At the heart of Merlin is a retelling of the familiar story of King Arthur, Merlin the magician, and the knights of the Round Table. Robert Nye is faithful to his sources, but the story is skewed in part by the narrative perspective and in part by the storytelling style, which is erotic, comic, and iconoclastic.
The narrator is Merlin, imprisoned by Nimue in the crystal cave, with the gift to look both forward and backward in time. His story is divided into four parts—black, white, red, and gold—that cover the stages of his life and also represent alchemical elements. Merlin is not a reliable narrator: He is transmuting the base elements of his dreams into reality.
The story opens with the harrowing of Hell, represented by a sexy masked woman with a dancing monkey who entertains the devil, with his aides Beelzebub and Astarot, gets them drunk, and then leads the inmates of Hell away in a merry dance. In response, the devil and his cronies decide to sire the Antichrist through a lascivious virgin, Vivien. This is no easy matter, because the devil is homosexual.
Surprised to be pregnant and still a virgin, Vivien goes to a priest and a nun for help, not knowing that they are Beelzebub and Astarot in disguise. They scheme to ensure the birth of the Antichrist by hiding Vivien away in a tower of bronze, but a mysterious nun, Sister Mary Contradiction, baptizes the child the moment it is born and thus frustrates the...
(The entire section is 596 words.)