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The Crystal Cave [Large Print] [Hardcover]

Mary Stewart
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

September 1982
An omnibus edition of three novels which include THE CRYSTAL CAVE, THE HOLLOW HILLS and THE LAST ENCHANTMENT.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Initially published nearly thirty years ago, Mary Stewart's The Crystal Cave has been spellbinding readers and converting them into serious Arthurian buffs ever since. The first in a series of four books, this novel focuses on the early life of Merlin the magician, and the political developments of fifth-century Britain. Not for the fainthearted, this verbose text pays careful attention to historical details and methodical plot development.

Merlin's childhood is formed by the absence of his reticent, convent-bound mother and his unnamed and unknown father. As the bastard grandson of a local king, Merlin is the object of both envy and ridicule. His strange powers and predictions earn him greater status as a pariah, and he leaves home as a preadolescent. Returning years later as a young man--empowered by self-knowledge and magic--Merlin finds himself caught in the currents of the shifting kingdoms.

As an established classic in this genre, and the first in a popular series, The Crystal Cave introduces this familiar character with fresh sensitivity. While readers looking for the romance of First Knight will be disappointed, those happy with tight writing and a complex story line will be satisfied. --Nancy R.E. O'Brien --This text refers to the Paperback edition.


A deft colourful ... re-creation of Merlin's early life Sunday Times Vivid, enthralling, absolutely first-class Daily Mail Her style is simple yet vivid, displaying a love of words and the sounds they make, and her story is poetically imaginative Daily Telegraph Mary Stewart brilliantly recreates the Britain of the fifth century Books And Bookmen A fascinating story which lays a firm hold on the imagination The Scotsman Mary Stewart lightens the Dark Ages with legend, pure invention and a lively sense of history. New York Times --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Merlin in the real world. Oct. 3 2010
This is still one of the best retellings of the story of Merlin and Arthur. Mary Stewart opens the curtain on the real world of the time, historically researched, and richly detailed with characters that are real and emotionally true. I'm always wary of Arthurian fantasy - because so many are badly written, fluffy pieces of romantic fallacy. But these captured my historic interest as well as my imagination.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book June 17 2004
I read it for an English class in Highschool and still can't forget it.
Descriptive and captivating.
A must-read classic!!!
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful! March 31 2005
By A Customer
I've read quite a few adaptations of legends based in history, and this ranks at the top of the list. Notable were Merlin's relationships with his various father figures, his outlook towards his notoriety and his powers, and his God(s). A great read and I look forward to completing the series.
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0 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Yick. July 27 2002
By A Customer
Format:Audio Cassette
I read this book for summer reading. If I didn't HAVE to finish this book, I probably wouldn't have. It was somewhat interesting in parts, but not throughout the whole book. The beginning of the different books in The Crystal Cave were very boring, but then they would become more interesting as the chapters continued. The book is about Merlin, who is royal, but treated as a no-man's-child. His mother claims that his father is The Prince of Darkness. I really can't say more than that because there isn't much more to it. I didn't see a plot that lasted throughout this whole book. I was disappointed with it, but I will say it is readable.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.5 out of 5 stars  177 reviews
74 of 76 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enchanted, once more July 4 2005
By Richard W Little - Published on
A long time ago, I read Mary Stewart's Merlin Trilogy, which consists of three books: The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills, and The Last Enchantment. I had last read the trilogy back in the mid-1980s, back when I was in high school. So, recently I turned back to these old favorites, and found myself enjoying the tale once again.

Here's a brief background of the story, without spoiling it too much for potential readers. England is suffering under fractured leadership following the departure of the Romans, some time before. England is broken up into several small kingdoms, with a High King to hold them all together, and to try to repell the Saxon threat already encamped on the shores. Into this time, Merlin is born, the bastard child of a local princess. The trilogy tells the tale of his life.

In the first book, Merlin is first a small boy in Wales, where he finds his tutor in magic and the gods and medicine, and is touched by the prophecy which will shape his whole life's work. He flees Wales, for his own protection, and his subsequent actions inexorably lead to the conception of a child: Arthur, the future High King.

In the second book, Merlin is charged by both the High King, Uthur, and his god to keep Arthur in his care, and to train him for his coming challenges. The story closes with Arthur assuming the mantle of leadership, following the passing of Uthur.

In the third book, Arthur and Merlin work to end the Saxon threat, found Camelot, and close with Merlin's final destiny, as he had long since foreseen...almost.

The tale is told in the first person: Merlin. In this fashion, the story feels personal in a way that few other Arthurian fantasies ever have. Merlin, the character, is a sympathetic one: he has good in his heart, he looks after his mission in life with care and humility, and he certainly doesn't buy into this "Merlin the Enchanter" crap circulating about England...though he's not above using it to his benefit from time to time. The other characters in the story are also fleshed out with care...and the characters are certainly not one-dimensional or static.

The storyline is clearly grounded in historical "facts", as much as possible. Clearly Mary Stewart put some time into research, before beginning the writing of this tale.

The writing style is very descriptive. In some novels, the description is somewhat threadbare, willing the reader to fill in the look of the setting to some extent with their own imagination. It's a perfectly valid writing style, and I've enjoyed many books written with that style. Here, however, Mary Stewart has sought to ground us, again, in a historical setting, and she puts a lot of attention into describing the setting so as to help with that grounding process. It's very effective.

So, with the close of the tale, I feel somewhat saddened. Merlin became like a friend. So, I encourage other readers to pick up the challenge, and read the Merlin Trilogy, so you can be touched in this way also.
31 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart March 24 2000
By A Customer - Published on
Format:Mass Market Paperback
The book The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart tells of the life of Merlin the Enchanter from when he was six to about 24. His adventures are vividly described, whether its roaming the tunnels under his grandfathers castle or sneaking his uncle into the fortress of Cornwall. There is almost never a dull moment in this book. It takes awhile getting started, but it gets interesting around page 50, so hang in there. One part of the book I really enjoyed was when 13 year old Merlin takes a ride in the forest with his servant and catches his tutor up to no good. Overall, I'd say this book is excellent literature because it really describes everything. You can picture every scene and character in your head. I really felt like I knew each character and was genuinely upset when one died and outraged when one betrayed another. The book also teaches you a lot about the Middle Ages. There were castles, knights, maidens in distress, and all the usual stuff, but it also told about normal people. It tells of everyday life in medieval times. If you like this book, I recommend you read the 2nd and 3rd books in the Merlin Trilogy, The Hollow Hills, and The Last Enchantment. Both are just as good as The Crystal Cave. If you are fascinated with the legend of Arthur and Merlin, and are a patient reader who likes long, detailed novels like I do, you will adore this book!
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book! July 12 2001
By A Customer - Published on
Format:Mass Market Paperback
I was required to read this book for summer reading for my highschool freshman honors english class. I started it a couple of days ago, and finished it last night. This is truly a great book. It's a unique take on a classic and well-known story. I'd always associated the name Merlin with an old man witha long white beard and robes with pointy hats. I'd never thought of Merlin as a young man. I also learned a lot about the legend of Camelot from the information in the back of the book .This book may have some faults, but I'm not a historian or camelot buff, and I'm also no author or literary expert. But as a 14 year old girl who loves to read, I am giving this book 5 stars and two thumbs up. The Crystal Cave is a must read!
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars So well done, so far from today's background knowledge Oct. 10 2006
By John Bonavia - Published on
What I liked in particular in Mary Stewart's "The Crystal Cave" is that she keeps the dialog sufficiently neutral that we can forget the implied translation from the "original" Anglo-Saxon or Celtic tongues. So often in historical novels people use idioms that are absolutely of the modern day, and it has an instantly jarring effect.

One thing that stands out from some of the reviews is how our general literary background knowledge, not to mention our attention span, may have diminished in the thirty-odd years since she wrote (unless things were the same back then?) More than one review talks of Merlin's boyhood exploration of the hypocaust as exploring "tunnels" under a "castle" or "fortress," even though Stewart takes pains to describe it as a large "country house." They have never heard of the typical graceful Roman villa with its underfloor hot-air central heating channeled from a wood furnace - via the hypocaust that Merlin crawls through - and its beautiful mosaic floors. When the King says to Camlach "We've never had the furnace on since you left" that's one of the many indications of what happened to the highly civilized Roman ways when the central empire fell, and in the outer provinces the "barbarians" like Merlin's folk took over. They could have had a comfortable house all winter, but instead they built open fires in the middle of the mosaic floors, griming the Roman pillars with soot and cracking the mosaics, as Stewart so clearly describes. The bathhouse was out of use - Camlach's wish to have a bath after his travels was "your damned Roman fashion" and water was heated over the courtyard fires instead of in the Roman central boiler-room. These were basically rough people camping out in the remains of an advanced civilization. But they were at the beginning of the long social progression that led us to the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and then our own industrial and post-industrial ages..."The old order changeth, and giveth place to new."

Some found the book "very long" will need "patience"...I don't think Dickens could have made a living here today. But I'm glad so many found it delightful, as I did.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent account of Merlin's life Aug. 31 2003
By Zeke Korban - Published on
The tale of Arthur has been told countless times, through books, movies, and even children's cartoons. The reality of who Arthur was is indetermineable, but it has made an excellent setting for Mary Stewart's Crystal Cave. Book one of the Arthurian Saga begins with Merlin, in fact, Merlin's childhood. This was an innovative approach that gave the story a unique design. Do not make the misconception that Crystal Cave is about King Arthur, instead it is about Merlin prior to Arthur. Arthur makes his appearance in the later books.
What makes Crystal Cave such an amazing book is its realistic qualities. Merlin travels the lands that exist today, does not perform unrealistic magic, and even interacts with the real world to extents even as far as a corrolation to Stone Henge. Despite the fictional aspect of the Crystal Cave, Mary Stewart's account of Merlin's life is a realistic tale that will tantalize you with every turn of the page.
Mary Stewart exhibits excellent skills in writing, thorough plot and character developement, descriptive events and locations, and a quality of intrigue that enthralls a reader. Although lengthy, it is solid gold. If you're a Merlin fan, or just looking for a book to pass the time, this will fulfill your greatest expectations.
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