Good versus evil. That’s what fantasy is all about–its central trope. The Arthurian myth is no different, but it complicates things. Noble King Arthur must choose whether he is to live and govern by the principles of right he has established in his kingdom or whether he is to “make an exception” for those in his personal life.
Robert Treskillard in Merlin’s Blade, first in the Merlin Spiral Trilogy, carries on the good versus evil theme, but he addresses good and evil from both a societal and a supernatural point of view. The real battle is between the druids (and their practices often carried out in a circle such as the one pictured above) and the Christians–for control over life in Britain and over the lives of its people.
The conflict is fanciful since little is known about the druids apart from myth–fitting since King Arthur is also not a firmly established historical person, nor is Merlin. However, the clash between druids and Christians is believable, both on a societal level and a spiritual one.
In society, Christianity was the religion imposed on the conquered people of the Holy Roman Empire. I liken this to the Jewish nation ruled by kings professing belief in Yahweh, the One True God. Under their first king, Saul, witchery and sorcery were outlawed–and yet, the witch of Endor survived, apparently living in secret and not practicing her dark arts, unless cajoled into doing so by one promising her she would be safe from the penalties of the law. Clearly, sorcery was not eradicated by an edict from the king.
So, too, in the Britain of Merlin’s Blade. Those not in power bide their time and wait for an opportunity to reassert their influence, to reposition themselves for a climb to the top.
Spiritually, this power grab is a result of the evil forces, the false gods, which the druids worship and which control them through fear and intimidation.
The druidic power is real in Merlin’s Blade, and no less mysterious. When the priest who would rule first addresses the people of Merlin’s village, he says
. . . to call you back to the old way. To call you as lost children back to the only way your ancestors knew–they who claimed this wooded land as their own and coaxed forth crops from the soil . . . Your ancestors call you back to worship the old gods–the guides, the healers, those who bless your fields and cattle, who protect you from witchcraft and guard your children against the wailing sidhe, the gods who are furious at your obstinacy.
Since I equated druids with witchcraft, the above lines caught me off guard. The “sidhe” mentioned in those lines is “the Irish term for a supernatural race in Irish mythology and Scottish mythology, (usually spelled Sìth, however pronounced the same) comparable to the fairies or elves” (Wikipedia).
This suggests a layering of evil–fairies and witches that people fear, topped by a pantheon of gods who will protect their worshipers from those beings. The latter have a special hatred for the Christian God, his son Jesu, and his followers.
When the druid priest shows up with his power, he successfully seduces some to forsake their belief in the God of Rome and to follow the ancient gods of their homeland. It’s an appeal to ethnic pride, a repudiation of Rome, but also, and more convincingly, a plea to embrace the power gifted by the gods to an idol and its priest.
In all this, the question hangs unspoken–does the Christian God have power to counter the druids? Or is He limited to the work of His servants? It’s a timeless question, one people could well ask today by replacing “druids” with any number of other people standing against God. How can human followers of Christ stand against the forces marshaled against Him? The corollary is this: can Christians count on God when they call on Him in times of crisis? And the follow-up question: what’s the difference between trusting God to save and ordering God to save or trying to manipulate Him into it?
Merlin’s Blade raises questions for anyone willing to consider the good and evil conflict at the heart of the story. It’s one of the strengths of the story, as far as I’m concerned, but I’ll get to that tomorrow in my review.
For now, I suggest you see what other CSFF Blog Tour participants writing about Merlin’s Blade have to say. Especially, don’t miss Timothy Hicks’s interview with Robert.
And don’t forget, anyone leaving a comment to the Day 1 post will be entered into the drawing for an ARC.