The Lost Years of Merlin is a five-book epic authored by T.A. Barron, which details the adventures of a teenaged Merlin as he explores the magical isle of Fincayra, with a great amount of focus on how the wizard we all know and love today develops from a bratty teenage boy into the wise and all-knowing wizard.
The boy is rooted in humble beginnings in a remote village implied to be somewhere in Wales (called Gwynedd in those days), where he lives with his well-intended and doting mother, is tormented by the local bully, and yearns for greater things. When a terrible incident results in the severe wounding of the bully and the loss of the boy's sight, he lives in anguish for several weeks until he slowly begins to develop a magical "second sight," the true awakening of his latent magic powers. He then leaves the village where he has dwelt his entire known life and sails away on a self-built raft in order to find his true home. As luck would have it, a storm overtakes him and he washes up on the shores of Fincayra, a legendary isle said to be the gateway between heaven and earth, an "in-between" place. As the boy explores the island, he makes new friends and dangerous enemies, all of whom help him grow into a respectable young man worthy of carrying the title of greatest wizard of all time.
The five books in the series are:
- The Lost Years of Merlin (1996)
- The Seven Songs of Merlin (1997)
- The Fires of Merlin (1998)
- The Mirror of Merlin (1999)
- The Wings of Merlin (2000)
It is not extremely well-known and is a pretty archetypical Standard Fantasy Setting, but each book was received relatively decently and sold enough to make the New York Times Best-Sellers List.
It eventually gained a Sequel Series, "The Great Tree of Avalon."There is talk of a movie adaptation of at least the first book of the series. Has no relation to the TV show on BBC.
Tropes in the series:
- Actually Pretty Funny: Bumblewy's on-the-spot requiem for Merlin is so over-the-top and sappy that the dragon who was about to eat them decides they're just too funny to devour (helped by the fact that it's still half-asleep). Bumblewy is quite unhappy though, as that's actually the saddest poem he knows.
- Adaptational Badass: Rhita Gawr is a very obscure character from Arthurian mythology—he was a king (and possibly a giant) who defeated other kings, cut off their beards to humiliate them and made them into a cloak. Arthur killed the guy. In this series, he's the king of evil spirits and basically wants to conquer the universe. See Hijacked by Jesus below.
- Amnesiac Hero: The first book begins with Merlin washing up on the shores of Wales, with no memory of who he is. He never actually recovers these memories, either, just pieces together what happened.
- Anti-Magic: Negatus Mysterium, but it only works if the magic user believes its effect is real.
- Anti-Magical Faction: Clan Righteous, who used the Anti-Magic Negatus Mysterium in their quest to destroy all magical creatures and magic users, along with creating kreelixes, demonic beings who specifically hunt them.
- Bambification: Dagda's usual animal form is a stag. Also, the poor, persecuted deer people.
- Big Bad: Rhita Gawr.
- Big Damn Heroes: When the Slayer goes after Merlin and the kids, Shim grabs him and tosses him far out to sea, admitting he wanted to crush him, but the Slayer's arm swords were cutting into his hand.
- Big Eater: The Living Stones are rocks that lie dormant until someone happens across them, and then they eat that person/thing. Grand Elusa is a large spider woman who, while helpful, really advises you to leave when she gets hungry. She saves the heroes from the original encounter with living stones by eating one.
- Big Good: Dagda.
- Brick Joke: Merlin says that if Bumblewy can make anyone laugh, he'll eat his shoe. Guy's good as his word and — not under magical oath or anything — has to be stopped from finishing it.
- The Bully: Dinatius.
- Burn the Witch!: A group of bullies tries to do this to Merlin's mother. They pay dearly for this.
- But Now I Must Go: The Bittersweet Ending of the fifth book has Merlin choose to leave Fincayra and go back to the human world, where his destiny as Arthur's mentor lies.
- Canon Foreigner: Pretty much every character except for Merlin, Nimue and Ector (who's actually King Arthur) is absent from Arthurian legend. A few characters other characters (Dagda, Rhita Gawr, Balor) are adapted from Celtic legend, though.
- Catch-Phrase: Shim's "As big as the highliest tree."
- Character Development
- Cyclops: Balor. Made worse because his gaze can kill you.
- Dark Is Not Evil: Domnu, who is described as being cold but not evil, like her other name, Dark Fate. She can be kind of a jerk, though.
- Demihuman: The typical fantasy races appear, along with some new ones, like deer people. Even Fincayran humans seem a bit different than the usual model: they have pointed ears, for one, and used to be Winged Humanoids.
- Direct Line to the Author: The stories are said to come to the author directly from Merlin.
- Disability Superpower: Merlin is blinded in the first book, but then develops "second sight," which seems to be a kind of magical version that doesn't use his physical eyes. It also means that he can occasionally see things that normal sight cannot.
- Died in Your Arms Tonight:
- In the second book, Rhia dies in Merlin's arms, but in the end he brings her back.
- In the fifth book, Stangmar dies in Elen's arms, and Cairpré in Merlin's.
- Easily Forgiven: Played with for Dinatius the Slayer. He murdered numerous innocents and blames Merlin for his deformities, which were his fault to begin with. Merlin opts to forgive him despite all of the tragedies, because he wanted to break the Cycle of Revenge, and that he pitied the slayer for having hatred consume him. Dagda restores his arms, but does not grant him wings like the other humans, reasoning that he has caused too much harm.
- Garden Garment: Rhia is dressed in plants.
- Half-Human Hybrid: Subverted with Merlin. Arthurian legend usually makes him the son of a demon; here that theory is floated but inaccurate.
- Here There Be Dragons: The maps seen at the beginning of the books feature this, with various creatures depicted in the series, such as kreelixes.
- Hijacked by Jesus: Rhita Gawr is basically the Celtic version of Satan in this series. See Adaptational Badass above. Dagda is also more Christ-like.
- Hypocrite: Nimue steals Merlin's staff in The Seven Songs of Merlin, calling him a thief when he snatches it back from her with the help of an air spirit.
- Humans Are the Real Monsters: Sort of a running theme, really, from Stagmar (the king of Fincayra's humans) to the backstory in the last book. Cranked Up to Eleven in the Sequel Series.
- Identity Amnesia: The first book starts with
MerlinEmrys being washed up on the shores of Wales with no memory of his past.
- Implacable Man:
- The first book has the Ghoulians, undead warriors of Stangmar that pull swords and daggers out and cast them aside like they're nothing, and even get up after a very angry giant stomps on them over and over again.
- The Wings of Merlin has Slayer, who uses any spell Merlin uses to attack or flee back on him, and even goes through a desperate Stangmar, survives being crushed in Shim's giant hand, comes back after being thrown out into the sea, swims through the sea after Merlin escapes on a boat to an island surrounded by a magic barrier, proceeds through said barrier, and even survives a rock slide on top of him.
- In Name Only: When you get down to it, most of this series (including the entire setting of Fincayra) is standard fantasy with a few brief references to Athurian legend. The Mirror of Merlin is a bit closer though, as it involves time travel, allowing Merlin to meet a young Arthur and his own future self.
- Last Of Her Kind: Cwen is the last treeling on Fincayra.
- Luke, I Am Your Father: Stangmar to Merlin at the end of the first book.
- Meaningful Rename: In the first book the main character goes by "Emrys," though his mother is such a Mysterious Parent that he isn't sure that she isn't lying about that being his name; as such he never feels comfortably with it. At the end, he starts calling himself "Merlin" in memory of his pet merlin, which pulled a Heroic Sacrifice in the big battle.
- Merlin: Naturally.
- Merlin and Nimue: Downplayed; Nimue appears as a minor character in The Seven Songs of Merlin; she's actually a few years older than him, and flirts with him just enough to distract him so that she can steal his Magic Staff; he gets it back and she's gone from the rest of the story. Her future self is the Big Bad of The Mirror of Merlin. Although she trapped future!Merlin in the crystal cave, there's no real indication that they had the mentor/student relationship from the story, and young!Merlin changes that future from happening anyway.
- My Future Self and Me: In The Mirror of Merlin, Merlin goes through a Magic Mirror where he meets his future self in the process of mentoring a young Arthur.
- Mysterious Parent: Branwen. Even her true name is mysterious—it's really Elen.
- Never My Fault: Dinatius and the bullies try to burn Merlin's mother, they fail when Merlin attacks them, and the fire consumes them. Dinatius begins to murder innocents and blames their deaths on Merlin because his near-death experience allowed him to serve Rhita Gawr.
- Oddball in the Series: The Mirror of Merlin is a mild example, since it dispenses with the Strictly Formula model and has more of a connection to actual Arthurian legend.
- Our Werebeasts Are Different: Hallia, a deer-woman, is a major character (and Merlin's Love Interest) from the third book on. The Sequel Series also includes a race of eagle-people.
- Plant People: The treelings. Also, the tree Rhia lives in is sapient. Other trees are as well, although many have "gone to sleep" according to Rhia and can no longer communicate with anyone.
- Plot Coupon: The Seven Songs of Magic in The Seven Songs of Merlin, which Merlin needs in order to access the underworld and get an elixir to cure his mother, yet another Plot Coupon.
- Quest for Identity
- Rustproof Blood: Averted; the Rusted Plains are repeatedly described as looking like dried blood.
- Separated at Birth: Merlin and Rhiannon.
- The Stars Are Going Out: This is a big part of the The Great Tree of Avalon sequel series. In the first book, the stars of the constellation of Merlin's staff go out, so the characters seek a way to travel to the stars to relight them.
- Strictly Formula: Merlin has a limited number of days to stop (antagonist) from harming (person/thing). At some point, he will be Asleep for Days, giving him even less time. Also, there is a rhyming prophecy that tells us what will happen, assuming the reader can figure out its twist(s). The Mirror of Merlin is the Oddball in the Series partly because it ignores these tropes.
- Trilogy Creep: For the first two books, the series was advertised as a trilogy. With the third book, it was decided that two more would follow and the billing for the series became an "epic" instead. In the introduction for the third book, the author states that Merlin himself told him that three books would not be enough.
- Unstoppable Rage: See Burn the Witch! up above. Also, Slayer.
- Wild Child: Rhiannon.
- Winged Humanoid: One of the odd things Merlin notices about himself in the first book is a persistent ache between his shoulder blades. It turns out that all Fincayran humans have this, supposedly because they once had wings that were taken away as punishment for their sins. They get them back in the last book.