Jane Yolen’s trilogy imagines Merlin’s childhood, before he became a trusted adviser to the legendary King Arthur.
This book combines Yolen’s three separate stories of Merlin’s childhood. Each book is short at approximately only 80 pages long.
Book 1, Passager
In falconry, a passager is a young, wild bird that has been trapped while young and then tamed. Echoing the name, the themes of wildness, identity, falconry, survival and belonging run throughout the book.
Merlin, at only seven years old, is abandoned in the forest, and learns to survive like the wild animals. He lives on his own for nearly a year. During this time he turns “wild” and forgets his own name and how to speak.
Eventually he is found by a kind falconer, who, treating him much like a bird that needs to be tamed. He also welcomes into his own family. The safety and security of family life eventually coax Merlin into recalling his own name and lost language skills.
Book 2, Hobby
Book 2 opens with tragedy for Merlin who is now aged 12 years. His adoptive family have died in a house fire.
In this book Merlin is starting to become aware that he is very different to others. He has started to have prophetic dreams. However, he does not always understand their meanings or how to act on the warnings they may give him about the future.
Not long after leaving his home Merlin has a traumatic encounter with a man called Fowler, who tries to rob and kidnap him.
Later he meets up with travelling fake ‘magicial’ performers, Ambrosius and Viviane. The pair pretend to be able to tell fortunes. Recognising that Merlin can contribute to their show they ask him to come with them. Merlin, who is desperate for a sense of family and belonging joins them. Continuing Yolen’s theme of birds, they call him Hobby, which means little falcon.
Book 3, Merlin
In Book 3, Merlin begins to come of age and recognise his magical abilities. As the story progresses his prophetic dreams and magical abilities become stronger, although he is often confused by them.
The story begins with Merlin fleeing to the forests while being pursued by Fowler and his vicious dog. Fowler is out for revenge after Merlin escaped him at the beginning of Book 2.
In the forest he is captured by the Wodewose people. The Wodewose villagers are very reclusive and suspicious of outsiders. They recognise Merlin as a ‘dreamer’ and want to take advantage of his magical abilities.
In the village lives a young boy called cub, who Merlin later names Artus (the future King Arthur).
Yolen’s Merlin books are short, but they are filled with meaning and convey a great sense of mood. Her Dark Ages Britain is a dangerous world where only the tough or crafty thrive. Merlin is forced to be self reliant and to grow up very quickly.
Yolen’s take on the Merlin legend is also original and the result is very enjoyable, albeit short.
The Young Merlin Trilogy
Author: Jane Yolen
Magic Carpet Books, 2004