When we speak of things like the Grail, the Sword, and the Stone… we think of the old stories, of literary allegory and legend, of historic places and quests.
Perhaps we shouldn’t. Perhaps we should think of how those symbols of old exist… where and what they are to us. After all, the ancient artifacts and tales speak of human experience and understanding, of our heritage as a species. But that’s an over-arching sentiment without immediate application, a mental curiosity only unless we are inspired to undertake research. Or, unless an author decides to elaborate from parables with an explicit focus on spirituality and an intention to introduce wonder and magic in his readers.
Deepak Chopra decided to do so in his 1995 book, The Return of Merlin, and he did it fairly well.
I didn’t have high hopes as a reader of fantasy fiction, and I encourage you not to either. It is only if you come at this book without an emphasis on genre that you can have the magic of Chopra’s vision enchant you and feel the fine trembling of the web. Actually, two webs tremble – both the one Chopra weaves in a time-traveling romp from King Arthur’s time to the present, and the one you walk in your life… both send up vibrations as you take this easy ride. It’s quick and easy as a book, and it’s got myriad twinkling points of spiritual insight as a creation.
It’s also got dragons and wizards, of course. Surprisingly, even a spiritual possession or two along with the appearance of some elementals. I expected something of the oneness, the divine leanings we find in Chopra’s more formal writing, and I got it. I didn’t expect any hands to be severed, but I got that too. You’ll find none of the epic flavor of a Tolkien or C.S. Lewis book here, but if you’re a diverse reader you’ll probably enjoy this book.
Towards the end, I felt like Chopra started to lose his ability to communicate his vision. Or perhaps it’s just me, perhaps I was expecting a deeper final ringing bell as the actors exited the stage. But I continued to read the book after I’d turned the last page, if you understand me… the flock (ahem… murder) of crows that flew overhead certainly had an unusual presence for me an hour later. That’s the sort of thing I mean when I say your own web trembles a bit from the book.
Without meaning to spoil any of your fun adventuring through the woods and joining the fight against the evil wizardry of Mordred, there are two particularly interesting parts – symbols? mythos? – in The Return of Merlin that stay with me strongly now, a few days after finishing the book, that I’d like to share.
The court of miracles, the outcasts and fringes of society who have escaped the madness of the collective mind, are key to the battles against evil. Sure, Chopra means sages and wizards. But he also very explicitly means the sort of tramp we might spy sipping at a bottle under a tree. Patient, wandering, and protecting… the court of miracles is made of those who have allowed themselves to go beyond the web of human self-entrapment. Surely, you had not expected the knights of humanity to come as presented here.
The withdrawal of the positive guiding power from manifest appearance is explored here as the choice of Merlin to withdraw his physical presence from the battle against Mordred. That fight is what entraps humanity into an illusionary cycle of life and death, of meaninglessness and despair. It sounds like abandonment, doesn’t it? Leaving the fight to be continued by the court of miracles alone. And yet… it’s not abandonment, in the end. It’s about the truth of all battles, about humanity’s hope against itself, about all our struggles against the creeping darkness. Merlin’s withdrawal is about love, the burning light within us.
If you read the book, or have already read it, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it in the comments. Also, you can find more book reviews over here and might find something you haven’t read in my book recommendations.