Saturday, 19 September 2015

Merlin and Gandalf; Is there a link?

I wrote yesterday about Merlin and that started to make me think about inspiration for Tolkien and similarities between Gandalf and Merlin. I know a lot of purists will say no, but it is an intriguing thought. There's certainly a lot of interest on teh Web in who would win in a fight, Merlin, Gandalf and Dumbledore. 

OK, King Arthur tales didn't have Orcs, but why would they? Being mainly Celts, the villains of the time were Saxons and they were also heathens. What a great enemy. In the medieval times the enemy (in Europe) were usually Christians and that gave knights a massive problem, as the bible said "thou shalt not kill." Bishops around the 12 C often went in to battle, but armed themselves with the mace as that wasn't considered to be a killing weapon. The fact that injuries were so severe that people died later probably didn't occur to them. The crusades were also a blessing, in a sense, as again the enemy were not Christian and so could be killed with impunity.

So at least Arthurian legend had an enemy similar to Orcs, in some respects. 

Merlin came to being in the 12 C, as mentioned in my earlier blog. What is fascinating is that the character Merlin fired imagination sufficiently that he is still around today, nearly 1000 years later. That might be because of the Arthurian legends of course, but it is still interesting that he is considered with some awe today. What makes him so fascinating?

This is perhaps where the similarity to Gandalf occurs. Both were wizards of some renown, dressed in robes and the very familiar pointed hats, I am not sure what the original description of Merlin was in the History of the Kings of Britain, but Disney certainly thought so. The Sword in the Stone (1963) was later than the Lord of the Rings and Disney may have been influenced by that. 

The main discrepancy between Merlin and Gandalf is that Merlin's father was supposedly a demon.  But, certainly Merlin's actions were good and would Arthur have permitted his presence in court if he was deemed evil? There is no mention (as far as I am aware) of Gandalf''s parentage, unless he was one of the original Valar, or at least a minor player of theirs. 

What is interesting is that both men rarely fought and if they did their powers were limited. Neither could destroy an army and both sought to bring men and arms together at the appropriate time to defeat the "enemy". That is very clearly a very strong link between these two great wizards. Perhaps that is simply the art of a good author, for if the wizard was too great then there wouldn't be much of a tale to tell. The wizard would be too god-like and would simply defeat anything sent against him. So although this is a link, there may be extenuating circumstances. 

My thoughts were not to prove conclusively that Merlin and Gandalf are one and the same, but just to explore the similarities. If there are others then please feel free to add a comment. For me though the greatest portrayal of any wizard was certainly Ian McKellen in Lord of the Rings. Marvelous.

Image Courtesy of Wikepedia

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