Follow TV Tropes


Literature / The Lost Years of Merlin

Go To

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:

  1. The Lost Years of Merlin (1996)
  2. The Seven Songs of Merlin (1997)
  3. The Fires of Merlin (1998)
  4. The Mirror of Merlin (1999)
  5. 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, then another, Merlin's Dragon and later Merlin: The Book of Magic. There is talk of a movie adaptation of at least the first book of the series. It 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: The poor, persecuted deer people.
  • 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.
  • Brick Joke: Merlin says that if Bumblewy can make anyone laugh, he'll eat his boot. He's good as his word and — not under magical oath or anything — has to be stopped from finishing it.
  • Cyclops: Balor from The Seven Songs of Merlin, the second story in the series. It's made worse by the fact that 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.
  • Dehumanization: In the first book, Merlin realizes to his horror that what he believed was just a bundle of rags he'd hit with a stone when playing with other boys is really a person. They retort that this isn't true-it's a Jew. After he refuses to go along with this, they caution Merlin against defending Jews, because people might think he has Jewish stock himself.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Merlin is bullied over being a supposed bastard, Jews are viewed as inhuman by many while fair game for being stoned, and Branwen's labeled a witch because of her skill with herbs which people view as magic. This all sets the tone for life in Merlin's early medieval Welsh village.
  • 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 then restores his arms, but does not grant him wings like the other humans, reasoning that he has caused too much harm.
  • Elemental Embodiment: Merlin befriends an air elemental when he frees her from a container Domnu had trapped her in. To repay him, she later helps him retrieve his staff from Nimue.
  • Fantastic Racism:
    • A lot of Fincaryan humans are prejudiced against other sapient races on the island. In the past, it got to the point of enslaving and even sacrificing them.
    • Dwarves generally don't like humans, as shown with Merlin's hostile reception among them.
    • Treelings have been hunted to extinction. Cwen in the last one.
    • The deer people have been hunted for food by humans, despite them being rational beings like themselves who can take human form.
    • Most humans also don't care that many of the trees can think as well, cutting them down like the rest.
  • 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. He is, however, half normal human and half Fincayran human, and his Fincayran parent had a mer-woman mother.
  • 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.
  • Human Sacrifice: Fincayran humans sacrificed dwarves and other races in the past, as the absolute nadir of their misdeeds. It's this which caused Dagda to remove their wings.
  • 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. Exaggerated in the Sequel Series.
  • 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.
  • Identity Amnesia: The first book starts with Merlin Emrys 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.
  • Interfaith Smoothie: In-Universe, Merlin's mother Bronwen worships both the Celtic gods such as Dagda and also Jesus. The series has Dagda show a lot of traits traditionally attributed to Jesus as well (possibly in the books they are the same being).
  • 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.
  • Magic is Evil: A lot of the people in Merlin's village fear magic as inherently evil. Even after he goes to Fincayra, a Magical Land, some still have this view. Clan Righteous is an Anti-Magical Faction that views magic as the curse of the land, seeking to wipe it out along with all magical creatures and magic users.
  • The Marvelous Deer: Dagda's usual animal form is a stag.
  • 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 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.
  • Pointy Ears: This is the feature that distinguishes Fincayran humans from others. Aside from that, they look just the same. Merlin is thought to be a demon by some in Gwynned (Wales) over his.
  • 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.