On the blade, Arthur could see some letters

“Product of more than one country.”

Merlin was one of those curiosity DVDs which I’ve seen several times, but have never felt inclined to buy. It’s another version of Arthurian legend which makes Merlin Arthur’s servant, Arthur merely the crown prince, and Uther Pendragon a king who hates magic. Guinevere is now the blacksmith’s daughter and servant to Morgana, who is the king’s ward. Mordred is no longer Arthur’s nephew, but a druid. In a nod to the Anglo-American tone of the programme, Dark Age Britain is an egalitarian place where servants are quite familiar with their masters, though not familiar enough for Arthur to be able to admit publically that he fancies Guinevere (usually called Gwen; another Anglo-Americanism). In fact, you could translate the whole thing to an American high school. 

The only two familiar faces among the cast are Anthony Head as the tyrannical Uther, and Richard Wilson as the court physician, Gaius, who spends a lot of time in some of the earlier episodes exhorting the genius of science. The familiar name is John Hurt, who is the voice of the dragon which Uther has imprisoned beneath Camelot. The rest of the cast seem to have a lot of fun playing their parts. Arthur is a pompous ass who knows when to do the right thing even although it might mean defying his father’s wishes. Merlin would like to be himself, but can’t. Morgana also has magical powers, but these were never really developed in the course of the first two series, and she got to turn evil instead. Guinevere wishes that Arthur could be more open about his feelings for her, although her own don’t stop her from giving him a piece of her mind. 

There’s plenty of religion, but this is the New Age Dark Ages, which means druids and the Old Religion. Of Christianity, there’s not a trace, but across the land there’d no doubt be scores of younger viewers asking, “What’s Christianity?” to which their parents would reply, “The druids, I think. Why don’t you look it up on wikipedia?”


The Rise of the Iron Moon.

This is the third volume in Stephen Hunt’s series about the world of Jackals and the least engaging of them. In this episode, the Army of Shadows sweeps all opposition before it and only a desperate mission to the planet of Kaliban to find the Great Sage can save the planet from annihilation. Molly Templar and Oliver are back for a time along with Commodore Black and Aliquot Coppertracks. The new hero is Purity Drake who is also Black’s daughter and who is instrumental in defeating the Army of the Shadows and their vampire-like masters.

I assume that the book is a satire on consumerism or bankers or both. I also assume that Hunt knew the Bandits of the Marsh probably wouldn’t mean anything to most of his readers because they’re unfamiliar with the classic Chinese novel The Water Margin (aka Outlaws of the Marsh). Whatever Hunt’s sources were for this book, they’re outside of my knowledge by and large. The gun that’s used to shoot the party to Kaliban was no doubt inspired by From the Earth to the Moon by Jules Verne. The Army of Shadows sounds like something from horror fiction rather than sci-fi or fantasy, but I can’t think of any immediate antecedents.

I’ve been trying to think why this volume is less entertaining than the others. Is it because the basic plot is the same as the previous two novels in which Jackals is threatened with utter destruction but for someone with miraculous powers who is able to counteract the threat? Is it because Hunt does waffle on somewhat? Is it because, as one review observed, his characters don’t have much depth? Commodore Black would probably make a much more interesting protagonist than Molly or Oliver or Purity because he has more experience and mystery about him, and because he doesn’t have super-powers. Perhaps that’s where these novels are at their weakest because they’re about superheroes who, conveniently, have just the right super-power.

Appendix

While doing a little research on From the Earth to the Moon on wikipedia, I stumbled across the following:

Barbicane appears in Kevin J. Anderson‘s novel Captain Nemo: The Fantastic History of a Dark Genius as an Ottoman official whose chief rival, Robur, designs a number of innovative weapons to counteract him, including an attempt to launch a three-man mission to the Moon.

Robur is the scientist from Quatérshift whom Cornelius Fortune rescues in The Kingdom beyond the Waves. Thus I find that the character seems to have been taken from another novel by Jules Verne, Robur the Conqueror. Very League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, methinks. In fact, I then found that Robur also appears in that series.

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