlin falls asleep, Vivian binds him sleeping there by waving "the fluttering wimple round" nine times and making a little plot of magic in the ground. Merlin is caught in this spell until judgement day, but Vivian is free to go about as she pleases. It is said that Vivian has done this because she is weary of Merlin's love and has been yearning to set herself free.
(1859) Buchanan, Robert. "Merlin's Tomb." In Fragments of the Table Round. Glasgow: Thomas Murray and Son, 1859. Pp. 65-72.
In Merlin's Tomb by Robert Buchanan, Merlin and Viviane are lovers. Viviane knows all of Merlin's spells except for one. This spell would enable her to imprison her lover in "a bower of life-long bliss". Viviane is very straightforward with her request and Merlin realizes what is going on. Even though he is not particularly enthusiastic about the idea of being imprisoned, he is thoroughly entranced by his lover and can not refuse her request. One day Merlin and Viviane come to a place in the woods that is very beautiful. Merlin falls asleep on Viviane's lap and she takes the chance to use her newly acquired magic spell. Viviane then, with her wimple, traces a circle around the tree under which Merlin lays sleeping. She then retraces the magic ring nine times over and speaks the spell each time. When Merlin wakes up, he realizes that he is imprisoned in a castle fair and strong and can not escape. Every day and night after this Viviane returns to visit her lover and in this way she takes her sweet solace.
(1859) Tennyson, Alfred Lord. Idylls of the King. 1874 ed. J. M. Gray. Penguin books. London, 1996. Pp. 142-67.
The Merlin and Vivien section in Tennyson's Idylls of the King portrays Vivien as a seductress. She seduces Merlin in order to gain his knowledge and power. Vivien is described as being serpent-like in her attempts to gain the spell necessary to have complete power over her mentor. Despite all her wily charms, Vivien's attempts at gaining this spell fail, until one day she is able to catch him off guard. Merlin is utterly exhausted after a day's travel and is resting up against a tree while Vivien is wrapping herself around him and appearing to be in need of protection from a storm that is brewing. In a moment of weakness right before he falls asleep, he divulges the information which Vivien has been trying to entice out of him. Once the wizard falls asleep, Vivien puts the spell into use by waving her arms and weaving a web of magic over the hollow oak in which Merlin sleeps.
(1889) Yeats, W[illiam] B[utler]. "Time and the Witch Vivien." In The Wanderings of Oisin. London: Kegan Paul, Trench & Co., 1889. Pp. 53-57.
William Butler Yeats's Time and the Witch Vivien takes place after Vivien has entrapped Merlin. She is quite captivated by her own reflection in a pool of water because she realizes how young and beautiful she is. Before long she senses a presence of a great one approaching her from the forest. When the being shows himself it turns out to be Time dressed as an old peddler with a scythe, an hour-glass, and a black bag. Vivien recognizes Time and asks him to sit with her but Time refuses as he doesn't ever rest or sit. Vivien and Time then get down to business and Vivien inquires as to what is in Time's bag. He answers by saying "Gray hairs and crutches, Mansions of memories and mellow thoughts..." and Vivien says that she will have none of these. She is, however, interested in purchasing Time's hourglass. Time refuses this request and Vivien ventures to tip the glass on its side. Time says that he always gets the last laugh as he rights the glass again. Vivien remarks that Time is even older and more white than Merlin, who she has overcome with her wiles, and offers to play Time in a game of chance. Time agrees and produces dice which turn out to be loaded. Vivien then makes the comment that Time always plays with loaded dice and asks for another chance. They agree to play chess with the stakes set at his playing for his hour-glass, and her playing for her life. In the end Time wins in the game of chess, as Time always wins in the end, and Vivien loses her life.
(1898) Rhys, Ernest. "The Death of Merlin." In Welsh Ballads and Other Poems. London: David Nutt, 1898. Pp. 29-40.
In Ernest Rhys' poem "The Death of Merlin", sailors on a ship are lamenting the death of Merlin. Nobody knows what has happened to him, but they speculate that Nimua enchanted him into slumber, and then closed him in a crag on the coast of Cornwall.
(1902) Lang, Andrew. Tales of the Round Table. London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1902.
In his chapter entitled "The Death of Merlin", Lang introduces Vivien as she is brought to Camelot by Sir Pellinore. When Merlin first sees Vivien, he falls deeply in love with her. Vivien leads Merlin on and, even though Merlin is aware of his folly, he can not put an end to it.
Merlin teaches Vivien many magical secrets. One day Vivien grows tired of Merlin, and while in Cornwall he shows her a rock under which great marvels are hidden. Vivien begs Merlin to crawl beneath the rock in order to reveal the wonders to her. Once he is under the rock, she magically seals him inside and leaves him behind.
(1907) Mumford, Ethel Watts. Merlin and Vivian: A Lyrical Drama. (Music: Henry Hadley, Op. 52. Merlin and Vivian: A Lyric Drama For Chorus, Soli and Orchestra. Poem by Ethel Watts Mumford.) New York: Schirmer, 1907.
Ethel Watts Mumford'sMerlin and Vivian: A Lyric Drama portrays Vivian as being a manipulative temptress. She is motivated to ensnare Merlin because she wants to possess his knowledge and power. When Vivian enters Arthur's court, Merlin isn't interested in her until she slips a magic ring on his finger. The ring causes him to fall instantly and irrevocably in love with her.
Once Merlin is under the ring's influence, Vivian begins to feign love for him. Merlin goes with Vivian and lives with her for a year, all the while teaching her what he knows of the magic arts. By the time their anniversary comes around, Vivian has learned all that she wishes to know and devises a way to get rid of the wizard. She brews a cup of sleep and requests Merlin to accompany her in a toast to their love. When Merlin drinks the contents of the cup, he falls into an enchanted sleep. While he is incapacitated, Vivian spins a magic shroud out of her hair, "wrought of magic and of sin" which she casts over him. Merlin is doomed to lie in a stupor until a thousand years pass. Vivian's spirit helpers carry him out of the room and put him in a "yawning cavern tomb".
(1910) Frith, Henry. King Arthur and His Knights. 1910; Rpt. Philadelphia: David McKay, 1955.
In the chapter entitled "Merlin in Love With Nimue," King Pellinore brings Nimue to court and Merlin falls in love with her. Nimue feigns love for Merlin in order to learn magic. Merlin is so besotted that he can not leave Nimue alone and follows her everywhere. He knows his peril, but does not put an end to his behavior.
Nimue departs from court and Merlin follows her. She makes Merlin promise not to cast any spells on her. They travel to Cornwall and by this time Nimue is very tired of Merlin and wants to be rid of him. In order to attain her freedom, she continues to feign love for him and eventually gets him to reveal an enchantment which will imprison a man, despite his powers, in a place without walls from which they can not be released.
Merlin then shows Nimue a stone where there is a "great wonder." Nimue, through subtle working, gets Merlin to go under the stone and then makes use of the enchantment he has taught her. She encloses Merlin alive within a magic circle she has drawn so that he can not move. She then leaves him there alive, and sometimes comes back to visit him.
(1914) Blunt, Wilfrid Scawen. To Nimue. The Poetical Works of Wilfred Scawen Blunt. Vol.1 Macmillian and Co. London, 1914. Pp. 388-90.
In Wilfrid Scawen Blunt's To Nimue, Merlin is capable of overcoming Nimue's charm in his youth which is something that he must do because she does not return his affections. By doing this he becomes very unhappy, but eventually puts his feelings aside long enough to become accomplished enough as to be known as a prophet and sage of no human birth. When Merlin becomes famous, he draws the attention of not only a crowd, but of the lady Nimue. Nimue comes to him crying and sits by his feet as she used to before they parted ways. Merlin still loves her and realizes that now she returns the same feelings. He says that he shall not live without love even if the world forgets his lessons and he forgets the world.
(1917) Robinson, Edwin Arlington. Merlin: A Poem. New York: Macmillan, 1917.
In Edwin Arlington Robinson's Merlin , Vivian and Merlin are lovers. Both understand that they were destined to come together. When Merlin arrives in Broceliande, he is aware that Vivian's world is to keep him closed away from society in a sort of voluntary prison for the next ten years. From the very beginning of their involvement, Vivian sees to it that Merlin is detached from his former life as much as possible. She transforms him from wizard to lover by demanding that he cut his beard and shed his drab garments. The lovers remain together for ten years without aging or worrying about Camelot or the outside world, but when rumor reaches Merlin of the downfall of Arthur's kingdom, he begins to feel his age and mortality. Merlin resumes his old habits of thought and wandering until finally he announces that it is time for him to return to the outside world. Vivian is not enthusiastic about this decision, but nevertheless assents to Merlin's will. As a result Merlin walks away from his timeless existence with his lover without opposition. Merlin returns to Vivian only to realize that the timeless existence which they shared has been ruined and decides to leave again permanently and reenter the real world.
(1923) Knowles, Sir James. King Arthur and His Knights. New York: Blue Ribbon Books, 1923.
In Knowles's adaption of the story of Merlin and Vivien, Merlin falls in love with "a certain of the Ladies of the Lake." The girl lets Merlin be welcome until she has learned all the crafts that she wishes to know. Merlin and the Lady of the Lake then go to Benwicke, where Merlin shows her many wonders and she becomes afraid. Once the Lady is afraid of Merlin, she begins to want to be rid of him. While the two of them are sitting under an oak tree in Broceliande, the Lady asks to learn the charm to enclose a live man in a rock or tree. Merlin refuses to tell her at first, but eventually gives in. He then falls asleep and she encloses him in the oak tree and leaves him behind.
(1925) De Beverley, Thomas (pseudonym of George Newcomen). "The Story of Nimue." The Youth of Sir Arthour, the Quest of Sangraele and Other Poems. London: Erskine Macdonald, 1926.
In The Story of Nimue, by Thomas De Beverly, Nimue is a fairy maid who discovers that Merlin is unnaturally prolonging his life by the means of an elixir he makes out of herbs. Nimue knows that Merlin veils evil with his smile and decides to put an end to his means of preservation. She goes to the churchyard where the life-sustaining herbs grow and tears them from the earth. Without his elixir, Merlin grows old almost instantaneously. The wizard realizes his plight, and being too old to move, he sits himself down by a hollow tree. The fairy Nimue then comes to him and sits by his knee. This moment has been long awaited by Merlin. As the wind blows Nimue's hair into Merlin's face, she seems kind and he seizes the moment by fondling and caressing her lovingly. After this, he teaches her many magic spells and she exclaims that she loves him.
Nimue then convinces Merlin to lift the stone off of the entrance to a magical cave and, to prove his love, step inside and reseal the entrance. She says that once he is inside he should remove the stone, proving his magical power. But once Merlin is sealed inside, "besotted by love and foolish pride," Nimue utters a magic spell which seals him in the cave permanently.
(1925) Pyle, Howard. The Story of King Arthur and His Knights . New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1925.
In the section of this retelling of the Arthurian legend entitled "The Story of Merlin" Queen Morgana LeFay, who was once Merlin's student, wishes to punish King Arthur for the wrongs she feels that he has brought upon her house. She knows very well that she can bring no harm to Arthur while Merlin is at his side, so she decides to destroy Merlin.
In Morgana's court there is a fifteen-year-old damsel named Vivien whose beauty, cunning, and heartlessness are unmatched. Morgana takes a liking to the damsel and teaches her many things of magic and sorcery. One day Morgana tells Vivien that she too can be powerful and wise. She tells her of Merlin's great power and knowledge, and also of his flaws. Morgana reveals to Vivien that Merlin can not perceive his own future, and that he loves beauty more than anything else.
Vivien is very interested and asks Morgana to help her beguile Merlin into passing on his wisdom to her. She asks Morgana to protect her from Merlin's spells and in return promises that, once she has learned all that she wishes to know, she will cast a spell on Merlin so that he will no longer be able to harm her or anyone else.
Morgana is happy to hear this and gives Vivien two magic rings. She tells Vivien to wear the white ring, and to have Merlin wear the red ring. Once the rings are in place, the wearer of the red ring will fall in love with the wearer of the white ring and will do whatever his beloved desires.
Vivien takes the red ring to Arthur's court and it does not fit anyone but Merlin. Once Merlin has the ring on, he can not remove it and soon a feeling of great passion towards Vivien is aroused within him. Merlin's, overcome by his great passion, follows Vivien everywhere and she soon grows to hate him. Despite her feeling of hatred towards the wizard, Vivien always acts as though she likes him while she is in his presence.
Vivien tells Merlin that she could love him in the way he loves her if he would teach her his wisdom and cunning so that she might be his equal. Merlin has a foreboding sense about this, but eventually he agrees to teach his beloved the art of necromancy. Merlin and Vivien then depart to the Valley of Joyousness and Vivien wishes to have a castle built. Merlin sees to the construction of her castle through magic. He then begins to teach Vivien his art, but in her heart she knows "that if Merlin teaches me all of his wisdom, then the world cannot contain both him and me."
Merlin abides with Vivien for a year while teaching her everything he knows. At the year's end Vivien sets a feast for Merlin, and prepares a very powerful sleeping potion which she infuses into wine and serves to the wizard. Merlin is overcome by the potion and, while he sleeps, Vivien sets a powerful spell over him. She casts a silver web of enchantment which encompasses his entire body so that he can not move.
Merlin wakes up the next morning and realizes that he has been betrayed. He requests that Vivien go to Arthur straightaway because he is in great peril. Vivien agrees to help the King and then she calls in her servants. She commands them to put Merlin under a huge slab of stone where he would lie like one who is dead.
(1927) Merchant, Elizabeth Lodor. King Arthur and His Knights. Philadelphia: John C. Winston Company, 1927.
In the chapter of Merchant's retelling of the Arthurian legend entitled "The Witchery of Nimue," Merlin is growing very old and believes that his work in Camelot is finished. The Fairy Nimue, one of the Ladies of the Lake, is spending much time with him at this point. Nimue has changed her name to Vivien because the name "Nimue" is too strange for any human lady to bear. She tries to appear human, but is never more than "a mysterious elfin thing with mermaid's eyes." Nimue knows magic herself, and often had peeped in at Merlin in the old days. Now Merlin is growing weary and she thinks that he would be happier in Fairyland. Merlin grows more and more fascinated with Nimue as time goes on because the more secrets he tells her, the more she can spin webs of her own magic about him.
Blaise, the old hermit who had christened Merlin, appears one night and warns him that his own enchantments are being woven around him by the Lady Vivien. Merlin ignores the warning and agrees to go with Vivien on a fairy boat to Broceliande. Once they reach Broceliande, Merlin points to a stone and tells Nimue that it holds the secret of sleep. She begs him to explain and so he tells her the song and dance that will bring about unending sleep. Vivien then sings the song and weaves a fairy ring. Merlin falls into a sound and calm sleep and Vivien slips away, leaving Merlin sleeping under a tall tree for eternity.
(1929) Bottomley, Gordon. Merlin's Grave. In Scenes and Plays. London: Constable & Co., 1929. (Limited to 100 numbered & 12 lettered copies signed by the author. There was also a trade edition.) Pp. 59-76.
In his poem "Merlin's Grave," Gordon Bottomley introduces us to the immortal characters of Merlin and The Lady of the Lake. Merlin has been bound to the tree of dreams as its protector for innumerable years. Each time a lifetime passes, the Lady of the Lake is reincarnated and fated to run across Merlin. Merlin is in love with the Lady of the Lake despite his age, and every time she comes he promises to teach her magic in exchange for her love. Every time this happens, she binds him in the tree by using magical thread which the Norns had at one time taught her how to spin. On this final encounter however, she binds Merlin within the tree and discards of the magic spindle on which the thread was kept. By doing this she has doomed humanity because Merlin can no longer watch over the tree of dreams.
(1929) Sneyd, Ralph de Tunstall. "Vivian and Merlin." In Poems. Chesterfield, Darbyshire: Wilfred Edmunds Ltd., 1929. Pp. 74-77.
In Ralph De Tunstall Sneyd's "Vivian and Merlin" Merlin sees Vivian in the woods and is captivated by her youth and beauty. Vivian has many lovers, however, and "changes them like garments". She allows Merlin to love her and caress her but her jealousy of his knowledge grows. She does not like that he is more powerful than her, despite the fact that she loves him. She decides not to put up with his rivalry in mystic lore and plans to cast him to a fairy shore with his youth renewed. Vivian then, by her magic art, sinks Merlin beneath the shades of the forest while he sleeps. To this day no man knows where he lays, but some conjecture that he is with Vivian and still loving her "midst the waters blue."
(1936) King, Vivian Smallwood. "Merlin to Vivien." In Contemporary American Women Poets. Ed. Tooni Gordi. New York: Henry Harrison, 1936. P 269.
Vivian King's poem "Merlin to Vivien" focuses on how infatuated Merlin is with Vivien. He is wishing to be kissed and to be told what Vivien tells all of her numerous other lovers, even if everything she says is a lie. He promises to give her truth and wisdom in exchange for her beauty and words of love.
(1953) Wilbur, Richard. "Merlin Enthralled" (1953). Rpt. in Modern Arthurian Literature an Anthology of English and American Arthuriana from the Renaissance to the Present. ed. Alan Lupack. Garland Publishing Inc. New York, 1992. Pp. 455-56.
In the poem "Merlin Enthralled" by Richard Wilbur, King Arthur and his men are lamenting the absence of Merlin. Nobody knows for sure what has happened to cause his disappearance but there is rumor that Niniane, the Siren's daughter, has enchanted him. It is believed that Niniane came to him in a dream and told him to "sleep." Once Merlin had been overpowered by the enchantment to Niniane's sleeping spell, he slowly began to forget that Arthur and his men were in need of him and were searching for him. Merlin forgot everything as "the mists of time condensed in the still head" and then Niniane "received him as the sea receives a stream."
(1955) Gunn, Thom. "Merlin in the Cave: He Speculates Without a Book". Rpt. in Arthur, the Greatest King: An Anthology of Modern Arthurian Poems. Ed. Alan Lupack. New York: Garland, 1988. Pp. 203-06.
The poem "Merlin in the Cave: He Speculates Without a Book" provides an image of Merlin imprisoned in a cave by Vivien. Merlin thinks back to the behavior that got him into this predicament and recalls how he made himself appear pleasantly young and attractive to win Vivien's affections. Merlin recalls how he believed himself to be all-powerful and above the wiles of a woman and he realizes now that this belief was his downfall.
(1975) Norton, Andre. Merlin's Mirror. Daw Books Inc. New York, 1975.
In Merlin's Mirror, a science-fiction novel by Andre Norton, Merlin and Nimue are the representatives of two opposing alien races. Merlin's life goals are to put Arthur, another of his alien race, on the throne, and to set a beacon for the coming of the sky lords. The race which Merlin is from believes that the people of Earth should be prepared for their coming, but Nimue's race believes that it is wrong to meddle with humans as they are not yet developed enough to understand the alien knowledge and way of life.
Nimue is the only person on Earth who is Merlin's equal in power and knowledge. She is also the only woman Merlin is sexually attracted to. While Arthur is a child, Nimue contrives a way of trapping Merlin in the cave which serves as his hide-away in order to keep his influence away from the future king. While Merlin is inside the cave, Nimue puts up a force field around the entrance and he is trapped. Luckily, there is a chamber inside of the cave which Merlin retreats to. This chamber allows him to enter a state of hibernation, in which he remains for 16 years. When the time has passed, a voice alerts Merlin that Nimue's power has weakened and that he is free to leave the cave.
Nimue continues to make Merlin's life difficult throughout the story but always keeps out of sight. She does not show up again until the very end when Merlin is attempting to bring Arthur, who has been mortally wounded, to the preservation chamber. Merlin finds Nimue sitting in front of his cave when he arrives. She appeals to him, saying that they could live happily together and never be lonely, but Merlin refuses her. She walks slowly away and Merlin and Arthur enter the cave. They preserve themselves indefinitely until the time is more fit for the coming of the sky lords, and it is suggested that Nimue is most likely preserving herself as well.
(1983) Barr, Mike W. "The Past and Future King". Camelot 3000. Vol.1 No.1, 1983.
In the comic book "The Past and Future King," the first of the twelve parts of Camelot 3000, there is a brief reference to how Nyneve imprisoned Merlin under Stonehenge. Stonehenge is Merlin's own handiwork and King Arthur realizes that it is the perfect place to look for Merlin. The combined forces of Arthur and Merlin are able to break Nyneve's spell of imprisonment and free Merlin from his captivity.
(1986) Merlin and the Sword. Dir. Clive Donner. Written by L. Wyles. Goodtimes Home Videos, New York, Aug. 11, 1986.
In the film Merlin and the Sword, Merlin and Niniane are lovers and have been trapped in an ice-cave for one-thousand years. When Merlin and Niniane first meet they fall in love and continue their relationship together despite the foreboding "death" image that comes up in a deck of Tarot cards. By ignoring the warning, Merlin makes himself very vulnerable to his enemy Morgan LeFay.
Morgan captures Niniane's father and forces Niniane to entrap Merlin in order to save her father's life. Niniane is very upset by this but has no choice as she can not bear the thought of losing her father. In order to carry out Morgan's demand, Niniane waits until she is in the ice-cave with Merlin and then tell him that if he loves her, he will teach her the most powerful spell he knows. Merlin can not refuse Niniane's request and teaches her not to bind someone for eternity. Niniane then casts the spell, but it turns out that the Nature of the spell is that it works simultaneously on the subject and the caster. By going through with the spell, Niniane entraps herself along with Merlin in the ice-cave for one-thousand years. Merlin eventually forgives Niniane for what she has done after hearing how Morgan had given her no choice and together Merlin and Niniane learn that the power of their true love is enough to break the spell. Together they break the spell of binding and are free to leave the cave.
(1989) Nieman, Valerie. "The Naming of the Lost". Rpt. in Modern Arthurian Literature an Anthology of English and American Arthuriana from the Renaissance to the Present. ed. Alan Lupack. New York: Garland, 1992. Pp. 476-82.
Valerie Nieman's poem "The Naming of the Lost" is about a woman wanderer who does not know who she is or where she comes from. The woman takes on the names given to her in the many places she has traveled. She has been wandering for so long that she can not remember all of her past. She always has the feeling that she is being followed but can never see who it is who follows her. Finally one day she sits down in a chair beside a river, and an old farmer approaches her. The farmer, who is named "Merle" turns out to be Merlin and reminds her of her past and that her name is Nimue. Merlin reminds her of how she was his lover and that she had sealed him in a cave by using a water spell. He then explains that the spell has now worn off because the duration of water spells is not very long. The wizard creates a green gem out of one of Nimue's tears which, upon dissolving in her mouth, causes her to remember the history between Merlin and herself. Nimue is horrified at how she betrayed Merlin, but Merlin forgives her.
(1991) Excalibur. Dir. John Boorman. Orion Pictures, 1991.
In the film Excalibur, the character of Morgan LeFay takes on the role of Vivien. Morgan and Merlin are very influential in Arthur's court, and are also the only people in the kingdom who practice the magic arts. Merlin is attracted to Morgan out of a need for companionship.
Morgan talks Merlin into bringing her to see the Dragon. She then gets Merlin to evoke the dragon by uttering magical words and, once she senses that he is being drained of his power by these utterances, she begins chanting them herself. By doing this, she entraps Merlin in a pillar of ice within the dragon's cave.
Despite his state of entrapment, Merlin senses the peril that is at hand for King Arthur. Merlin is strong enough to send his voice and image to Morgan in Mordred's encampment, and once there he is able to locate Morgan. By this time, Morgan is very weak because she is using all of her magic to make herself appear young and beautiful. Merlin recognizes her fragile state and takes advantage of the situation. He challenges Morgan to use the spell in order to evoke the dragon's power against him once again. Due to her weak state, when Morgan invokes the words of the spell, it overcomes her and shatters her power of illusion. With this done, Merlin leaves Morgan to Mordred. When Mordred sees that his mother is old and ugly, he strangles her to death.
(1991) R.A. Jones. "Belle du Lac." Merlin. 4 of 6. Adventure Comics. California, March 1991.
In the comic book story "Belle du Lac" Merlin has gone mad from witnessing the horrors of warfare and is guided by Cernlinnos, the pagan stag-god, and a black wolf named Baalin to Ninevah. Ninevah is the Lady of the Lake and takes it upon herself to heal Merlin of his madness. When Merlin first meets her, she touches her lips to his and the madness vanishes, leaving only sorrow and pain behind. Ninevah then sings while Merlin sleeps innocently.
When Merlin wakes up, he realizes that he is whole, but older. Ninevah then instructs him in the ways of her magic for the period of one year. Time passes quickly and Merlin masters every craft Ninevah has to teach. Merlin then decides that it is time for him to leave, and he does not understand why Ninevah does not want him to go. Ninevah allows Merlin to leave saying only "goodbye-love" and then returns to the water to rest, never to resurface until Merlin returns for her.
(1997) Barron, T.A. The Seven Songs of Merlin. Ace Books. New York, 1997.
In the novel The Seven Songs of Merlin by T. A. Barron, Merlin comes in brief contact with Vivian when he is in a village attempting to complete a part of his quest of knowledge. He is very attracted to Vivian but is also very wary of her. She shows quite an interest in his magical walking staff and later on he realizes that it is missing. Merlin is forced to retrieve the staff from Vivian, who turns out to be a master seductress and collector of magical items.
(1998) Merlin. Dir. Steve Barron. Written by Trevor Jones. Hallmark home Entertainment, 1998.
In the film Merlin, Merlin and Nimue fall in love at an early age when Merlin saves Nimue's life. They grow up apart, but never forget one another. After several years, Vortigern captures Merlin, and Nimue finds him in a cell. Nimue talks Vortigern into setting Merlin free and she and the wizard go away together and live happily for a while.
Some time later Mab, the embodiment of black magic and paganism, goes to Vortigern and pulls a few strings so that Nimue's father withdraws his loyalty to him. Vortigern's men then capture Nimue to hold for ransom. Mab takes Nimue and challenges Merlin to use his magic to save his lover from a dragon. Merlin uses his magic just in time to save Nimue's life, but her face is terribly scarred by the dragon's fire. No matter what he tries, Merlin can not heal Nimue's scars.
One day, while Merlin is away, Mab comes to Nimue and makes her scars disappear. Mab says that she will restore Nimue's beauty permanently if she will agree to take Merlin away. Initially Nimue refuses this offer because she loves Merlin and does not wish to get in the way of his work within the kingdom. Years pass, and Nimue eventually changes her mind about Mab's offer because she hears rumor that the King is coming home and that Merlin is no longer needed in court. Nimue agrees to live with Merlin and never to leave the place where Mab puts them, but she never tells Merlin that she can not leave.
Merlin retires from the court and joins Nimue in Mab's magical place of seclusion. As soon as Merlin does this, however, he begins to hear shouts of battle and unrest in his head. Nimue begs him to ignore the cries but eventually lets him leave. Once Merlin leaves Nimue behind, he realizes that he can not return to her.
When the battle is over, Merlin faces Mab. Mab's power is dwindling because she relies on the belief of people to sustain her. Merlin defeats Mab by walking away and forgetting her. Once Mab is gone, Merlin is able to find Nimue and use one final magic spell to restore both of their youth and beauty, and they happily spend the rest of their days together.
(1998) Chapman, Vera. The Enchantresses. London: Cassell, 1998.
In The Enchantresses, a novel by Vera Chapman, Merlin and Vivian have a very close and loving relationship. Vivian, Morgan, and Morgause are the daughters of the Duchess Ygrain and the Duke Gorlais. Vivian and Morgan, however, are spirits who have been reborn to these parents through magic. Morgan is the embodiment of dark magic, and Vivian is the embodiment of the benevolent spirit Nimue.
Merlin is called upon by the Duchess and Duke to teach the girls the art of magic. Vivian falls in love with Merlin very early in her life when she saves him from one of Morgan's tricks. Even at a very young age Morgan proves to be a dangerous adversary and Merlin realizes that she is indeed the spirit with which he has been fighting for many lifetimes.
Vivian's love for Merlin never wavers as she grows up. Finally the day comes when Arthur is born, and Merlin knows that the child must be hidden. He gives Arthur to Vivian, who takes him safely to a secluded island. It is at this time that Merlin lets Vivian know that she is Nimue, the Lady of the Lake, and that her powers are as great and ancient as both his and Morgan's. Once at the island, Merlin and Vivian are married.
Merlin and Vivian live happily together with Arthur and a child of their own. They enjoy their seclusion until it is time for Arthur's coronation. Merlin and Vivian return to the mainland where Morgan is waiting for them.
By this time Morgan is a grown woman and an expert in shape shifting. When Vivian leaves Merlin to return to their home for supplies, Morgan sees her chance to be rid of them both. She slays Vivian outside her home and takes on her shape. She then meets Merlin, lures him into a cell by feigning heat-exhaustion, and seals him inside. In order to satisfy her arrogance, she lets Merlin know that it was she, and not his wife, who had imprisoned him. She then seals the cell off completely and leaves the wizard there to perish.
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