I've been fascinated by the figure of Merlin for years and have read every book about him that I could get my hands on, but it wasn't until I read Pagan Portals Merlin: Once and Future Wizard by Elen Sentier that I felt like I really knew him. This isn't the usual Merlin book: There are no long diatribes about medieval writers or Iron Age British History (believe me, there's enough of that out there already). Instead, the author takes the reader along on a magical journey of discovery, a voyage through her own personal relationship with this mythical figure.
Sentier practices Native British Shamanism, so it's not surprising that she emphasizes the shamanic and Otherworldly aspects of Merlin. In addition to the usual information about Merlin's place in the Arthurian legends, the author also addresses his character in other stories that I find equally fascinating: Myrddin Wyllt, the wild seer of the Caledonian forest, Custennin the Lord of the Beasts, the Horned One (the stag of seven tines Graves fans will be familiar with). Sentier also undertakes an examination of Merlin's place in the Vortigern story and his symbolism as the Fatherless Child, and draws the reader into a journey to Merlin's birthplaces (yes, plural) and an adventure in the Breton forest of Broceliande. I especially appreciated the fact that there's an entire chapter dedicated to Vivien/Nimue, an important part of Merlin's story who is usually either minimized or demonized, as if she doesn't matter or shouldn't be taken seriously.
Merlin emerges as a liminal character, a shapeshifting nature spirit and wild man who is as old as Britain, as old as Brittany, far older than any of the stories we still tell about him. He also becomes engagingly personal in this book, as Sentier shares her encounters with him in various locations she visited. He's no longer a distant mythical figure but a vital aspect of the present-day mythos and magic of his part of the world, one with whom the reader can have a direct relationship if they wish. And certainly, after reading this lovely book, many people will want to.