January Review: Merlin

One thing that I would like to start this year on this dear old blog of mine is to give you some feedback on the things that I enjoy so that maybe you might share in the enjoyment with me.  This could be anything from literature to restaurants to film to art to anything else I am bursting at the seams to tell you about.

This month’s review is perhaps a rather obvious one for those who know me.  We are going to discuss one of my absolute favorite storytellings of all time:  BBC’s Merlin.  This is a five-season television program that aired from 2008 to 2012 and is now concluded.

Melrin blog highlight

Merlin is a new and interesting take on traditional Arthurian legend.  The story begins in Camelot when the great King Arthur is still prince and his paranoid father Uther is on the throne.  Uther outlawed all magic twenty years earlier – around the time of Arthur’s birth – and has since been working to purge the land of all magic.  Meanwhile, a young magician is travelling to Camelot where his mother hopes that he will be able to hide his magic better in a large city than he could in his small hometown.  This young warlock is the legendary wizard Merlin, although he too is still just another young man looking to start his life.  Through some unlikely circumstances, Merlin saves Arthur’s life and Uther assigns him the honor of becoming Arthur’s manservant.  From then on, whether they like it or not, the two are inseparable.  They go on various quests and adventures as Camelot blooms and they both strive to uncover their destiny.

In a land of myth and a time of magic, the destiny of a great kingdom rests on the shoulders of a young boy.  His name: Merlin.

A New Take on an Old Story: One of the things that I originally found intriguing about Merlin is the direction that the writers chose to go with it.  Most people I know have heard of King Arthur in some form or another, whether through historical narratives, bed-time stories, or Monty Python’s unforgettable adaption.  But the creators of Merlin decided to take this familiar story and start before it even began.  They include many elements of the traditional legends, but often times in unexpected or unconventional ways.  Characters like Guinevere, Morgana, and Mordred come from incredibly different backgrounds than you might expect, and many of the knights are included but as very different incarnations of themselves than the larger-than-life versions traditionally portray.

The entirety of the story is still set in Medieval times (although there is definitely some costume inconsistency with that thought process), but the story feels modern in the way it is told.  The characters are relatable and timeless in their portrayals and for that reason the show stays interesting and fresh even if many of the episodes catalog a similar plot formula.

Set and Visuals: Okay, so especially in season one, the graphics are… low-budget BBC.  However, excluding the graphics in the beginning (because they get a whole lot better), the visuals in this show are absolutely stunning.  Much of the palace footage was shot on site at a castle in France callled Pierrefonds and although it occasionally looks like CGI, that beautiful building is completely real.  Added to that are also scenes in intriguing forests and glassy lakes as well as older crumbling castles and caves.  The backdrop for the series sets it up already as a whimsical wonderful place.

Then you add in the costuming.  I remember the very first time I watched episode one of the first season, there was a moment where the doors opened to the great throne room and a woman walked in with her luxurious purple dress billowing behind her and I couldn’t help but grin at how pretty it was.  Morgana gets some really beautiful wardrobe choices, as do many of the visiting dignitaries that pass through Camelot.  Arthur also wears a fun array of different princely uniforms, but my favorite, and the one he wears most often, is is chainmail with the bold Camelot cape.  There are so many scenes where the knights’ capes are shown sweeping around and the effect is definitely impressive.  Merlin’s costume is pretty much the same thing every single episode.  He has his strappy boots, bunched up socks, brown pants, worn jacket, a blue or red shirt, and a blue or red scarf.  Despite the lack of change in his clothes, they become so iconic that by the end of the series you are a little bit in love with that outfit.

The music is absolutely phenomenal, especially as the show moves into the later seasons.  The entire thing really takes on a cinematic quality and the score is a huge cog in that mechanism to pull it all off.

And then you put all of that together and end up with some incredible scenes whether it be sword-fighting or magical creatures or even just riding horses.  It is such a vivid and artistic picture that it is easy to become accidentally immersed in the thrill of it all.

Character Development: If there is one reason that you should watch Merlin it is the character development.  Throughout the five seasons, Arthur and Merlin as well as almost all of the smaller supporting roles have such realistic and intentional character development that you really feel as if you get to watch them grow up.

Arthur starts out as the kind of arrogant prince who grew up spoiled and was never told he should change.  He makes his fun by picking on those less fortunate than him and showing off how important he is.  As the series progresses, we get to see his very big heart in action and watch as he becomes the noble and great king that we know from legend.

Morgana has one of the most dramatic character progressions of the series.  Katie McGrath, who plays the Lady Morgana, does an excellent job of making every twist and turn with her character absolutely human.  I can’t say too much because Morgana has quite a bit of spoilers in her character development, but I can say that of all the characters on the show, she could have very easily become cartoonish but she never was.  Throughout the entire story, Morgana is very much a human being, albeit one that experiences a whole lot of changes in her personality.

Merlin is the main character so it would make sense that we have the most insight into his character, but no matter how many times I continue to watch it I am still blown away by the change in Merlin as he grows up.  Colin Morgan is a phenomenal actor and he handles this role with absolute finesse, making the title role really deserve it.  Merlin is my favorite character on the show and a large part of the reason I am so enamored with the young wizard is watching him come into his own as a character.  At the beginning, he is young and untested.  He arrives in Camelot working incredibly hard (and not always succeeding) to control the urge to prove himself using magic.  As he discovers the severity of the repercussions if his magic were to ever be found out, he begins to struggle with his identity.  He feels that he has no purpose without his magic.  But, as he begins to find his destiny intertwining with Arthur’s, he finds purpose again.  Sure, it still has a lot to do with his magic, but watching him become comfortable and confident in his own skin and in Arthur’s kingdom is such a beautiful experience.  It is impossible not to root for the young warlock as he slowly but surely matures from a pasty, aggressive little punk to a wise and confident adviser and friend.  I wish I could give you every little detail of his coming of age, as it were, but that would bore you to death and you could easily experience it with your own eyeballs by watching the show.

The Downsides: My biggest pet peeve about Merlin is that everyone always leaves doors open.  They could spare themselves a whole lot of trouble if they simply learned that doors can opposite in the reverse direction that they came from.  Seriously, that is the thing I dislike the most about the entire series.  Obviously it is not one-hundred percent perfection because nothing is, but there is an undeniable sort of magic about it all.

If you are not so much into slightly cheesy, incredibly sassy, not-quite-historically-accurate period pieces with a whole lot of charm and character, than this might not be the show for you, but I would encourage you to give it a shot.  Merlin has something to offer for everyone and a timeless magic (beyond the turning-your-eyes-gold sort) that makes it all the more enticing.  Power through the first few episodes and before you know it you will be hooked.

Let me know in the comments what you think about me posting more content like this and if you have any ideas of things for me to review, I would love to hear them.

photo credit: Google Images


A Few Lines

A few days ago, I had the immense privilege of discovering some letters written in the 1930’s (!!!) and I couldn’t help but share them with you.

The writer of several letters that we unearthed was a young woman by the rather extraordinary name of Mary Catherine Grimsley.  Just looking at her name stamped across the top of the stationary it already seemed like a character out of a novel, but the truly remarkable part is that it was as ordinary as could be and these letters were merely her daily life.

From her letters, I felt like I was meeting a vivacious headstrong girl who was not at all coy about sharing her opinion, but had the civilized manners passed down from her rather more down-to-earth mother.  I truly wish I could hand you the paper so you could see how even her writing seemed to personify someone with a whole lot to say and a pressing desire to say it.  Her pen strokes were dark and bold.  They formed a neat but obviously enthusiastic school teacher slant as though her mind were always getting ahead of her pen.  My cousin held the letters and decided that reading them was like eavesdropping but better.

I couldn’t agree more.

So, without further ado: dig in!

(The first two letters are from Mary Catherine’s mother.  They had too much fascinating information about the Depression to leave them out.  Also, they lack punctuation in most places, but I wanted to give you the most realistic experience reading them as possible.)

December 19, 1931
Just a line to say hello Hope you are well and happy Have you work now?
Suppose you have heard from Catherine She is teaching in Russell Kentucky Seems to be getting along nicely is having a wonderful time
Well times seem to get worse all the time instead of better or at least that is true here. There is simply no business even for Christmas but suppose God will take care of us in some way.
With all the joy possible for your Christmas and a happy and prosperous 1932
Mrs Grimsley

January 26, 1932
Dear Paul:
Was surely glad to get your letter. Also glad you were writing to Mary Catherine as she surely likes to get letters. Lucille is write her about 4 or 5 days apart so that she is hearing from us pretty regularly and if we happen to not get to write just about on time she surely thinks we are neglecting her.
I’m sorry you have been out of work so much of the time, but you can’t tell us anything about how hard it is to collect. Money just cannot be had. But what can you expect when men have no work they cannot pay
Wish I could send you the $15 we owe you but it seems impossible to get anything paid until times change. Don’t mention this $15 when you answer.
You are right surely about Prest. Hoover he has done all he can to help conditions but Congress has not worked with him as they should I really think he is a wonderfully good man and doing all he can. Wonder if he will be our new Prest?
Well I think Lucille is going to get married next June soon after Catherine gets home. She is engaged to a young man named Ernest Perry and they are terribly in love or at least they think they are. But that is 5 months yet. We will see. But they have been going together for almost 2 years it will be two years in May. So suppose that is long enough he is 22 and Lucille is 19, young enough. And yet they should be old enough to know their own mind.
When are you going to get married? I’m just wondering if you are going to stay an old bachelor?
Mary Catherine may be coming home in May instead of June as the state of Kentucky is short of money and may have to cut school down to eight months instead of 9
Now Paul write real soon again If you can collect some of your money come out and see us We would sure be glad to see you
Have not seen your uncle Louis but the one time. But we hear from him once in a great while. He sent us a Christmas card and we have not heard from him since
Well I have exhausted my knowledge which I think would interest you so will close with best wishes from us all
Your friend,
Mrs. Grimsley

(From here on out is all the words of Mary Catherine.  Our illustrious heroine of a sort.)

February 28, 1932
Dear Paul
Don’t die of shock, I pray you. I feel in the mood for writing a letter so I thought I’d choose you as my first victim! Poor you.
First of all where in the state is Gilead? I’ve nearly worn the map out trying to find it, and so far it remains a complete mystery. Do keep us out?
How are things “out west” in Nebraska? Are they improving any since the Reconstruction Finance Corporation and various other such organizations have begun to function. One of the banks up in Ashland Kentucky receive some aid and everyone around here nearly died of the shock of it hitting so near home. It looks as though Hoover may pull the country out yet, eh?
I’ve received a card from your uncle, Louis Decker yesterday. He has been up in Berkeley visiting the folks and guess was quite shocked to find me missing from the family group. Some people forget the children do grow up! Yes, I’ll confess that I certainly don’t feel “grown up”.
You know I’ve always heard that it snowed here during the winter, but this California maiden is still waiting for it to fall. Really, I expected to freeze to death and we’ve really had very little cold weather. It is quite cool today and the “natives” say it looks like snow but I’m still waiting to see some!
I certainly have done more visiting since I came back here in that I’ve ever done in my life. I really didn’t know I had “connections” with so many people both relatives and friends!
I’m planning a bridge party at my cousins house sometime the last of March. That’s about all I can do here to entertain. Just wish they could all come out to Berkeley and see me.
Well, guess I’ll have a brother (in law) after this summer. Lucille hasn’t set the date yet but they’re to be married as soon as possible after I get back, according to the latest reports. I expect one of my cousins and her little girl are going home with me for a visit and the wedding too.
I can’t say that I’m really crazy about teaching at least not here. About half of my children are in school only because they have to be. Consequently they won’t study, won’t pay attention, or even keep quiet. So, you can see that discipline is my worst problem. I’m going to apply for a position next year, I guess, but I am not the least confident that I’ll get it. I know I’m not excellent, by any means, and there are so many local people wanting positions.
I don’t hear as often as I’d like to from home. Lucille is lazy and mother is too busy. The folks still go to Richmond everyday, though, but business is absolutely on the rocks. A friend wrote me that his father was almost a nervous wreck because the Depression was over and the panic was on. That explains it pretty well, I think.
I must stop now as dinner is ready and I’m really hungry. I’d love to hear from you whenever you find time to write. For, even if I haven’t seen you for ages, I’ll never forget the good times we had when you were at our house. Hope you’re feeling just fine and dandy as busy enough to be happy! Swell philosophy, eh?
Mary Catherine

Dear Paul,
You knew Lucile was married this summer, didn’t you?
How’s everything out in Nebraska? I saw a very small part of your state this summer on my way back here. We had a two-hour stop-over and ate lunch in Alliance, Nebraska! Just where is Gilead, so far I’ve not been able to locate it on a map.
What are you doing these days? Still single, or living in marital bliss? The folks see Mr Decker quite often.
Mary Catherine

March 17, 1933
Dear Paul,
Guess I’ll celebrate Good Old St Pat’s birthday and send you a few cheerful lines. You know it is really so funny when I think of what an infant I was when I last saw you and yet I still think of you as a sort of pal or big brother. Wonder what we really would say to each other should our paths cross once again- you, an agricultural authority (that should make you puff with pride), and me a high school teacher! You see, I can think! And, I have a grand sense of humor!
How’s every little thing out in Nebraska these days since, I trust, the banks have opened up once again. Hard as it may have been for some people I really believed that bank holiday did a great deal of good. When they couldn’t get their money they begin to see how much value it really hadn’t figured out better ways to spend.
However, I missed one of the greatest thrills of my life due to the banks closing. I had made plans even to getting Friday off from school and reserving a sleeper to go to the inauguration in Washington and had to cancel every one of them Wednesday, March 1st. Guess it will be for the best, though, so I’ve quit worrying about it by now. But I surely was blue at first.
Are you planning to go to Chicago this summer? Everyone seems to be doing a lot of talking about going and I for one, am going sure!
In her last letter mother said Mr Decker had been up home for a good few days and he he sword of hope to also go to Chicago this summer. She said he looked well and seem to have plenty to do to keep him busy.
My, what a pessimist you must be! Or, perhaps you’re just sensible- at any rate you have found no one “she” upon whom to center your affections, I take it. Like you, I too am enjoying single blessedness but, I don’t hope to continue such an existence indefinitely.
Believe it or not, I finally found Fairbury on the map but no Gilead. But, if they’re only 14 miles apart that wouldn’t be any space on a map. So now you see I know just where you are located.
Even though this is a small town I surely do manage to keep busy. First of all come to my school work and I absolutely despise to correct papers. But, I love to go to basketball games, play bridge, go to shows, see the high school plays, etc. So, I manage to find some amusement. But, I much prefer a large city to a small town. And, I’m looking forward to a trip home next summer. The family still lives in the same place, although you would hardly know the neighborhood. Incidentally, do you ever expect to go west again? Gosh I hope so. When I wrote mother that I heard from you right after new years she replied that she wished you could be out in California again!
If all my ranting hasn’t bored you to tears, drop me a line once in awhile. Good luck!
As ever,
Mary Catherine


How about that, huh? We all decided that Miss Mary Catherine Grimsley was rather in love with Paul and then they all started to seem cheeky and just the slightest bit coquettish to me.  I love her spirit and her vivacity.

Let me know what you make of it in the comments, and maybe you’ll feel inspired to start writing a few extraordinarily ordinary letters of your own.

A Belated Goodbye and a Prolonged Hello

Yep, so it’s a new year again.  And, for the vast majority of writers on the internet, that is a perfect topic to discuss.  I’m a bit late, but I thought I would jump on that bandwagon, so here we go.

2015 was a pretty darn eventful year for me.  I wrote my first ever full length play, completed my last season of speech, chose a college, produced that full length play, graduated high school, moved nearly four hours away from home, started college, made an entirely new and wonderful set of friends, dug into my relationship with God in a new and unprecedented way, participated in my first collegiate play, and finished my first semester of college.

That was a lot.

And although the year included a tremendous amount of change, the vast majority of it was a fundamentally good year.  But a good thing can become spoiled if we hold on to it past its time, so I am more than ready to be done with 2015 and start fresh in the new year.

One of the few lows in a year of bright spots was the passing away of my grandfather just before Christmas.  He was 91 years old and although he had been battling a myriad of health issues for many years, he was diagnosed with an incredibly aggressive cancer a month before he passed away.

Although it is undeniably a sorrowful thing, the circumstances really allowed for many blessings in that when we found out about his diagnosis, almost the entire family got together to see him (which is quite a feat considering he had seven children).  Also, he did not endure the pain of the cancer for a long, drawn-out period and for that we are thankful.

Anyway, I did have a point for throwing all of that downer stuff in this post about beginnings.  You see, at my grandpa’s funeral, we sand the song I Know that My Redeemer Lives, and that is what made such a heartrending event something I will cherish into 2016.

I know that my Redeemer lives;
What comfort this sweet sentence gives!
He lives, He lives, who once was dead;
He lives, my ever-living Head.

He lives triumphant from the grave,
He lives eternally to save,
He lives all-glorious in the sky,
He lives exalted there on high.

He lives and grants me daily breath;
He lives, and I shall conquer death:
He lives my mansion to prepare;
He lives to bring me safely there.

He lives, all glory to His name!
He lives, my Jesus, still the same.
Oh, the sweet joy this sentence gives,
“I know that my Redeemer lives!”

I never realized quite how bold of a song this was until I sang it at a funeral.  This is a blatant cry of victory to throw with perfect certainty and confidence in the face of the conquered death.  We know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that our Redeemer lives.  Nothing can change that fact and nothing can defeat it.

As I jump head-first into 2016, this is the most important message I want to save from last year.  I know that my Redeemer lives.  And because he lives I too have life, and have abundantly for the sharing.  I will live this year like the conqueror that I am through the life of my Saviour and go where he sends me to bring his victory to the world.

So yes, another year is gone, but a new one has just begun.  A year chocked full of opportunities and gifts and most importantly the love of Christ.  With that knowledge fueling you, I pray that you have a blessed New Year.